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10 Reasons Why Alaska Should Top the Serious Fly Angler's "Bucket List"

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May 08, 2013

10 Reasons Why Alaska Should Top the Serious Fly Angler's "Bucket List"

By Kirk Deeter

I often get asked the following hypothetical question: "If you had one day to fish anywhere in the world, where would it be?"

My answer is always the same: Alaska.

Granted, I still have much that I want to explore. And I have been fortunate enough to experience and write about some amazing places, from the virgin jungles of Guyana and Bolivia, to the austral settings in Tierra del Fuego, to the tradition-laden rivers of Ireland, to the sun-drenched flats in the Bahamas and Central America. But Alaska remains my top choice, and here are my 10 reasons why:

1. Fishing in Alaska Will Change Your Life  
I didn't get to Alaska until I had been fly fishing for more than 20 years, but I've been back several times since. I will never forget the feeling I had when I looked out the airplane window as my flight descended toward Anchorage at 11 p.m. and the sun was still casting a glow over the mountains and glaciers. And when you see bald eagles flying around the rivers en masse, akin to robins in the Lower 48, you are inevitably overcome with a sense of awe and appreciation for the true power of nature. You literally have to experience it to fully understand. The air smells different. It's raw and primal. And it never goes away.

2. Massive, Native Wild Fish
Most of us start by chasing stockers. We eventually aspire to catch "big" fish. Then, maybe, we endeavor to catch wild fish. And then, catching native fish tickles the fancy.  In Alaska, that can all come together at once. This is where the big rainbows have lived for centuries. The steelhead all have adipose fins. The grayling and Dolly Varden shimmer with colors that take your breath away. And the salmon follow the same life routines they have for millennia. The fish in Alaska are the real deal.

3. The DeHavilland Beaver
I typically hate to fly. I am the "Accidental Tourist" when it comes to buzzing off to exotic fishing locales; I'm usually white-knuckling the whole way there and back. But put me in the original bush plane—the ultimate utilitarian aircraft, a tractor in the sky—and I am snug as a bug in a rug. I still don't snap the aerial artistry my partner Tim Romano can, but the images I have ingrained in my mind after flying over the tundra are indelible. If you get a chance to visit Alaska, take a ride in a Beaver—whether to fish or to just go sightseeing, it's worth the cost and effort.

4. The Culture  
People who live in Alaska, especially, and also those who visit Alaska, share a common bond that is a genuine appreciation of the wild outdoors. We all end up here for a reason. You can walk down the street in Anchorage, or be sipping a brew at the Salty Dawg Saloon in Homer, and odds are, you're going to bump into a kindred spirit with stories to share.

5. Midnight Sun
Let's face it, there's something imminently cool about standing in a river working on your "Snap-T" move with a Spey Rod, glancing at your watch to notice it's 11:53 p.m., and realizing you still have plenty of quality fishing time to enjoy.

6. Proud to be American
The more I travel to find "exotic fishing places," the more I appreciate the opportunities I have to stand knee-deep in an Alaskan river, and know there's an American flag flapping outside the lodge where I am staying. Alaska is a treasure for every American. When you fish here, you're inevitably proud to know this is part of your country.

7. Bears
Alright... when they pop up in the "wrong place at the wrong time" (like when you're hiking through the alders to find a place to relieve your bladder), brown bears can be, well, a bit disconcerting. But there's also something inherently satisfying and interesting for the serious angler when they find himself or herself tossing fancy loops with a fly rod (for sport) opposite a massive mammal fishing the same run for subsistence. It's sometimes a good thing to realize that you are not necessarily occupying the top slot in the food chain. There are few people in New York, or Miami, or St. Louis, or San Francisco who have ever felt that.

8. You Get Better
You might think you are the "hot stick" on your home stream in Connecticut, Michigan, or New Mexico, but I promise you, after you spend a week in the bush pulling on wild fish, and more importantly, making the casts in the challenging Alaskan weather, you're inevitably going to go home a better, smarter angler than you were when you showed up here in the first place. Alaska doesn't just change the angler in terms of perception and appreciation... it forces you to up your game.

9. The Grip 'n Grin Won't Matter Anymore
Once you spend some serious time fishing in Alaska, you inevitably realize that what matters most is the 360-degree view around you. You'll catch fish, and take pictures with said fish that far exceed anything you'd want to photograph on your stocker river in New Jersey.

10. You Realize You'll Never Do It All
It's always good to have goals. But the beauty of Alaska is that it is so vast, you almost immediately realize you will never be able to experience all its splendor, and tap into all the fishing opportunities to be had here in one lifetime. The seasoned angler actually appreciates this... it's the ultimate tease. Here's one thing I believe about fly fishing: The minute you think you've done it all and learned it all is when you've lost touch with its essence.

Comments (17)

Top Rated
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from Sinjin Eberle wrote 49 weeks 3 hours ago

You just like the beer drops from said DeHavilland Beaver...

+1 Good Comment? | | Report
from labrador12 wrote 49 weeks 3 hours ago

I made my first trip to Ak in 1970. Every chance that I get I find a way to slither back up, Yukon and BC are part of the Great White North too! Its great that eagles and osprey are so plentiful down south, but there's no place like the north. There are a lot of great people up there too! There is a shortage of metrosexual types though, not that I miss them.

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from buckhunter wrote 49 weeks 1 hour ago

Have never been to Alaska but have been very far north into Canada. I will agree. It is a must for anybody.

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from pcspecht wrote 49 weeks 41 min ago

As an Alaskan resident I of course can find not faults in your post at all. I have several family members who fish and hunt in the lower 48 near their respective homes. It took m a number of years to finally get just one to make the trip up to see me for two weeks. Since his return from that trip I have become the "summer hots with he most" for about the last 15 years now! I most likly see more relatives in any given year than most anyone I know because of Alaska. There's no middle road here. You either love it or hate it and only those that love it live here year round!
The summertime fishermen migrations follow our various resident fish. It seems that once a first time migratory fisherman gets hooked on Alaska they can't stop from coming back! Many of us here look forward to this yearly migration, its always nice to share a place that never grows old,

+2 Good Comment? | | Report
from Troutinator wrote 48 weeks 6 days ago

My wife and I have been planning our AK fishing vacation for years to celebrate our 20th anniversary (an coincidentally, my 50th birthday) and we're presently counting down the days until we fly to Anchorage at the end of June. We're both "exceptional" at fly fishing here in Central CA and this article got us very excited seeing as how we plan on chasing some beautiful Alaskan fish with fly rods. This will be our first time for both of us and hopefully won't be our last.

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from Remaxman wrote 48 weeks 6 days ago

Well said Kirk!
I still remember my first trip to Alaska with my wife and parents. We rented two motorhomes in Anchorage and caravaned through the state for about two weeks enjoying the awesome scenery and stopping to fish at every river possible. My best memory was fishing on the Skilak Loop of the Kenai. It was about 11:30 p.m and the wife and parents were getting a bit of shut eye. I headed out with my 9 weight tipped with a Muddler. The river and surroundings were beautiful and not a sound to be heard besides the river. After about a half dozen long cast I hooked what I thought was a King but after about a 10 minute battle I finally landed a 13.5 lb Rainbow. It was a feeling like never before and an epic moment in my life that I'll remember forever

+1 Good Comment? | | Report
from Fred Telleen wrote 48 weeks 6 days ago

I could not agree more and I can't wait to get back for my 25th season.

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from ArtBrownSr wrote 48 weeks 6 days ago

I moved (permanently) to Alaska 19 years ago with NO regrets, unless you call not soon enough a regret.
I've fished the local lakes of Anchorage, the rivers and lakes of the Kenai Penninsula, and several locations of the western coast from the Priboloffs to Dutch Harbor to the Nushagak River area.
Besides the hunting and just tramping in the tundra. Yep, you either LOVE IT or you HATE IT there is NO middle ground!

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from buckhunter wrote 48 weeks 6 days ago

Dear Uncle Pcspecht, I will arrive at the end of June.

Your Loving Nephew, Buckhunter

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from Koldkut wrote 48 weeks 6 days ago

Should this be on the serious non-fly anglers bucket list?

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from badsmerf wrote 48 weeks 5 days ago

KD, make sure you visit SE Alaska sometime. I'm from Juneau, and the fishing in SE is different than inland fishing. You might actually have to get on the salt and land some chrome (real) salmon.

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from Greg Madrigal wrote 48 weeks 5 days ago

Kirk, you nailed this one! I try to explain Alaska to people, and What usually comes out is, "It's SO GRAND! You MUST see it before you die!"
I've been there 5x and am preparing for #6 fly fishing the SW wilderness with David Taylor of Reel Wilderness. I can barely contain my excitement. I know I will be catching my largest rainbow to date.

Uncle Pcspecht, beware of the imposter who goes by the name of Buckhunter. Cu in June, your REAL nephew GREG.

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from Dangle wrote 48 weeks 5 days ago

Hope someone has mentioned how expensive it is to fish a good site like in the picture having a Beaver fly in to pick you up. The flight to, stay, food, everything is expensive regarding Alaska sport fishing. And for good dates you have to secure them far ahead, and then the weather can be miserable at the time you have planned ahead. High winds, and rain can be the order of the day.

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from Gunny Bob wrote 48 weeks 3 days ago

Having caught 187 species of gamefish on the fly and light tackle, and having fly fished Alaska from the Thorne River on Prince of Wales Island to the Ocean River on the Alaska Peninsula, I believe what you say is fact.

That said, the Rio Negro in the central Amazon Basin and Kure Atoll (60 miles west of Midway) are tough competition. Herds of fish chasing your fly simultaneously in such locations, species diversity and ferocity, and given their remote and pristine-as-you-can-get nature, might give some hard-core Alaskans pause.

I was one of those primarily responsible for teaching F&S's David E. Petzal to fly fish. Should you go to one of these locales, just do not take him, as he rapidly assimilates any skill he is taught and quickly starts outfishing you. Plus, he is always armed, so you have to watch what you say.

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from Dangle wrote 48 weeks 2 days ago

187 is all? I did that the first time out, and on a barbless hook.

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from Gunny Bob wrote 48 weeks 2 days ago

Dangle, Lefty told me you had done that but I was suspicious. Now that I have confirmation from you, I must apologize to Lefty not only for doubting him, but for that time I accidentally cut his fly line as we pounded fat Alberts off the "Hook of the Cape" in NC. But he also claimed he you had to harpoon a three-spot Mozambique he was fighting while on the Zambezi above Kariba. Is that true?

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from Dangle wrote 48 weeks 1 day ago

Lefty doesn't even know what arm he casts with. Lefty is a righty. He must have been looking in a mirror.

0 Good Comment? | | Report

Post a Comment

from pcspecht wrote 49 weeks 41 min ago

As an Alaskan resident I of course can find not faults in your post at all. I have several family members who fish and hunt in the lower 48 near their respective homes. It took m a number of years to finally get just one to make the trip up to see me for two weeks. Since his return from that trip I have become the "summer hots with he most" for about the last 15 years now! I most likly see more relatives in any given year than most anyone I know because of Alaska. There's no middle road here. You either love it or hate it and only those that love it live here year round!
The summertime fishermen migrations follow our various resident fish. It seems that once a first time migratory fisherman gets hooked on Alaska they can't stop from coming back! Many of us here look forward to this yearly migration, its always nice to share a place that never grows old,

+2 Good Comment? | | Report
from Sinjin Eberle wrote 49 weeks 3 hours ago

You just like the beer drops from said DeHavilland Beaver...

+1 Good Comment? | | Report
from Remaxman wrote 48 weeks 6 days ago

Well said Kirk!
I still remember my first trip to Alaska with my wife and parents. We rented two motorhomes in Anchorage and caravaned through the state for about two weeks enjoying the awesome scenery and stopping to fish at every river possible. My best memory was fishing on the Skilak Loop of the Kenai. It was about 11:30 p.m and the wife and parents were getting a bit of shut eye. I headed out with my 9 weight tipped with a Muddler. The river and surroundings were beautiful and not a sound to be heard besides the river. After about a half dozen long cast I hooked what I thought was a King but after about a 10 minute battle I finally landed a 13.5 lb Rainbow. It was a feeling like never before and an epic moment in my life that I'll remember forever

+1 Good Comment? | | Report
from labrador12 wrote 49 weeks 3 hours ago

I made my first trip to Ak in 1970. Every chance that I get I find a way to slither back up, Yukon and BC are part of the Great White North too! Its great that eagles and osprey are so plentiful down south, but there's no place like the north. There are a lot of great people up there too! There is a shortage of metrosexual types though, not that I miss them.

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from buckhunter wrote 49 weeks 1 hour ago

Have never been to Alaska but have been very far north into Canada. I will agree. It is a must for anybody.

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from Troutinator wrote 48 weeks 6 days ago

My wife and I have been planning our AK fishing vacation for years to celebrate our 20th anniversary (an coincidentally, my 50th birthday) and we're presently counting down the days until we fly to Anchorage at the end of June. We're both "exceptional" at fly fishing here in Central CA and this article got us very excited seeing as how we plan on chasing some beautiful Alaskan fish with fly rods. This will be our first time for both of us and hopefully won't be our last.

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from Fred Telleen wrote 48 weeks 6 days ago

I could not agree more and I can't wait to get back for my 25th season.

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from ArtBrownSr wrote 48 weeks 6 days ago

I moved (permanently) to Alaska 19 years ago with NO regrets, unless you call not soon enough a regret.
I've fished the local lakes of Anchorage, the rivers and lakes of the Kenai Penninsula, and several locations of the western coast from the Priboloffs to Dutch Harbor to the Nushagak River area.
Besides the hunting and just tramping in the tundra. Yep, you either LOVE IT or you HATE IT there is NO middle ground!

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from buckhunter wrote 48 weeks 6 days ago

Dear Uncle Pcspecht, I will arrive at the end of June.

Your Loving Nephew, Buckhunter

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from Koldkut wrote 48 weeks 6 days ago

Should this be on the serious non-fly anglers bucket list?

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from badsmerf wrote 48 weeks 5 days ago

KD, make sure you visit SE Alaska sometime. I'm from Juneau, and the fishing in SE is different than inland fishing. You might actually have to get on the salt and land some chrome (real) salmon.

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from Greg Madrigal wrote 48 weeks 5 days ago

Kirk, you nailed this one! I try to explain Alaska to people, and What usually comes out is, "It's SO GRAND! You MUST see it before you die!"
I've been there 5x and am preparing for #6 fly fishing the SW wilderness with David Taylor of Reel Wilderness. I can barely contain my excitement. I know I will be catching my largest rainbow to date.

Uncle Pcspecht, beware of the imposter who goes by the name of Buckhunter. Cu in June, your REAL nephew GREG.

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from Dangle wrote 48 weeks 5 days ago

Hope someone has mentioned how expensive it is to fish a good site like in the picture having a Beaver fly in to pick you up. The flight to, stay, food, everything is expensive regarding Alaska sport fishing. And for good dates you have to secure them far ahead, and then the weather can be miserable at the time you have planned ahead. High winds, and rain can be the order of the day.

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from Gunny Bob wrote 48 weeks 3 days ago

Having caught 187 species of gamefish on the fly and light tackle, and having fly fished Alaska from the Thorne River on Prince of Wales Island to the Ocean River on the Alaska Peninsula, I believe what you say is fact.

That said, the Rio Negro in the central Amazon Basin and Kure Atoll (60 miles west of Midway) are tough competition. Herds of fish chasing your fly simultaneously in such locations, species diversity and ferocity, and given their remote and pristine-as-you-can-get nature, might give some hard-core Alaskans pause.

I was one of those primarily responsible for teaching F&S's David E. Petzal to fly fish. Should you go to one of these locales, just do not take him, as he rapidly assimilates any skill he is taught and quickly starts outfishing you. Plus, he is always armed, so you have to watch what you say.

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from Dangle wrote 48 weeks 2 days ago

187 is all? I did that the first time out, and on a barbless hook.

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from Gunny Bob wrote 48 weeks 2 days ago

Dangle, Lefty told me you had done that but I was suspicious. Now that I have confirmation from you, I must apologize to Lefty not only for doubting him, but for that time I accidentally cut his fly line as we pounded fat Alberts off the "Hook of the Cape" in NC. But he also claimed he you had to harpoon a three-spot Mozambique he was fighting while on the Zambezi above Kariba. Is that true?

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from Dangle wrote 48 weeks 1 day ago

Lefty doesn't even know what arm he casts with. Lefty is a righty. He must have been looking in a mirror.

0 Good Comment? | | Report

Post a Comment

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