In 2016, I heard that an old friend, Dee, who I had fallen out of touch with, had come down with a rare, debilitating disease for which there is no treatment. I called him to ask how he was doing, and to ask him if he wanted to go out on the river with me.
Dee said he couldnít go, because he was leaving for Salt Lake City for medical tests. We got to talking, and one thing led to another. He started talking about his fishing trips to Alaska in the 1970s. He had made DIY rafting trips and fished a bunch of different rivers. He told me, ďYou should go to Alaska while you can.Ē That sank in, and I started thinking seriously about going.
I had looked at Ardís website before this, but fishing in Alaska always seemed out of reach for some reason. There are a lot of choices for someone who isnít sure where to go; not so many choices for someone who is on a budget. I looked at the websites of lodges, and I bought a guidebook on fly fishing Alaska to see if I could DIY it. I decided that if I couldnít fish with Ard, I probably wouldnít fish in Alaska.
Ard was already booked up that year. Early the next year, 2017, I called Ard and we talked about some dates. I procrastinated, and Ard got booked up for 2017. I started emailing Ard in early January of this year, and firmed up my dates in January, 2018.
I flew to Anchorage June 16, 6 days before my wife did. Ard picked me up at the airport, and I stayed with him and his wife, Nancy, as part of Ardís package. Ard trailered his jet boat to a boat ramp each day.
The first day, my casting was a little rusty. Having to wade deep because of the high water didnít help my casting, either. The place we fished first is usually a gravel bar above water; I never did see it above water and some days it was 2-3 feet under. As the day went on, my casting warmed up and we got the skunk off with 2 Kings. The second day, my casting came around a little (there was also less wind) and I caught 4. The third day, we had a stiff upstream wind in the afternoon. The wind, combined with the deep wading at the end of the day, crashed my casting. I had brought a reel with a Skagit setup on it, but it was back at Ardís house. I made sure to bring it my fourth day, and I used it all that day. The sun came out, the fish were in, and I caught 10 Kings my last day. What a day!
Ard told me that the next day the river was closed to ALL fishing for Kings, including catch and release. There have been a lot of closures this year because of the low returns. There seems to be a lot of heartburn among Alaskans over the many catch and release/closure regulations, but the upside (if there is one) is that there are a lot fewer people out fishing. For a guy like me, who is used to catch and release and who doesnít need to bring home a cooler full of salmon, it is a good thing.
The day after I was done fishing, Ard gave me a ride to the RV rental agency, where I picked up the motorhome that would be our base of operations for the rest of the trip. I met my wife at the airport, and the next part of the adventure started.
There is a travel guidebook published up there, called The Milepost, which Ard insisted that I get. I was glad he did, as it had a lot of information on campgrounds, viewpoints, etc. listed milepost by milepost. Ard gave us another other great tip on the route to take from Anchorage to see Denali. Instead of going directly from Anchorage to Denali, he suggested we take the Glen Highway along the Matunaska River, then the Denali Highway to Denali National Park. We saw a lot of Alaska that we would not have seen otherwise.
Thanks to taking seriously Ard's advice on timing my trip (and to hiring Ard as my guide), I had the trip of a lifetime. Going with Ard let me take that trip of a lifetime within my budget. And, it was the best fishing experience I could imagine.
Besides telling me I should go to Alaska, my friend told me that the place gets into your blood, and one trip isnít enough. Spey pagers have said the same thing in the ďRecommendations for lifetime Chinook trip in AKĒ thread. They are right about that; Iím already plotting how to afford going again next year.
(After attempting to add photos, I can see why so many have complained about the photo posting function here. I got a few, but will have to try again to get the rest. I give up on trying to get captions where they belong)
Here is a link to a few of my non-fishing photos from my trip: https://photos.app.goo.gl/7cvWqFSZnNTBwfsd8