Long before the programmed chime of my alarm, I am awoken by a thick cloud of cigarette smoke, Marlboro Reds to be exact. It’s 5:00 AM and the rest of the guides are still sound asleep. Captain Josh Laferty and I fight off the damp, morning chill with our propane heater as we gear up for the day. Puffy Suit, check. Waders, check. It’s now shortly after 5:30 AM and the low rumble of a strong diesel engine pierces the quiet air of camp. For some, petrol fumes signify an abrupt end to their peaceful slumbers, but for other, wiser guides, it signifies that Captain Austin Adduci is making coffee and you’ve got first dibs. Cigarettes and coffee are a staple of NakNek River Camp in the morning.
After a social breakfast shared between clients, dogs, and guides at 7 AM, all return to their respective quarters to finish gearing up for the day. Captains ready their boats and rods, fly-out guides double-check flight conditions and triple-check their packs, and clients step into their boots and ready themselves for the adventure to come. It’s 7:30 AM and I find myself back on our tent porch, bag packed, and ready for my flight. Captain Ryan White passes by, gear bag in tow, right-on-schedule. I grab my pack and throw it over shoulder, being sure to mind its weight. When flying out you must strike a balance between managing weight and managing to fit in all of the essentials. My guide pack may contain, but is not limited to: rod tubes, reels, streamer boxes, bead boxes, packs of hooks, tippet spools, fly lines, flo-tips, survival kit, bear mace, puffy jacket, rain shell, GPS with Satellite texting, first aid kit, snacks, sunglasses, camera, housing, and a few lenses.
I collect our clients at the dock and we grab our lunches from the crate. I begin discussing a plan with the accompanying guide for the day as the Captains leave the dock and jet downstream. I glance at my watch and it reads 8:00 AM. The only thing more exciting than the chorus of jet outboards humming down river is the sound of a De Havilland Beaver as it heads up–circling camp and making its grand landing in front of our dock.
I have shared planes with incredible guides such as Dan Bennett and Josh Trammell from Steelhead Alley Outfitters, Chris Cornetet from the Pere Marquette River in Baldwin Michigan, and Micah Walker from a River Through Atlanta Guide Service. And we are all blessed to be in planes piloted by guys like Rod Barrows of Branch River Air, “Best In The Bush!” We pass our gear to the pilot as he loads the cargo hatch, being sure to stash our bear mace in the float hatches, and aiding our clients as they climb into the plane. Rod taxis to line up his “runway,” drops the throttle, and we are in the air by 9:00 AM, weather permitting!
Where there is risk, there is great reward. And along the banks of Katmai’s backcountry fly-out creeks, fly fisherman can seek out the fishing opportunities of their dreams. NakNek River Camp offers a, “Best of Bristol Bay,” package that includes two days of flying out and it is seldom overlooked by our guests. This boils down to daily fly outs and ample opportunity for a guide to explore these amazing creeks. After a long flight and a short hike, 11:00 AM finds us along the banks of one of our favorite creeks.
I remember a point in late July of last season that felt like every species in the system was up in the creek and feeding. King and Chums were crushing swung streamers, while Dolly Varden, Rainbows, and Grayling were aggressively taking egg patterns, mice patterns, and beads. These were good sized fish and it seemed like each guide could have been unhooking 100 fish a day.
Before taking my position in Alaska, I had only heard and dreamed of such fishing possibilities in a U.S. Territory. And here we were, navigating the bear paths along a Katmai creek. It’s a primal feeling, for these pathways through the thick creekside brush can bring a man face to face with his worst assumed fear, as well as his greatest fishing pleasure.
I prefer it all… for one man’s fear is another man’s pleasure. I enjoy the guiding, the fishing, the hiking, the historic planes, and our daily interactions with the bears. I enjoy watching the Coastal Brown Bears as much as I love watching our clients catch these fantastically colored-up fish.
Katmai is a guide’s paradise. 4:30 PM or so brings about the end of our guide day and we get to climb back into the 1950s Beaver float plane and fly back to camp. We get to eat a home-cooked dinner at 7 PM, complete our camp tasks after 8 PM, and spend time with some amazing people until midnight. Alaska’s July certainly provides the daylight to fit it all in.