Jacob McGee Takes Us to His Backyard in Alaska
The world is moving at an increasingly fast pace and with society becoming more and more “advanced”, it is easy (for myself at least) to get caught up in it all. There are always bills to pay and deadlines to make, but having a summer job working as a guide at a remote lodge in Alaska is the perfect way for a young man, with a love of fishing, to procrastinate.
Fly fishing, for me, has slowly become less about the fish I catch or the flies I tie, and more about being in tune with the river. Now don't get me wrong, I love watching a trout rise or a rod bend as much as the next guy, but that, for me, is not what fishing is about. I guess that is why I am a guide first and a fisherman second.
It was 2008 when I spent my first season in Alaska and since then I have been back every year. I have had the pleasure of fishing and guiding most of the river systems in South-West Alaska, and it would be fair to say that I have caught a salmon or two, and had a good try at all of the resident fish. Eight years of procrastination might seem like a long time for some, but I wouldn't change a thing if given the chance.
Being on the river with a rod in hand and a fish in sight, can often be a private matter, and it is rare to be approached by a fellow angler asking what fly is working, or if the bite is on. Whether this stems from pride, or just a desire to figure out the fish, is beyond me, but I often say that the greatest honor in being a guide comes from being invited to share someone else's fishing experience.
Sometimes larger groups join me on the river, and I find myself, at the end of the week, having made good friends with three generations of the same family. I will never forget a conversation I had with a client on the second week of July, 2011. After spending a good part of the day targeting Sockeye salmon with great success, we sat down on the side of the river to have lunch. While talking about the time he spent in the service of his country, he looked downstream at his son, who was netting a fish that his grandson was fighting. With a tear in his eye, he told me that he wished he hadn't waited so long to fulfil his dream of coming to Alaska, and how he was sure that this would be their last trip together.
Although I did not stay in contact with him, and some might say that our relationship was only superficial; I will remember his name and face for the rest of my life. This interaction, on the bank of a far removed river, deep in the wilds of Alaska, changed the way I look at my job forever. Whereas it might not directly impact society, or effect things on a global scale; fishing, in its own way is a great platform, where people can get away from the pressures of life. Surrounded by grandeur beyond compare, they can spend time thinking about where they are in life, and about what actually matters to them most.
South-West Alaska will always hold a place close to my heart. Whether it be the sensation of a 30+lbs. king salmon pushing a double-handed rod to its limits, or seeing a 26-inch rainbow trout rise to an elk hair caddis tied the night before, or just the feeling that no one has ever fished these beautiful waters, fishing Alaska is something very special. It brings us back to the real reason that we all fish. For the fun of it, for the thrill of a tight line, and the sound of a tight drag screaming. For the laughter when your friend loses that fish of a lifetime, because in the heat of the moment he forgot to let go of the reel as "the one that got away” took its final run downstream.
South-West Alaska is arguably the best natural fishery in the world. The short window an Alaskan season offers is one of the reasons I believe it to be such a wonderful resource. Resident fish, like rainbow trout, arctic char and grayling, only have a few short months to gain crucial weight before the harsh winter begins. As a result, these fish have to be strong, resilient and aggressive feeders, leaving them prone to both top water and subsurface flies. On top of this, every year in June the great Pacific salmon migration starts, and continues through until mid-September. Unlike the Atlantic salmon, these fish will ultimately die when they finish spawning. Their flesh, combined with mice and smelt, creates the perfect protein-filled diet required to sustain the size of fish that Alaska is truly famous for.
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First Published in Issue #50 of Eat-Sleep-Fish