I woke up at 3am. My internal clock said it was time to do something fun. I showered, and loaded up my backpack with gloves, a warm hat and some long underwear. It was time to go fishin’. The schedule for the day looked something like this:
7am- Take a seaplane to the Yentna River.
8am- Land at the Riversong Lodge
9am- 5pm- FISH
6pm- Take a seaplane back to Lake Hood airport
It’s important to note, that I LOVE LOVE LOVE to fish. My technique is horrendous, but it brings me a great deal of peace, and to me, that is all that matters. I had also been told by my boyfriend that when he came to Alaska a few years ago, he went fishing and did not have much luck and that he didn’t really enjoy it. So my expectations were set quite low.
I hear my name called, and I meet my first pilot of the day, Bob. I had done a ton of research on seaplanes and fishing lodges, and I had seen two names pop up under the good reviews consistently- Bob and Curtis. You can imagine that I was incredibly stoked to have one of the “good guys” taking me to the remote fishing lodge. At that time, I also met the other 3 people that I’d be fishing with for the day- Ray, a short and robust gentleman from Florida that owned a pool compny for the last 30 years, and a couple (Nancy and Dave) citrus farmers from right smack dab in the middle of California. After a 30 second safety briefing, we hopped into the seaplane, and we were off.
Getting ready to take off at Lake Hood!
This was my first time in a seaplane, so I wasn’t quite sure what to expect. I was slightly nervous, only because when I was flying from Palm Springs to Los Angeles every Friday and Sunday for work this year, I literally had to hang on for dear life, and almost always barfed on that 30 minute white-knuckled flight from hell. The sea plane was significantly smaller than the Palm Springs vessel, thus my expectations were again set very low.
As we’re taxing down Lake Hood, Bob explains that this water runway has more arrivals and departures every day than LAX, and that there is a waiting list that is 10 years long just to get a slip at the airport. That calmed some of my fears, because if that many people wanted to fly in these tiny little floatplanes, then they couldn’t be that nauseating.
We hear in our headphones that it is our turn for takeoff, and Bob revs up the propeller. We’re off. It was the smoothest takeoff of my life. It takes about 3 minutes, but I decide that the only way I want to travel from here on out, is by floatplane. I yell into the mouthpiece to inquire how old our plane is, and what is an estimated cost to purchase said plane (because you know, clearly I’m in the market for a little plane that I would have no idea how to fly). Turns out, our plane was built in the 1970’s and they have stopped making floatplanes because they are dangerous and such a liability. But, if this plane was to be put up for sale, I’d need at least a cool $1.5 million to make it mine. Soooooo, that was the end of that conversation.
As we are flying ahead, I ask Bob what range is directly in front of us. “That’s Mt. McKinley, and this is one of four days that we’ve been able to see it this year. You all picked the best day of the year to fly.” Fist-pump from the back seat!
We fly for about 35 minutes and Bob points out a boat, and explains that is where we are going to land. I’m not scared anymore. I’m excited.We circle around once, and Bob brings us in for the smoothest landing you could possibly imagine. I actually looked down at the floats, because I wasn’t sure we had truly touched down.
In the boat stands a young bearded man. His name is Jack, and he is going to be one of our guides for the day. Ray, Dave, Nancy and blondie hop into the boat and we take off toward a very pretty lodge on the river. I knew exactly where we were going, because there was literally nothing else around. This was quite possibly the most remote place I have ever been (the canals of East Bangkok are a very close second). We pull up to the lodge and there is cute little redhead to meet us, this is Madeline, and she is our send guide for the day (I loved that we had a female guide, and turns out she knew her stuff!). We get shuffled inside and sign some waivers, give them our wader size, and have a hot beverage while we wait. While I’m fixing my coffee, I’m chatting with the owner of the lodge (Lisa), and she asks if I’ve ever had “Bush Mocha”. Since I hadn’t she explained that instead of putting water into hot chocolate, or sugar into my coffee, I should dump a packet of hot chocolate into my coffee. Oh my balls. You all need to immediately try this, it’s freaking delicious, especially when you’re freezing your toosh off.
Madeline comes back with my waders (in the biggest size of our group because my feet are the size of skis), and Jack explains that we have to take two trips over to where we are going to start our day of fly fishing. Madeline, Jack, Ray, and yours truly hop in the first boat and head to our fishing spot. Madeline, Ray and I hop out and she begins to teach us the basics of fly fishing. After a few basic tips, she puts us about 200 get away from each other in the middle of the river, and lets us try our hand at fly fishing.
I cast once, and it’s utter rubbish. Nothing.
I cast a second time, and get it a little closer to the shore, where I can see trout sitting. Still no bite.
I cast a third time, and as my line heads down stream, I set my line and BOOM. I caught a fish.
HOLY SHIT! HOLY SHIT! HOLY SHIT! I start screaming. I didn’t even know how to use the reel yet. Madeline looks oner in shock, as this blonde idiot she’s guiding has just caught the first fish of the day in less than a minute. You can see in the photo below how freaking happy and shocked I was, never mind that it was the smallest fish I’d ever snagged. We unhooked the little sucker, took a photo (because duh!), and threw him back. I. WAS. HOOKED.
After 2 or 3 more minutes of casting, I hear the boat coming back with Jack, Dave and Nancy. I cast upstream, and BAM!, I caught the second fish of the day, just in time for everyone to watch. This was attention whore heaven. I dramatically reeled it in, making sure to point out that “THIS IS WAY BIGGER THAN MY FIRST FISH!”, and splashed around in the water with joy. I’d like to think that I was some sort of fly fishing savant, but honestly it was probably just dumb luck.
We fished in this spot for about 2 more hours and I caught 10-15 more fish (everyone else was catching a ton of fish too). The way the sun was hitting us, the water was sparkly and absolutely breathtaking.I could have fished there forever. Jack explained that because the river was lower than the day before (it is glacier fed, so the colder it gets the more shallow the river becomes), we would have to trudge across the river and that the water might be a little bit swift. ADVENTURE. I was pumped.
We packed up our bags and hiked about half a mile through the river (I was really glad for my long legs, as the other members of the group got a little wet from trying to cross at some deeper spots). I fished here for about 30 minutes, and decided my feet were a little chilly, so I sprawled out on the rocks on the bank, and took a short 7 minute fisherwoman snooze. When I opened my eyes, I started chatting with Maddie (we were on a BFF name basis by this point), and it turns out I was the FIRST woman traveling alone that they had come on a trip all summer, which is baffling to me, because you’d think there would be way more ladies that would like to have some peaceful alone time. She and Jack also were in agreement that THIS was the best day of the entire year to fish, both weather and catch-wise. I sort of thought they were just saying that to make us feel special, but by the end of the day I was certain it really was a phenomenal day to be standing in the Yentna River.
Around this time, they passed out lunch (these incredible steak sandwiches made by their chef [he has cooked for every celebrity or major musical tour under the sun]) and we sat around basking in the glorious Alaskan sunshine. This makes my top 5 list of favorite quiet moments of my life (I have an actual spreadsheet of these things, not that that would surprise anyone).
The group consensus was that we should hike up the river a little further and fish some more. So we hiked another mile or so upstream, and I proceeded to catch a boatload of trout. On a scale of 1 to 10, my happiness level was about a 14 (to give you a frame of reference, that would be pretty close to how I’d feel if Texas Tech won a national championship in football). Throughout the day, I think I caught close to 30 fish. By around 4pm, my shoulder was tired from casting, and the rest of the group was waning (note, that besides the guides, I was the youngest by at least 30 years). We hiked back (and almost lost Nancy to a rapid) to our original spot by the boat, and decided to fish for another hour or so. We caught a few more fish, and took a ton of photos of the gorgeous and untouched nature surrounding us. There was no way I could look at all that breathtaking beauty and not thank God for such an incredible creation.
We hopped back in the boat and made our way back to the lodge (which, I might add was really well decorated and uber cozy). We chatted with Lisa again, and then a new floatplane was there to whisk us back to the airport. The plane landed and it was significantly bigger, and the pilot was a different man.
ANB: What is your name?
ANB: CURTIS? LIKE “THE” CURTIS? I read so many reviews about you, this can’t be happening! [there were seriously 30+ glowing reviews on this guy on the interwebs]
Curtis: Reviews? About me? You know what young lady? You seem pretty excited, so how about you hop in the front of the plane next to me.
ANB: ARE YOU SERIOUS? THIS IS THE BEST DAY OF MY WHOLE ENTIRE LIFE! [maybe a tiny over-exageration, but it was close!]
We all pile into this 8 person (and one dog) plane, and take off. 5 minutes into our flight, Curtis asks if I have ever taken flying lessons before. Uhhh, no way. He then proceeds to teach me how to fly the plane. He took his hands off the wheel and let me push the plane up, bank it right and keep it steady. I’m certain that he was in control the entire time, but good gravy, was I over the moon (or rather, over the glacier) The other passengers did not look to pleased when I turned around post-flying the plane solo, but let’s get real, they were probably just jealous of my badass flying skills. Yeah, that’s it.
After my little flying lesson, we got “blown off course” and Curtis took us to see some mating moose, some more remote fishing cabins, and a fighter plane that had crashed in the 70’s. Because that’s what every person in a small plane wants to see, a wrecked airplane that hadn’t been recovered in 40+ years.
We landed (oddly, Curtis didn’t let me help with that part, hmmmm!), and Curtis told me not to go far because he had a present for me. He comes back a few minutes later, and gives me my very own captain wings. Hello, my name is Avery, and I am 5 years old. I gave him a big hug (thats how you know I was happy, because I HATE touching people, especially strangers) and scurried off.
I checked the score of the Tech game (I had exactly zero cell phone reception all day [which was uh-mazing]), and then headed to dinner at the famous Brewhouse. After a few (okay, more than a few) brews and some pretty decent fish (even the best Anchorage restaurants don’t hold a flame to my favorite Houston establishments), I went back to my hotel. But I couldn’t sleep, I was just too happy. I had to be up around 3 am to head to Seward, and knew that trying to sleep would be a waste of time, so I decided to stay up all night. Around 2 am, I hopped in my car and headed into the wilderness, in hopes of seeing the Aurora Borealis. I’d been told that it was pretty unlikely I’d see them because this summer had been incredibly rainy and cloudy, but I figured if I wasn’t sleeping anyway, it was at least worth a shot.
I am so glad I didn’t sleep Saturday night. The Northern Lights are something every person should experience at least once in their lifetime. They are hauntingly beautiful. Also, I could see why people might believe that they have something to do with aliens, because it was definitely other-worldly. After the lights started to die down, I took a 12 minute nap, in my car, and started to make my trek to Seward, Alaska.