The Page for Alaskan Do It Your Self Float Fishing Trips
Dedicated to Howie Nan Ness, legendary for his knowledge of Alaska fly fishing and willingness to share it, and to author David James Duncan who abhors the prospect of paying money to a guide.
“My reservations about the average fly fishing guide are a lot like my reservations about the average spiritual guru.”…” David James Duncan*
My company, Wild River Guides, exists for the sole purpose of passing along the skills I’ve learned in 30+ years on Alaska’s wilderness rivers. I am fortunate to accompany a few dozen angler / guests each year on spectacular rivers. There is no question that the guests who travel with me benefit immensely from the efficiencies and knowledge that I bring into “the game” of raft based fly fishing. I can take them places that very very few humans will ever see and enable them to fish areas in ways that require local knowledge. Still there are lot’s of you / us who live to “push outward” to the boundary of what is possible and take the wilderness risks on our own. If you have the raft & camp skills it’s entirely reasonable, so do it!
From my experience most guides are “Do It Your-Selfers” at heart; We do what we do because it’s the “Doing” we love. And when you hire one of us in a sense our “doing” (the myriad logistic actions) deprives you of what you could be experiencing.
So lets give credit to all of you & us who do manage to put Alaskan river trips together! We wouldn’t trade the experience for anything. Let’s get down to the nuts & bolts of Your trip after one more nasty swipe at guides from Duncan followed by the DIY’er comment that, alone is worth the price of his book which is highlighted, (my emphasis added)
“Dare to be the bumbling hero of your own story…Find the best possible river on the best possible map; read about it; explore it; stick your body in it…If you fall in get out…Make mistakes! It doesn’t matter! Make a half drowned half thrashed rat of yourself. Forgive yourself. Regroup…And at the end of the day, pay yourself”.
Mark Rutherford’s advice is Find the best possible week, the peak of the run, for the best possible river. Plan to be there but bring maps for a “plan B” option if your river is blown out or the flying weather is unfavorable. I can tell you that if your Plan B is simply: “to Improvise once we are up there” that you’ll find yourself with damn few options flying along at 100 knots with a nine cylander radial engine roaring. If that’s all ya got for a plan B it isnt good enough!
I’ll help your cause with a dozen suggestions.
1: Bypass the Kenai Peninsula and all of road accessible interior Alaska if you are serious about great fishing on wilderness rivers.
2: Ask for advice and find the best damn pilot for the region you are interested in and don’t fly with anybody else! Every flying service in Alaska is after your business and you shouldn’t give it to about 2/3 of them. Many of the pilots simply don’t have enough experience. You only can afford to trust your life to the best. If you need more background email me I’ll explain.
3: If you feel constrained by budget, and who doesn’t, think carefully about what you might want to trade off to save money. The quality of the fishing, or the fly out wilderness character of the river, or the gear you are tempted to purchase that you might not need? You are coming a long way for wilderness fishing. Get it right but don’t go overboard. Consult with Brad Elfers, owner of Alaska Fly Fishing Goods about flies to bring for your week on that particular river. (907) 586-1550. He won’t steer you toward a sale if you can tie it yourself.
4 NO BS:
If you want to cut the bullshit and you can’t bear any more discussion; Then here is the name and contact of the best Air Service. Tikchik AirVentures serves Bristol Bay North and west from Dillingham to the: Kanektok — Kisarolik- Togiak —Goodnews- Tikchik Lakes- Nushugak etc. Rick Grant, owner of Tikchik AirVentures is the most experienced and trusted pilot in the country. (907) 842-5841
For Bristol Bay South in the Katmai, King Salmon, Naknek country my recommendation is Trail Ridge Air http://www.trailridgeair.com/
5: Plan to travel 5-10 miles per day. Fishing from an actively rowed raft and getting out & wading the gravel bars averages 1 mile per hour. I actually do look forward to seeing you out there! If you recognize my rafts or me by all means say “Hi” and swap some fly patterns with me. Please don’t kill any rainbows. The 22-inch fish are 15 years old!
6: Arguably the most important point. Please burn all your toilet paper. The animals dig up the latrines. The other stuff in the latrine, except the toilet paper, degrades pretty fast. The sight of toilet paper in the willow bushes behind camps ruins the whole experience! Please leave no trace of your passage in all respects.
7: A GPS helps you monitor your rate of passage down river. I use various Garmins with the correct Alaska maps installed. Having accurate base maps is really important. Color screens are better than B&W. Your pilot should give you the coordinates of the “Pick up Point” for the floatplane. You also should have the proper USGS 1:64,000 series 1:inch / mile maps for your trip. You really can’t navigate using 1:250,000 scale maps. http://mapping.usgs.gov/
8: Keep group size small and travel really light. You will have more fun! An overloaded raft is a dog to row, which means it’s tough to position in the channel for fishing, and dangerous. Even the simple Class I & II rivers kill a few rafters each year. Don’t be one of the rafters who ends up in dire straits in a sweeper. Be maneuverable, you must anticipate, back row, keep away from the sweepers, and tie your boat up at night! (The river rises from distant mountain storms).
9: For planning purposes figure your useful load of a Cessna 185 floatplane is 650 pounds (Your bodies & your gear). Perfect for 2 Guys traveling light who can go places those larger groups can’t get. You can expect to pay $600-650 / hour for the Cessna and $750 / hour for the beaver. So if it’ll take the Cessna 1 hour to get you out then you pay for 2 hours so the pilot can return home. An hour of flight time (at 100 knots) will get you to some damn fine rivers in the Bristol Bay…Doing the math for 2 guys dropped off and picked up and it’ll average $1,500-3,000. for the round trip. This floatplane charter is where you want to allocate your precious $$. Your pilot is going to put you into the river / fishing that is worth traveling all this way for.
10: The Beaver floatplane: useful load is 1200 pounds (Your bodies & your gear- not the pilot). 3 guys & gear with one raft is a normal load (or 4 skinny people who have really carefully pre-weighed their load — at home). A Beaver load of 4 is tough to get outfitted at less than 1200#. Let me know your secrets if you can accomplish it and I’ll share mine.
Okay what about the Granddaddies of all float planes, the Grumman Goose and Dehaviland Otter? They are heavy lifters. They are also so old they should be retired to museums unless they are superbly maintained, which is not going to happen in rural Alaska. My opinion: If you need this big plane you may be too big a group and / or hauling too much crap. The big Goose can sure haul a load! But you definitely won’t get off the beaten path with it because it requires a long deep landing lake, which limits the cool little ponds you could be flying to. If you have too much crap: are your boats safe? Remember what you are looking for is David James Duncan’s to “Find the best possible river on the best possible map”. Hint I can only think of a handful of great rivers that a Goose can take you to. Shop for a pilot who drives a Dehaviland Beaver, or Cessna 185, a Maule, or Super Cub and has survived in the business for a couple of decades.
11: Learn something about bears don’t simply fear them.
12: Bring a large Kitchen Fly / tarp and figure out how to pitch it securely for rain and wind shelter.
* From: “In praise of no guide”, Chapter 16, David James Duncan, My story as told by water. 2001 Sierra Club Books. San Francisco