Day 2: Flyout Fishing Trip
The day begins early at Bear Trail Lodge. I woke up at 6 am, got dressed in what I hoped would be appropriate fishing attire, and headed to the main lodge. The hospitality team had a delicious spread set out in the kitchen for breakfast, along with piping hot coffee. Woody had instructed us to be “wadered up” by 6:45, so I transferred my coffee from a mug to a travel cup and headed to the wader station. The wader station reminded me of a rustic but very clean locker room. Our appropriately-sized boots and waders were set out for us in tall cubbies labeled by our names. We got wadered up and then boarded the bus shuttling us 10 minutes away to a different section of the Naknek River. A pontoon plane awaited us, ready to whisk us off on our flyout fishing trip.
We loaded our gear into the plane, piled in, and took off! My coworker, Woody, and I were joined by a father-son duo and their fishing guide, Triston. This plane was even smaller than the one that transported us from Anchorage to King Salmon, holding seven people, including the pilot.
Cue the beautiful aerial views once again. Thousands of streams and ponds carve through the landscape, creating a unique aesthetic. We landed on one of these ponds, unloaded, and began our trek to Contact Creek, a tributary of the Naknek River. Woody and Triston assembled our rods, and then the two groups split up to begin fishing.
Catching Dolly Varden & Rainbow Trout
As a first-time fly fisher, I required lots of patience and coaching from Woody. Thankfully, he was very helpful and reassuring to me. He patiently untangled my line many times until I figured out how to do it on my own. He also offered helpful tips to improve my technique and showed me how to mend my line if it started floating downstream faster than the fly.
Woody taught me two different kinds of casts: the roll cast and the reach cast. I consistently tangled the line when I attempted the reach cast, so I settled on roll casting. Throughout the day, I caught many Dolly Varden and two rainbow trout. I loved how slick and almost squishy the Dolly Varden felt, but once I learned the rainbows are considered unicorns of the river, I was particularly proud of those catches.
Brown Bear Sightings
Fish weren’t the only wildlife we encountered at Contact Creek. My coworker and I conveniently had our lines tangled together when we realized that we were in the path of a momma brown bear and her cubs. Woody paused his untangling efforts to relocate us out of the bears’ way. Being that close to such a wild animal was a surreal experience. People often ask me if I was scared. At first, I felt a little anxious about my proximity to such an indomitable apex predator. However, once I saw the bear’s calm reaction to seeing people, my uncertainty became pure fascination. We encountered several more brown bears throughout the day, and each was as uninterested in us as the momma and her cubs.
A Hike Through the Tundra
The pontoon plane was picking us up from a different lake than we had arrived at that morning. Due to the weight of the plane when carrying passengers, it requires a larger body of water to take off than to land. We reconvened with Triston and his group and began our hike across the tundra to the pickup location. The ground was shockingly spongy; it looked like I was about to step into a bush. While my feet did sink into the vegetation, the earth beneath the greenery provided enough support to trudge along.
This hike gave us the opportunity to see the expansive landscape at ground level. Triston picked wild berries for us to eat, the most unique of which was a salmonberry. I had never heard of this fruit before, but I wish I could find some in Virginia!
To conclude our flyout fishing trip, the pontoon plane picked us up and transported us back to the Naknek, where our shuttle waited for us. We drove back to the lodge, hosed off our waders, and cleaned up for happy hour. Delectable appetizers were set out in the main lodge. There was also an IPA on tap from a local Alaskan brewery, as well as a selection of wine. The featured drink of the evening was the Salmon Slapper, essentially a Bloody Mary — but better. After another scrumptious dinner, this time with our own fishing stories to tell, my coworker and I returned to our cabin for another restful night’s sleep.
Continue reading: Day 3: Excursion to Katmai National Park