When the weather doesn’t allow the de Havilland Beaver floatplanes to fly at the lodge, we just hop in a meticulously-maintained, fully stocked, and (perhaps most impressively) clean jet boat to fish for trophy rainbows on the world-famous Naknek River. The guides carry lunches, complete with inventive sandwiches on fresh-baked bread, hot soup and a selection of beverages. They tie on every fly and net every fish for you. It’s fishing extravagance.
Are you rolling your eyes yet? Good. Yes, it’s that fancy.
Connor is home in Anchorage from his lodge guiding job now. Still a very new, full-time resident to Alaska, I figured he should probably know what it’s like to fish Southcentral like the commoners.
Last Sunday we decided we’d go fishing. It was dumping rain, but being outside on weekends is almost always better than in, and we figured we may as well pursue an activity that already involves gear made to keep you dry.
After breakfast, we started getting our things together. Roughly 800 trips to the gear room and shed to fill dry packs, find missing boots and tie on new leaders; and a bewildering amount of time later, there was a massive pile on the living room floor ready to be loaded into the car.
Eventually, we and our two dogs weaved our way through the streets of Anchorage to head north toward the Matanuska Valley and see what some of the Susitna River tributaries had in store for us.
The view from my car was slightly impeded by certifiably ancient windshield wipers and the molten hot breath of our dogs steaming up the windows, but we nevertheless found our way to a creek that looked… slow, at best. After a quick walk around and not getting the fishy sense or feeling much affinity for the scenery, we hopped in the car in our already-soaking waders to find another creek.
It took us a while to choose a spot, but at last we found something that looked fishable and rigged up.
Ready to rumble, we made our way the semi-worn social trail along the creek, stepping over logs and moving branches in our way. As we walked, we noticed the creek had risen significantly due to the steady rain and was swift. No one else had bothered to come out that day, so we let our dogs happily crash through the trail ahead of us. Somewhere in there, my dog found a critter to roll in and/or feast upon that I did not see, but that was unquestionably in an advanced state of decay. She came back to find us, proudly donning the most god-forsaken perfume that has ever filled my nostrils.
We chose two spots to wet our already wet lines (we were soaked from the rain and brush) and began fishing. Connor’s chocolate lab, Ellie, sat obediently on shore watching him cast. My dog ran amok in and out of the water ensuring not even a ghost of a dolly varden would emerge for a bite, her smell making me want to hurl every time she approached.
You’ll be surprised at this: but we didn’t catch — or see — any fish.
I kept thinking about how different it must feel for Connor, and how incredibly lacking I’d been as a “guide” after he’d treated me to such banner fishing conditions.
It was getting to be early evening by the time we later gobbled our homemade sandwiches from the shelter of the car headed south to Anchorage. We had the defrost and heat blasting to return blood to our frozen and soggy fingertips, but windows cracked to survive the smell of my dog—Connor insisted it was not OK for me to just leave her behind at the river to embark upon the feral future I argued she’d asked for.
“I’m sorr-” I started to apologize, on the verge of making a comment about fishing in the real world.
“It was beautiful out there,” he started at the same time.
He was right, it had been beautiful. We turned up the music to overcome the roar of the heater and contentedly drove back home.
There’d been no fleet of boats or fancy airplanes. There weren’t even any fish. But we were lucky to have all the gear to be comfortable, wheels and healthy bodies to take us out there, an Alaskan river in autumn all to ourselves, and two dogs to keep us entertained.
Jenny Weis is the Alaska communications director. She lives and works in Anchorage.