I got the chance to chat fishing, flying, and lodge living with Matt Bertke, owner of Chelatna Lake Lodge in Alaska. Lake Creek comes out of Chelatna Lake, and I have spent some time rainbow fishing out there, so it was wonderful to chat with him about the creek and the beauty of the area. Matt is living the Alaskan dream, but it does sound like a ton of work! Check out the interview below to learn more about what it takes to own a remote Alaskan lodge and the amazing experiences to be had at such an incredible place.
Flylords: Who is Matt Bertke?
Matt: Oh man, that’s a hard question. I am a guy who lives in the middle of nowhere, and I like to go fly fishing and snow machining. I am also a lifelong Alaska resident and private pilot. Growing up I spent winters in Anchorage and summers out at Chelatna Lake Lodge. For the past six years, I have lived year-round at the lodge and get to experience the hard work and fun times of remote living.
Flylords: What is life like living at a remote lodge?
Matt: Lodge life is not easy, there is a lot of work involved, but it is also very rewarding. Being able to share the beauty of Alaska with others is awesome. The northern light shows that I get to see all winter long are insanely beautiful.
Matt: In the summertime, I fly my Cessna 206 back and forth from Chelatna Lake to Anchorage 2-3 times a week. During the trips, I get groceries for everyone at the lodge as well as fuel and other supplies. Summer lodge life is super busy and it goes by so quick, I wouldn’t change it for the world!
Flylords: What are some challenges that come with living at a remote lodge?
Matt: Living in a place away from civilization sure has its challenges. For example, if I need something, I have to fly to get it. If the weather is bad and I can’t get to town then I’m out of luck for a few days. Logging is part of my daily life due to the lodge being heated by a wood stove, which is hard work. If something breaks down at the lodge, the only way to get parts is to snowmachine or fly them in.
Flylords: When did you start fly fishing?
Matt: I was a freshman in high school when I started fly fishing; spending summers at the lodge gave me lots of time for fishing. Thanks to my dad I started being an assistant guide at the lodge right after that. It was always fun to go out with the guides after dinner and do some rainbow research.
Flylords: What species can you fish for at your lodge?
Matt: Rainbow trout are my favorite species, and Lake Creek offers excellent rainbow fishing. Fall is the best time for rainbow fishing because the salmon start dropping eggs. The trout get super fat from eating all the eggs and late fall brings the huge bows. Fishing for arctic grayling, lake trout, and salmon is also offered at the lodge.
Flylords: What do you do all winter?
Matt: Work hard – spending winters out here is a whole lot of work. A wood stove heats the lodge, so I have to cut down trees all winter long to stay warm. There is also a considerable amount of effort involved to get groceries or any other goods. I have to get all the snow and ice off my PA-12 and heat up the engine before making the flight to Anchorage. The short days of winter also make it harder to get things done.
Matt: Although there is a ton of work involved, there are some pretty cool things I get to do! I love snow machining, and the Chelatna Lake area has some insane mountains and powder. Snowboarding is another fun winter activity that is pretty sweet to do with buddies when they come to visit.
Flylords: Why/how did you choose the lodge lifestyle?
Matt: My parents bought the lodge the year I was born, so I grew up spending summers enjoying lodge life. I always knew I wanted to run the lodge eventually, and my parents were thinking of selling it so I volunteered to do the winter caretaking. My parents and I ended up breaking a deal and six years ago I purchased the lodge and became the caretaker and owner. My parents would always hire a winter caretaker, but I decided to go all-in and move to the lodge full time. After spending one winter at Chelatna Lake, I fell in love and cannot imagine moving back to civilization.
Flylords: How has COVID affected you and the lodge?
Matt: I mean I’m in the right place for COVID… just my girlfriend, me, and the dog out here! It’s definitely not super cool to be in tourism right now, we had some big-time impacts this past summer. Once March hit my phone was dead, no one was calling. I had to decide if it was worth bringing the staff out, and I did and we got some projects done and made the most of the situation. Luckily I was able to hold on to some bookings and push others to the summer of 2021. Hopefully business goes back to normal this summer!
Flylords: Is there an experience from lodge living that you will never forget?
Matt: My first winter at the lodge it was super cold and clear, so the northern lights were amazing almost every night. That first year I also realized how many noises the lake makes. Giant ice sheets would drop and giant cracks would form. I’m not going to lie, it was kind of scary at first but now I find it pretty cool! It definitely made me feel very small compared to the huge lake. An awesome part about lodge living is that there are always amazing experiences to be had, being out in nature brings exciting challenges and adventures.