I have the best job on the planet. My home base really is my home, and it's surrounded by some of the most beautiful wilderness on Earth. If that sounds like an exaggeration, consider this: I own and operate a fly fishing lodge in Alaska, and I love to fish.
Family and friends help me welcome and guide fellow anglers from all over the world. One of the questions we hear most often always makes us smile: "So, where do you fish when you aren't working?" The truth is that our off-time really only happens during the winter, so that makes vacations a little more complicated up here.
Good fly fishing spots are hard to find
From spring through late fall, you can fish just about any of the 3,000 wild rivers that run through our state. By the middle of winter, most freeze over, but I can recommend the Killey River. This 32-mile tributary to the Kenai River is classified as a stream, but don't let that fool you. The Killey isn't easy-access. The deep solitude of fly fishing off the banks of this pristine river defines Alaskan vacation time for seasoned guides. It's one of our favorite winter spots on the Kenai Peninsula.
We don't do it alone
By mid-winter, our daytime temperatures get stuck in the 20s. Some of our favorite riverbanks are pretty far off better-beaten tracks. Conditions and locations call for the safety of a buddy system. We double up on protection from the cold, too. We layer on clothes, dig out fingerless glove-mittens, and pack up thick, warm waders. With plenty of gear and a couple of reliable GPS devices stuffed into the dry-pockets of our Deuter Speed Lite 20 backpacks, the trekking stays safe and easy.
The action can get crazy
As fly fishing guides, we do all we can to help visiting anglers trick out their techniques. Folks from the Lower 48 teach us their best, too, so it's a great exchange of tips, advice and the general zen of our sport. If you're thinking about joining us, picture this mid-winter action – spawning silvers mean you're chasing hungry dollies, 'bows and steelhead. Leeches, muddler minnows and sculpin patterns drive them crazy near coho spawning beds. The fish are usually right there, so you don't have to wade deep or cast very far. That's winter river fly fishing in Alaska.
Ice fishing isn't a break
Just like you, we can't extend our vacation through the entire season. We spend most of winter working around the lodge and getting things ready for next spring. When somebody mentions taking a break for some ice fishing, I have to laugh. We're talking about hauling ice spuds, augers, skimmers and shovels along with assorted poles, bait and gear. The rest is pretty much like you picture it. Ice fishing is a great sport. If we didn't work so hard all winter, we'd probably be out there on those frozen lakes a lot more often.
We fish everywhere
I don't want to leave you with the wrong impression. Most people think it's always cold up here, but we start thawing with the spring ice out. Our warm summers turn the backcountry into vast stretches of unforgettable beauty. The lodge fills up with fellow trout bums, and the rivers make us glad to be alive.
The truth is that Alaskan fly fishing guides go fishing all over the Last Frontier. As long as we've got our favorite rods, fly boxes and gear stashed in our backpacks, we're ready to take on the wilderness all year-round.
One of these winters, maybe we'll take our vacation down in the Bahamas. We hear the fly fishing is pretty hot down there, too.
John Holman was born in the state of New York and moved with family to the Alaskan bush in 1970 where his father founded No See Um Lodge – a family-owned Alaska fishing lodge. John has been guiding and flying since the age of 19 and is licensed and certified as a commercial pilot, flight instructor, AI (Aircraft Inspector), Coast Guard Captain First Aid and CPR First Responder. When not running the lodge during the Alaska fishing season, he can be found flying, hunting, fishing and scuba diving around the world.