Day 1. Wednesday. What Have I Gotten Myself Into?
It was an offer I could not refuse. After all, when you get a writing assignment that involves fishing in the Alaskan wilderness, you have to jump at it, no matter what the catch, right?
Well, this story did come with a catch ... actually, four catches. And on the first day in Alaska, I realized I might be in deep trouble.
The plan was for me to join an entourage from Field & Stream's sister publication QUAD Off-Road Magazine on a week-long expedition. It was supposed to be a whirlwind "groundstorming" tour, where we'll sample ATV adventures along the coast near Homer, and then bushwhack deep into the Talkeetna Mountains north of Anchorage, sampling the fishing along the way.
Sounded great ... but catch number one was that none of the other guys flyfished. And, while we'd be in the hands of expert ATV guide Tim Cook of Alaska ATV Adventures (who more than knew the lay of the land), I'd be the de-facto fishing guide. Tim's job was to find the water and steer us around the bears. My job was to find the fish and get them in the net.
Which would have been cool, if not for catch two. Namely, I had only been to Alaska once before, and that was in the early season (June), two years earlier. I'd never seen an Alaskan coho anywhere but on a dinner platter, let alone cast at one. What the heck. I figured I could fudge my expertise, ask some buddies for advice, bum a few flies, and learn on the job. In the worst case, I'd hope for a silver or two to commit suicide by eating one of my borrowed streamers, and everything would be hunky-dory.
Then came catch number three. Within hours of landing in Anchorage (I came in a day before the rest of the crew in order to score some last minute gear and advice from my friends at the Worldwide Angler flyshop), I learned that the local fishing report was bleak. Record level rains had been pounding south-central Alaska for weeks without interruption, and most of the rivers from Talkeetna down to the Kenai Peninsula were blown-out, brown torrents of glacial crud and debris. I thumbed through the Anchorage Daily News and noticed the pictures of washed-out highways and floating houses and began to curse my editor.
Yet, despite all of that, the thing that had me popping Maalox was catch number four. I wasn't sure I could ride a quad with these guys. I was going to be ATV-ing backcountry trails with the pros (and I mean pros -- Yamaha rider Pat Brown was asked to tag along with us). I had ridden quads before ... slowly, on easy trails. But truth is, I had more "seat time" in the dentist's chair than on top of a four-stroke, liquid-cooled offroad machine.
So on day one, I wasn't sure which I feared more: Being crushed under the weight of fishing expectations from America's oldest outdoor magazine, or literally being crushed under 600 pounds of steaming machinery on some isolated Alaskan mountainside.
I found a little restaurant on the shore of Lake Spenard, ordered a sandwich, and decided I'd kill time as I waited for the rest of the team to arrive by watching the float planes land and take off on the lake. The last time I was in Alaska I had flown on float planes like these to amazing fishing locations that had blown my mind. I couldn't help but wish like hell I could climb on board one of them and zoom away. I decided to describe this feeling in the lead paragraph of the magazine story.
Eventually, I made peace with the "four catches." If we did pull this off on ATVs, we would discover a vast, wide-open realm of outdoor opportunity, between the combat fishing zones near the roadways, and the expensive fly-out lodges in the bush.
I decided I was along for the ride. But I was certain it would be "One Wild Ride."