One of the greatest things that comes with working for Trout Unlimited is meeting truly remarkable people. Phil Shoemaker and Rochelle “Rocky” Harrison and their family may be among the most remarkable. They run Grizzly Skins of Alaska from their privately owned homestead within a federally designated wilderness in the heart of the Becharof National Wildlife Refuge, near King Salmon, Alaska.
From the beginning, I’ve enjoyed my interactions with Phil and Rocky. We don’t get to talk that much. Their outfit is remote — 300 air miles from Anchorage and 60 air miles from King Salmon — so communication isn’t always easy. But every interaction is like reuniting with old friends. Phil and Rocky are real Alaskans with a real family and absolutely no pretensions. And they know fishing.
As time went on and the Save Bristol Bay campaign came up to speed, Phil and Rocky and their daughter Tia and son Taj became more and more involved. They were natural spokespeople for that campaign, and for the importance of the Bristol Bay watershed and its people. And for good reason — they are those people. They’ve invested their entire lives here. You cannot separate this family from that landscape, from that watershed. This country is as much a part of them as they are of it.
The intimacy between their family and their home water has made them powerful advocates for Save Bristol Bay. It also makes them tremendous hosts and guides. They’re very upfront about what Grizzly Skins of Alaska is, and what it isn’t. If you need uninterrupted 5G cell service, a hot tub and a French chef, this may not be the right fit for you. But if you’re looking for a real Alaskan experience, you’ll find it here. There is no “lodge” — you’ll be staying in their home. Maximum group size is six. You’ll be pretty much completely out of touch with the outside world while you’re there. But if you come to fish, you’ll be in the right spot.
From June through September, millions of wild Pacific salmon return to Bristol Bay and the Shelikof Straits to spawn. You’ll find all five species of Alaskan salmon here: kings, sockeyes, chums, pinks and silvers. Their spawning runs draw rainbows, Dolly Varden, Arctic grayling and lake trout in large numbers to prey on the eggs and smolt. It is the fishing equivalent of the Serengeti plains of Africa. Please note that at Grizzly Skins, they choose not target king salmon, because of conservation concerns.
At Grizzly Skins, the trips are a week in length and run Saturday to Saturday. Each day their guests are flown out in small bush planes from the lodge to a different creek, river or bay. You choose the target fish of the day. This makes for a very diverse experience, as you will experience different types of fishing and different scenery each day. And maybe just as important, you’ll experience the family.
This is a family affair — everyone is involved. Phil is a licensed Alaskan master guide with a degree in wildlife management. He is a commercial pilot and flight instructor and spent most of his 15,000 hours “bush” flying in Alaska. Rocky is an avid outdoorswoman and naturalist with a degree in biology. She oversees the business and operates as general camp manager.
Taj has a degree in natural resources management from the University of Alaska and has worked around Alaska as a pilot and hunting guide. Taj is the contracting outfitter for Grizzly Skins hunting concessions. Tia has a degree in outdoor therapeutic recreation and is a licensed pilot. She has worked all over Alaska and Montana as a fishing guide and outdoor educator. She runs the fishing business, guides during hunting season and hasn’t missed a hunting season with Grizzly Skins since she was a teenager. On this team, everyone has a part.
But at Grizzly Skins, the whole is greater than the sum of the parts. Phil, Rocky, Taj and Tia love one another, and they love this place. Their deep connection with it comes out in their business and in their advocacy for their home water. A trip with Grizzly Skins of Alaska is more than a fishing trip. It’s an opportunity to experience something important, something worth saving — a place and a way of life that’s priceless in the 21st century.
Grizzly Skins of Alaska (O,G,L)
Rochelle Harrison and Phil Shoemaker
King Salmon, AK 99613