Our story starts with one man’s story... and that man is Wayne McGee.
Alaska featured in Wayne’s dreams since childhood. As a young boy, he had a stack of magazines that almost reached the ceiling comprised of Field and Stream, Sports Afield and Outdoor Life. He thought he’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, he had to be satisfied with pan-fish, bullheads, and the occasional largemouth bass, caught while visiting Grandma Daisy’s house, and watching American Sportsman and the adventures of “Jim” on TV each Saturday on Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom. He grew to love all things involving the Great Outdoors, and Alaska was at the top of his list of future destinations. Friends even nicknamed him “Mountain Man” in school because of a love of hunting and fishing together with his lumberjack dress code.
As things played out, he felt called to the wilds of Africa with his wife Sue, and children, Tyler, Jacob, Megan, and Cameron; living in the jungles of the Congo River Basin and working among the Pygmies of the Ituri Rainforest. They were just about as remote there as any human could be, living in a mud hut built together with the people from the village. There was no running water, electricity, or refrigeration with the closest support being a two-hour flight over unbroken rainforest that looked like an endless “garden of broccoli” from above.
Connection with the outside world came through a shortwave radio and a monthly flight that brought supplies and the mail. Civil war drove the McGee’s out of Zaire and brought an end to “The Wonder Years”. They landed in the Country of Mali, in West Africa to help another project as they spoke French. So, the family moved from the jungles of the Congo to the fringes of the Sahara Desert! After a year in Mali, West Africa it was on to London, England.
During Wayne’s time in Africa and England, he was able to pursue his passion of fishing. Having the chance to fish for Tiger Fish in the mighty Congo, as well as Nile Perch at Murchison Falls on the Victoria Nile. He was able to pursue Atlantic Salmon and Sea Trout in Scotland, Ireland, and Norway. He even had a deep-sea charter sport fishing boat off the cost of Dakar, Senegal fishing for Blue Marlin, Sailfish, and Tuna.
Finally, after many years, it was time for Wayne to pursue his lifelong dream of fishing the fabled waters of Bristol Bay, Alaska. He organized a guided father, son trip with his dad Wayne Sr. and floated the Togiak River. 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, he knew then and there, that “once would never be enough.”
It took four years to get back up to Alaska again... on another father and son fishing trip, and this is where Jacob comes on the scene. And now it becomes… Our Story.
The destination this time was a lodge on the Naknek River. But the week before their trip, the shower house, guide quarters and dining lodge burnt down. As you can imagine they were working overtime to try and accommodate the guests. Jacob jumped in and helped during the day and went fishing in the evening with his dad Wayne. A few days before the end of the week the owner offered Jacob a job and he decided to stay for the rest of the season. Not a bad gig for an 18-year-old with the same love for the outdoors as his father. By the next season Jacob was back as a full-time captain and fly-fishing guide and this gave Wayne an excuse to visit on a yearly basis. Six seasons to be exact.
This “not a bad gig” lasted till the end of the season in 2013 as Jacob worked alongside the owners getting to know the ins and outs of running a remote Alaskan lodge. Throughout the summers Jacob was able to live the dream as an Alaska fishing guide; guiding, and fishing all across South-west Alaska. All this time Wayne was coming up and fishing while always keeping an eye out for lodges and operations for sale in the area. While multiple places came on the market during that time, none of them “ticked enough boxes”. Until…
…they heard through a fellow guide about Alaska Trophy Adventures Lodge in July of 2014 and Wayne and Jacob decided they might as well take one last look; besides, they needed to get their annual fix of Alaska. So, they headed up to Alaska again in mid-August with the reason for this trip being a bit different. They had the intention of discussing the possibility of buying an operation on the world renowned, Wild and Scenic Alagnak River. After 30 minutes of being on the property, it was clear that “this was the place they’d been waiting for”. What a gem! 160 acres surrounded by the Katmai National Park and Preserve. ATA Lodge had it all. Nestled on the banks of the upper river, surrounded by unsurpassed natural beauty, with NO neighbors or fishing pressure of any kind. The unspoilt beauty, combined with the wildlife and the fishing... it was the Alaska they had always dreamt of…the Alaska from Wayne’s childhood magazines. It was so untouched, that it was like stepping back in time into the Alaska from 100 years ago before the crowds.
Just to be sure, Jacob decided to work for the original owners for the 2015 season to check out the operation and see if it was as good as it seemed and to make sure it was something they could both put their family name behind. They wanted to ensure that the operation and fishing program was something they could run and sustain… and it did not disappoint. It blew all expectation out of the water. The early Trout fishing with mouse patterns….The world class Grayling fishery….The perfect conditions for Brown Bear photography….The endless side channels and braids that the Alagnak is famous for…it had it all! So much untouched water to explore all with the backdrop of the stunning, snowcapped mountains of the Aleutian Range... And the Salmon!! Millions of Sockeye alone, not to mention the Silvers, the Chum, the Pinks and the mighty king of the river, the Chinook Salmon. So many salmon and such perfect conditions to target them. It was like stumbling upon Alaska’s best kept secret. Needless to say, their fate was sealed….
…In November of 2015, just two months after the season ended, Wayne’s childhood dream finally became a reality as he and Jacob became partners and the proud new owners of this prestigious wilderness lodge.
With 2016 as their first season as the new owners, an “all-hands-on-deck” mentality was necessary. The McGee’s pulled together with both of Wayne and Sue’s youngest coming on board and helping around camp and in the kitchen wherever they could. Megan by this time was a nurse and Cameron was young and strong, and both stepped up and became vital to the operation. Sue, who had been to Alaska before with Wayne to visit Jacob and go fishing, played a crucial role those early years acting as both head chef and running the hospitality side of things. She greeted guests and made them feel like they were at home, while running around behind the scenes making sure everything was up to standard. Even their first son, and Jacobs older brother Tyler, was able to bring his family up to the lodge to see what all the fuss was about.
This post is being written in the spring of 2024 and now Jacob is married to his Alaskan born wife Ashley who also now works at the lodge. Jacob and Ashley are living full time in Alaska. Jacob is the lodge pilot and runs operations and still tries to guide and fish whenever he can. Wayne is living the dream. Having gotten his captains license years ago, he now guides pretty much full-time in-between admin, logistics and making sure the guests are having the time of their lives. Sue is still supporting both her husband (from the African Jungles and Deserts to the Alaskan Tundra) and her son, while supporting the whole lodge with whatever needs to be done. Cameron has stayed on and has been there every season since the beginning and has stepped in to the role of camp manager, working alongside Wayne and Jacob, to ensure this remote operation flows as smoothly as possible.
“For years we had been rejuvenated each summer by the wild beauty, prolific wildlife, and mind-blowing fishing! Once a "Bucket List" destination….Bristol Bay is now our home. And as a family, we would like to invite you to come and share in our “little piece of paradise on earth”
Welcome to Alaska Trophy Adventures Lodge!
We want say a thank you to all our valued guests throughout the years, and to our wonderful team of professional staff and world class guides. And a special thanks to Ed and Jeanie Spitzer for their continued support throughout the years and in helping turn dreams into reality!