From Africa To Alaska, Our Story
Alaska has featured in my dreams for as long as I can remember. As a young boy, I had a stack of magazines that almost reached the ceiling comprised of Field and Stream, Sports Afield and Outdoor Life. I really thought I’d grow up to follow in the footsteps of Grits Gresham as editor of one of these magazines, traveling the world and sampling the very best of what fishing had to offer. In the meantime, I had to be satisfied with pan-fish, bullheads and the occasional largemouth bass, caught while visiting my Grandma Daisy’s house; and watching American Sportsman as well as the adventures of “Jim” on TV each Saturday on Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom. I was fascinated with all things involving the Great Outdoors, and Alaska was the place I wanted to be! I was even nicknamed “Mountain Man” in school because of my love of hunting and fishing together with my lumberjack dress code.
Unfortunately I never made it up there, but instead, I ended up in the wilds of Africa with my wife Sue, and our family (Tyler, Jacob, Megan and Cameron). We lived in the jungles of the Congo River Basin (then known as Zaire), working among the Pygmies of the Ituri Rainforest. We were as remote there as any human could be. Living in a mud hut built together with the people from our village. No running water, electricity, or refrigeration (until we finally got a few solar panels and deep cell batteries that allowed us to run one). If we wanted a table, or chair, or even a door for that matter, we had to cut the tree down in order to cut the boards needed to make them! Our closest support was a two hour flight away from “town” over unbroken rainforest that looked like an endless “garden of broccoli” as we flew over it.
Our only connection with the outside world was a shortwave radio and a monthly flight that brought us some supplies and the mail. Civil war finally drove us out of Zaire and what we considered “The Wonder Years”. We landed in the Country of Mali, West Africa to help another project as we spoke French. From the jungles of the Congo to the fringes of the Sahara Desert - from Kisangani to Timbuktu! After we finished that assignment, we then moved to London, England from where I travelled and worked across the whole of Africa for many years. You could say that our time in Africa has prepared us in many ways for this next step in our lives (read on, if you haven’t already fallen asleep).
During my time in Africa and England, I was able to pursue my passion of fishing. I’ve had the chance to fish for Tiger Fish in the mighty Congo, as well as Nile Perch at Murchison Falls on the Victoria Nile. I’ve been able to pursue Atlantic Salmon and Sea Trout in Scotland, Ireland and Norway. I even ran a deep-sea charter sport fishing boat off the cost of Dakar for Blue Marlin, Sailfish, and Tuna. In fact our boat the Merry Marlin (then under the ownership of Jacques Dufour) was locally famous for landing the biggest Blue Marlin off the coast of Senegal at that time, weighing a whopping 1,069 lbs!
Finally after many years, I decided it was time to pursue my lifelong dream of fishing the wild and scenic rivers of Bristol Bay, Alaska. I organized a father and son trip with my Dad and we floated the Togiak River on a raft trip with guide Rene Limeres who was then writing the second edition of his book: Alaska Fishing, the Ultimate Angler’s Guide. It was not till a couple years later I found out that I featured in the photograph representing the chapter on Sockeye Salmon!
Within a few hours of being dropped off by float plane on an alpine lake that formed the headwaters of a tributary of the Togiak River, I knew then and there, that “once would never be enough” despite my idea that this was truly a “Once in a Lifetime Trip”!
It took me four years to get back up to Alaska again on another father and son trip, this time with my son Jacob. The destination this time was the Naknek River. The week before we arrived, half the camp we were staying at had burned down, during what was only their second year in business. We still had a great time helping around camp as well as catching more fish than I ever thought possible! I approached the owner and said that we had a great time and understood the circumstances after the fire, but that he needed help for the season to rebuild. He said, “Tell me about it!” I told him I hadn’t talked to Jacob who was only 18 at the time, but that I thought it would be a great opportunity for the both of them if Jacob stayed on to help. They said they would love that, and Jacob decided to stay that summer. 8 years later Jacob is still guiding in Bristol Bay! Needless to say, that gave me a good reason to go back to Alaska every year to make sure he was doing ok.
Soon, my wife Sue wanted to see why we loved Alaska so much and she joined us on a trip to Bristol Bay. Sue had fished with her father and brothers as a child creating many fun memories in the great outdoors. Sue’s dad loved to fish and taught her that to catch fish she had to “hold her mouth right”. She must have learned something from him, because once in Alaska, she found that she loved being in the wilderness catching lots of fish with Wayne and Jacob. It was there and then that the seeds were planted in Sue’s heart, to host people by providing personal service in a special location, in order to help them create similar memories to cherish for a lifetime.
Jacob has now worked as a Coast Guard licensed Captain and professional fly fishing guide, for the past 8 years throughout the region of Bristol Bay, including spending the summer of 2015 working on the Alagnak River as part of the staff at Alaska Trophy Adventures Lodge.
I had been looking for the right place to buy for about 7 years, having turned my nose up at a number of opportunities for one reason or another. Suffice it to say that none of them “ticked enough boxes” to tempt me. Until……
….we heard about Alaska Trophy Adventures Lodge! In September of 2014, we decided to try and “Live the Dream” and travelled to meet with then owner of ATA Lodge, Charlie Summerville. The reason for this trip was to discuss the possibility of buying his operation on the world renowned, Wild and Scenic Alagnak River. After 30 minutes of being on the property, we knew that “this was the place we’d been waiting for”. ATA Lodge, has it all! What a gem, 160 acres surrounded by the Katmai National Park and Preserve. ATA Lodge is nestled on the banks of the upper river, surrounded by unsurpassed natural beauty and we are spectators to one of the truly last great natural spectacles on the planet – the annual return of millions of Pacific Salmon. These salmon migrations support the entire food chain and ecosystem of Bristol Bay. The unspoilt beauty, combined with the best bear viewing, wildlife photography let's not forget to mention UNPARALLELED FISHING, sealed the deal for us, and stole our hearts. We knew this was it, and in November of 2015, my childhood dream finally came true as we became the proud new owners of this prestigious wilderness lodge.
For years I had been rejuvenated each summer by the wild beauty, prolific wildlife and mindblowing fishing! Once a "Bucket List" destination, the Alagnak River of Bristol Bay and the Katmai National Park is now our home. This fulfils my dream of finding the perfect wilderness location where people can find adventure in Alaska; combined with Sue’s dream to provide a welcoming environment where individuals and families can come to create memories to last a lifetime. Now we would like to invite you to come and share our “little piece of paradise on earth”.
Welcome to Alaska Trophy Adventures Lodge!
Post note: I want to thank my wife and partner Sue, who has given me my beautiful family of four amazing children, and followed me on my “flights of fancy” from the wilds of Congo, to the deserts of Mali, to London and now North to Alaska! I love you honey! I also want to thank my parents for their support and love throughout the years. And a special thanks to Ed and Jeanie Spitzer for helping turn dreams into reality!