Since 2007, I have been spending my summers guiding at Talaheim Lodge, a remote fly-in lodge located on the Talachulitna River, a catch and release rainbow fishery in the foothills of the Alaska Range, on the west side of Cook Inlet. From the deck of the lodge, one can see Denali, about 80 miles away. Talaheim is a unique fly fishing experience, in that the operation relies upon helicopters to drop anglers into headwater tributaries. This smaller scale water is inaccessible by any other means. Thus, on most of the rivers I guide, I'll never see another human. Fishing at Talaheim is truly a wilderness experience, raw, untamed and sometimes intimidating.
Being a fly fishing guide is a wonderful experience, although exhausting. The schedule is 14 hours a day, 7 days a week, 12 weeks straight. There is little personal time because there is always something going on - new guests arriving, planeloads of supplies coming in, jet boats to be bailed, and cabins to be stocked with firewood. Your gear takes a real beating. I've 3 pairs of waders and rain jackets in rotation-one pair drying, one pair being patched, and one pair ready to go. The rain can be relentless and depressing, then just as suddenly, the clouds suddenly blow away and the sky is clear and eggshell blue. The mist blows away, revealing majestic snow covered peaks and volcanoes.
Given the hectic pace, we guides need to get away from the lodge a bit to de-compress. We live in a little camp, down on the banks of the Talachulitna, where we have canvas wall tents, set up on platforms, surrounded by an electric bear fence. Each tent cabin is equipped with a shepherds stove, a writing desk, bunk bed, and shelves. At the end of each day, flies and tackle are laid out to dry, waders hung up to dry, and after a bit of reading or writing, it's time to crash. The night noises are wonderful. Our tents overlook a pool inhabited by a clan of beavers, and they patrol the shallows at dusk, looking for danger before feeding. There is always something suspicious that require a few judicious slaps of their tails. In the middle of the night, when the sun has finally dropped below the mountain peaks, flocks of mergansers working in unison make a horrible splashing and chattering racket as they gang up on helpless salmon fry. Other nights, brown and black bears shuffle and nose around the electric fence. Early dawn, especially on foggy mornings, usually has a fly-by of trumpeter swans, navigating by following the river. Besides their klaxon cry, you can hear the pumping of their powerful wings. I am never bothered by these sounds, even the bears. I just roll over, and snuggle deeper into my sleeping bag.
Bears are constant possible companions while fishing and although I have never had a serious problem, I have been damned nervous. I carry a Remington 870 pump shotgun, loaded with slugs, just in case. We stay out of the brush, are always on the lookout, make plenty of noise and we likely spook most bears before we even see them. Most run off immediately upon identifying us as human or non-bears. Then there are bears that see you and smell you clearly and just don't care. They will come right toward you, sometimes growl or chomp at you, or sometimes just skirt you as if you didn't exist. In these cases, with the gun loaded and ready to shoot, we stand our ground, hollering loudly, and try to look big.
How to Book Fishing
Tackle and Flies
The Driftless Region
How We Fish