by Dave Atcheson
It may be enough that fishing in Bristol Bay is truly legendary, for no place on Earth is as highly regarded for its sheer variety of fish species as the Bristol Bay basin. Whether it’s the lithe precision of a 4-weight fly rod, dabbing dry flies for grayling, or selectively casting to a rising rainbow, or wrestling one of Alaska’s five species of salmon, this region indeed represents the pinnacle of Alaskan angling. But it’s also, says John Holman, owner of No See Um Lodge, the times we share there with family and friends, that make it so special, and the reason he works so hard to keep the family tradition alive.
John and his brother grew up at their family lodge under the tutelage of their father Jack. And now John’s own kids spend summers there, often accompanying him into the field. “It was a great experience,” says Holman, “as early as I can remember meeting people from all over the world, from all walks of life.”
Asked about naming the lodge after Alaska’s most notorious insect, John laughs. “My parents were both teachers in the nearby villages and originally were looking for a write-off for their boat and plane. So, like the naming of Iceland, it was a name designed to not necessarily attract a lot of people. But I’m afraid they did such a good job of welcoming clients and sharing what they had, that people came and kept coming back. Now some of their kids and grandkids are coming.
An accomplished pilot, next to flying John enjoys most showing guests the remarkable landscape of Bristol Bay, and enjoys the feeling of connectedness, to the land and to each other, that they all end up sharing. It’s also the reason he, as have many lodge owners within the region, stepped up their fight to protect the land and their way of life. “Sure,” he says, “my business is important to me, but it’s so much more than that. Having grown up out here, seeing it everyday, I would hate to see this place change into something it should never be.”
Not a necessarily a fan of the limelight, Holman has nevertheless taken a stand. “When I hear lawyers for Pebble call sport fishing in the region insignificant,” he says, “and say the commercial fishery is in decline—a statement which could not be further from the truth—it’s a call to action.” And action is just what Holman has taken, signing on in the earliest days of the Pebble fight as one of the sponsors of the Clean Water Initiative, and now the Bristol Bay Fisheries Reserve Initiative. He’s lobbied state and federal officials and publicly testified, most recently against House Bill 77, which would curtail people’s ability to apply for water rights and citizen’s right to comment on various permits. He is also quick to donate trips if they support the fight to protect Bristol Bay. “It would be nice,” he says, “if I could just sit back and not do anything, but to me that would be almost criminal. After all, it’s my home and my family and our way of life we are trying to protect.”