alaska_1-1025348There are the people who claim to love the outdoors, and then there are the people who actually experience them. The latter are those who have been rock-climbing Devil’s Tower and Half-Dome, bow hunting deer in the Kaibab, whitewater rafting in the Grand Canyon, canyoneering in Zion and back-country skiing across the Rockies. I’m proud to say that I’m one of that latter group, and I’ve done all these things and more. My favorite trip, however, was a two-week Alaskan fishing vacation during the salmon runs in late July. I went when I was a young fool, before I knew what it meant to be outside on my own. It was a trip that involved grizzly bears, sleepless nights in the Alaskan eternal summer and the fishing experience of a lifetime. Those not tempered with experiences of the real outdoors may be astounded by what I encountered, but the real wilderness people may just want to follow in my footsteps to see what I saw.

The Trip of a Lifetime

I went to Alaska in search of the big fish. At the time, I had grown bored with the little ponds and streams I had access to near my hometown, and I wanted a real adventure. Being the young idiot I was, all I did to get ready for it was to buy a round-trip plane ticket, scrounge whatever money I could and toss some clothes into a bag of mostly rods, reels and lures. To this day, I don’t know what I was thinking — I could have died. Only the most seasoned outdoorsman — like I am today, perhaps —should have survived that trip; everyone else should trust a guide or group tour and retreat to cozy lodgings when the going gets tough.

The Local Wildlife

Grizzly bears were a constant concern on my trip, especially since I was without comfortable cabins for accommodation for the first week. The impracticality of what I was doing became apparent rather quickly. First, and perhaps most importantly, I had nowhere to store the catch of the day, so I ended up tossing most of it back.

Catch and release seemed like the wisest option with the furry VW busses lumbering around — you wouldn’t believe the size of the bears. Thankfully, they were considerably more interested in their own fishing prospects than in me or mine. The last night I slept outside, I had to abandon camp for a few hours as a bear came sniffling around a little too close for comfort. After that, I found the money to get a bed in town.

The Local Timetable

The word “night” is loose in Alaska because every night had only one hour of near darkness. You see, because of the location of Alaska, the sun doesn’t so much rise and set as circle the horizon during the summer months.

In part that’s what makes the place so magical, I think. You end up in a dream-like haze from the unique and exciting atmosphere.

The Fishing

That was the best fishing of my life, hands down. I have a few different stories about the best fighter, the biggest or even the tastiest fish that I caught while I was there.

alaska_2-1898801I hooked one on a dry wooly-bugger that drifted right down past a little eddy; he sure pulled me off. The fish fought like it was being electrocuted. My rod was pulling all over the place; it was everything I could do just to hang on and forget about reeling the thing in. Naturally I just let the monster tire itself out before trying to haul it in.

My only worry was that I would let the line run out too far and lose him. After I was confident I could pull him in without too much risk, I got him close, grabbed my net and pulled in what turned out to be the most ornery little fish I’ve ever seen. That little silver salmon had more punch-per-pound than any other fish I’ve ever hooked, and I just had to let him go in hopes that someone else would enjoy his scion as much as I enjoyed the sire.

It wasn’t just that the fish fought well, were often tough to hook and tasted great, but there were tons of them. As disheartening as it was to lose two or three in a row, I was comforted by the knowledge that there were about a million or two of them to go around.

Maybe one of these days I’ll get up there again, this time with my family and a cabin on the river. Though I don’t recommend any city slickers go up and pitch a tent next to a grizzly den, no vacation can compare to the joy of experiencing nature in its fullest, and Alaska has the amplest nature I’ve seen.