By Pat Hoglund
Long ago Robert Louis Stevenson wrote, “It is better to travel hopefully than to arrive.” I am contemplating that while the de Havilland Beaver is in the air. I’m three days into a trout bender and I’ve sufficiently caught and released upwards of 100 rainbow trout the past 72 hours. Epic is the best way to describe it.
Yet as the plane cuts through the Alaska sky my mind is racing. I am playing out scenarios that I’m about to experience the next 10 hours of my life. Soon, the pontoons will splash down on a small, tidally influenced river along the west coast of Alaska. Soon, I will be casting big, gaudy streamers to ocean-fresh coho. And soon, I’m told, I will experience some of the best fly fishing for salmon in all of Alaska. I am traveling hopefully, which is to say the journey is always better than the destination.
I am hoping not to be disappointed. My mind travels to previous fishing trips where the salmon fishing was off the charts. The Alagnak River comes to mind. So does the Upper Talarik. And the Italio River. How can today’s trip be better than those? Maybe Stevenson was right. Maybe the fishing will only be as good as I imagine and the destination will leave me wanting more.
I remember the Upper Talarik Creek well. I stood in one spot, and never moved my feet for the better part of an hour and a half. I made 35 casts in a row and hooked and landed 35 coho. Consecutively. It was a 90-minute period of my life that is burned indelibly into my brain. It was unforgettable. As was the Alagnak River. It was here that Jeff Schluter from St. Croix Rods and I fished feverishly on the lower river. As the water level rose, so did the numbers of coho. I never kept track of the fish we caught, but the fishing was ridiculous. Cast after cast, we hooked coho after coho, each one dripping with sea lice. Then there was the Italio River. While seated in the passenger seat of a Beaver I flew from Yakutat along the Alaska coastline. It was low tide and from the air we could see hundreds of coho trapped in low water. They would stay there until the tide changed. If there ever was a time when I’ve been able to shoot fish in a barrel, my four hours on the Italio was it.
So as my guide described the coho fishing on the Big River, I found it hard to believe that it would be better than my previous experiences. Yet, the promise of better fishing forced my mind to go to the unimaginable. Mental images of coho attacking my fly raced back and forth through my head. Casting, stripping, setting the hook and then watch- ing an ocean-fresh salmon twist and turn in an attempt to free itself. It was a cornucopia of mental bliss. I was traveling well. When the plane continued toward the river the anticipation was palpable. I could taste it.
As this issue of Traveling Angler goes to press I am doing the same mental somersaults with this summer’s fishing trips.
For the fourth time I will again find myself salmon fishing at Langara Fishing Lodge. This time my son will join me. Peter is 14 and he’s coming to appreciate fishing in a way that I had hoped. Like every time before,I am envisioning big kings, lots of coho and splendid accommodations. Later in August the two of us will travel to Bristol Bay where we’ll spend our days flying to exotic trout and salmon waters courtesy of Rainbow King Lodge’s fleet of float planes. Those two trips alone are enough to keep my mind racing, much like it was when the green Beaver from Alaska Sportsman’s Lodge landed on the Big River.
After we unloaded the plane, we strung up our fly rods and walked up the shoreline. Across from me was a deep hole protected by a cut bank and overhanging trees. I made one false cast and I remember thinking about Stevenson’s line. Apparently, he never traveled with a fly rod because what happened next was everything I imagined.