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.
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.