How Alaskan Fly-fishers and Guides Feel about COVID-19

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One of Alaska’s largest industries is tourism, and this summer it will be hit hard by COVID-19. With people weary of travel and nervous about what the future holds, it is consequently understandable that trips are being canceled. We decided to ask some local Alaskan guides and fly-fishers how they feel about the lack of tourists amidst Coronavirus.

How do you feel about fishing in Alaska this summer during the pandemic?

Billy Coulliette, Guide at Alaska Troutfitters 

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Fishing and guiding this season in Alaska has been a challenging affair, to say the least. Alaska travel restrictions have put a dampener on all outfitters/guides in the state, causing most to re-write their business models and operating procedures. Local support for small businesses is more important than ever now in our industry. The one great thing that has come from all of this is the support of local anglers and clients stepping up and booking trips during times of the season they normally would not. I can’t express how much we appreciate it and encourage everyone out there to support your local fly shops and guides if you can. There will be many challenges for us this season, but I feel this is the perfect time to hone your craft as a guide and really connect with your local waters and anglers.

Sierra Baldwin, Alaskan Fly-Fisher

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Due to this pandemic, I believe it’s actually made the fishing quite busier in some ways! More locals are looking to get out and do something, so they fish. On the other hand, the guiding season has been much slower. Tourists are canceling their trips to Alaska this year, resulting in fewer trips for the guides. For people to be allowed to travel to Alaska, now all they need is a negative covid-19 result. For future outlook, it seems like the guide companies will be busier come July and August.

John Jinishian, Owner of Wild River Guides

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This summer has been one for Alaska unlike any we have other seen. Generally, we discuss a multitude of “know unknowns” that could affect us in the field with our guide staff prior to the season and I can say a global pandemic wasn’t on that list, until now. Since early March we have been changing up our schedule for summer prep and planning for a multitude of different potential outcomes that involve different start dates and rivers. Many other float trip operators and lodges in our area have canceled their seasons but we have continued to delay our start dates and have held out hope to float our western Alaskan rivers for a few weeks. All of the native villages we would potentially pass through are close to any outside visitors and we had arranged alternatives to have river pickups via floatplane for a few of theses rivers.
Many hurdles have been present including a mandatory 14-day quarantine that is now in place through August 3rd for the town of Dillingham where we operate out of. The flight schedule for 2/3 airlines that provide service to the village has ceased and Alaska Airlines has not released a schedule past August 17th. At this point, even though our bush pilots are ready to fly, we may not be able to get our guests and guides in and out of the town. We operate raft based wilderness fly fishing expeditions so our ability to drop completely off the grid is unparalleled if we can get our guest into town.
As far as the fishing goes, we do think that we can operate safely but we would place travel guidelines in place for our guests to make sure everyone is traveling safely and not putting other participants at risk. We operate 50-100 miles away from the nearest paved road in the Togiak National Wildlife Refuge on fisheries that are truly world-class. While the scenario still exists that we may not be able to operate there are good things that could come from this. Sure, we will take a massive financial hit but the fisheries and especially the resident species (Rainbows, Grayling, Arctic Char, Lake Trout) could benefit greatly from a low-pressure year.
We have realized that much of this season is out of our control and all we can do is worry about the things we can control. Hopefully, we will be enjoying Alaska with our guests in August but if we cannot this year, we hope that the fisheries maintain or improve on the strength we have seen over the last decade. We completely support the continued sustainable management of the fishery but the state of Alaska for substance resident anglers and commercial anglers and the sportfishing community and hope that everyone will be able to operate in some capacity. We also have not won the fight against the Pebble Mine and we need to continue to support the opposition to the mine now more than ever to protect this wild place many of us are lucky to call home for part or all of the year.

April Harbison, Alaskan Fly-Fisher

I think this year is definitely a first for everyone being that there is a pandemic. I’ve noticed it’s been either really hit or miss with guiding & lodges. Some are still up and running, taking a shot at this season, and others had to close completely.
We’ve seen a lot of cancellations in the past few months but we remain hopeful for the rest of season as we decided to take that chance. Although, it has been nice to enjoy the river without the density of people; Cooper Landing, like the rest of Alaska, really does need its tourism to strive.

Wesley Fraker, Guide at Bear Trail Lodge

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I feel like the pandemic has greatly affected the guiding community of Alaska from there being fewer tourists. Lodges all around the state were not even able to open this year because most of their clients are from out of state. Luckily Bear Trail Lodge still wanted to bring me on this year because we were able to operate and lower rates for in-state guests. Another thing lodges have been doing in my area is operating like hotels, and renting out rooms to whoever needs one. So all I can say is just support the local guides in your community and book a trip.

Bry Sims, Owner of Miss Guided AK Fishing

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While the fish haven’t seemed to mind the COVID Pandemic, Guides and anglers like myself find ourselves struggling to get customers on the water. I have had lots of time to fish for fun while trying to stay prepared for potential charters but the phone just isn’t ringing.

During a tough summer for guides and other local businesses, please support your locals as much as you can!

Cover Photo Courtesy of Alaska Troutfitters.


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