“You are so motivated to make sure the trip goes smoothly, because you know that the organs of these two kids are now going to save the lives of more than just a handful of other kids.”
Reeling in salmon on Alaska's stunning 'lost coast'
During the golden weeks of late September and early October, few places offer a greater fly-fishing spectacle than the short tidal rivers on the edge of the Bering Glacier, an ice field larger than Rhode Island. These rivers are packed with coho salmon-silvers, as Alaskans call them. On a clear blue day, you'll see the stunning snow-capped peaks of the Chugach-Saint Elias Mountains rising to 18,008 feet, the world's greatest incline from sea level.
This is the "Lost Coast," the sensual curving underarm of the coast between the watery, green fjord islands of the Tongass-the panhandle area locals affectionately call simply "southeast"-and the Kenai Peninsula, south of Anchorage, before the land reaches out into the Pacific toward Siberia in a long, trailing string of progressively barren, rocky islands named the Alaskan Peninsula.
Walking from my cabin over the grassy sand dunes, I was awestruck by what lay before me: a great, sweeping panorama of the Gulf of Alaska, rolling full and gray-green, crashing ashore in unfurling ribbons of white foam and glinting sunshine. Below was the wildest beach I had ever seen, stretching to infinity in both directions, littered with forests of sea-battered logs.
My first morning on the water was a howler. The mountains stayed hidden. The earth and sky wore solemn, matching gray. The wind whipped. Clouds scudded. My hands were cold as I strung up my nine-foot eight-weight. There were whitecaps in the shallow lagoon. No sooner, it seemed, had a sudden gust slapped my cast prematurely to the wavelets and I cursed aloud than the silly floating puff of hot-pink deer hair and marabou kicking up a bubbly commotion was gone. In one strip-pounced upon, engulfed, devoured.
When I reeled in for lunch a couple of hours later, I had landed 16 fresh-run, mirror-sided wild coho salmon. I had broken hooks and snapped off flies; led writhing fish after fish to soggy shore; felt them blast out of my hands in the icy water; dropped my red-handled pliers and fished them out from three feet deep; looked up to make sure the world was still there; felt myself perspiring in the cold; pulled up my wader-jacket hood against the driving rain; wrung out my wet, slime-covered gloves yet again; contemplated the beauty of arced, straining graphite; and leaned back into more solid, live salmon than I had experienced in a long time-all the while reveling in the raw, exciting sight of those chrome marine predators closing in on whatever getaway impulse my stripped flies must have evoked.
Longest runway: 7,745 ft
FBO: Delta Western, (907) 784-3311
(self-serve jet-A fuel)
Lodging and Information:
Icy Bay Lodge
P.O. Box Lodge
Yakutat, Alaska 99689