The Fly Guy is pulling me around the water on a leash, and I’m thinking, ‘What am I, a little dog?’
But the truth is I’m greatly enjoying the attention and the experience — my first shot at flyfishing from one of those floaty chairs, on a small lake in Anchorage, on an early summer day…
You see, I try to fish wherever I go, so when I found myself with four days in Anchorage last June, I hooked up with Ron Smith of ‘The Fly Guy’s Urban Angler,’ a 22-year family business specializing in guiding on lakes and streams within an hour’s drive of the city.
The irony is that I don’t swim well, so I’m cautious about water activities — unless I’m viewing the lake from the inside of a boat, or the water is in a refreshing cup of tea! The thought of being on the water in a floaty chair bothers me a bit, but, like those people who hold up handmade cardboard signs at highway entrances: ‘I will do anything for fishing!’
I call Ron and tell him my concerns. He assures me I’ll be fine and picks me up at the Anchorage Marriott right on schedule. ‘Not to worry,’ he smiles, as we drive a few miles from city-center. ‘Right,’ I say weakly, as we arrive at an exquisite, small lake called Little Campbell.
This part of Anchorage is wilderness itself. Few, if any, people around, and absolutely no houses in sight. Wonderful start. (And, yep, that’s a bear in the photo, enjoying Campbell Lake as we arrive).
Anchorage is unlike any other major city.
Talk about getting away from it all? In Anchorage, “getting away from it all” is constantly around you! You can just hop in a pickup, drive a couple of miles, or walk a short way from city-center, and ‘snap, crackle, and pop,’ you’re in nature’s bosom.
People who just pass through Anchorage on the way to somewhere else are really missing the boat. In fact, staying right in Anchorage and enjoying all her offerings could be one of the world’s best-kept secrets.
Cradled by the Chugach Mountains on one side and embraced by The Cook Inlet on the other, Anchorage is home to nearly 261,000 people (42% of Alaska’s population). She boasts everything you could possibly want in a city: Cosmopolitan. Socially conscious. Temperate. Numerous museums, cultural attractions, events, and activities. Tons of parks, paths, trails, and walkways, and the great outdoors at its door. In short, Anchorage is easily accessible, and offers plenty for anyone to do for weeks and weeks without ever leaving town.
Anchorage’s Ted Stevens Airport — served by 21 international airlines, with more than 200 flights every day — is gateway to hundreds of exotic and far-flung reaches of Alaska — and beyond.
Of course, many people do flightsee or fish-trip out of Anchorage to places with glaciers, grizzlies and grayling. On the other hand, you can fish practically right out the door of some Anchorage accommodations, and they furnish fishing poles to boot!
Meanwhile, back at Little Campbell Lake, Martin from California, and Stephen from New Mexico join us. They have never fly fished either. Ron’s brother-in-law, Bob, who recently moved to Anchorage from Los Angeles, is along to help.
When we assemble by the lake, they hand us neoprene waders… And that’s when I recall Chancellor Bismarck’s well-known observation:
Two things you don’t ever want to see made are sausage and war.
“Seeing ME stuffed into neoprene waders” will surely be third on this list!
I stall putting on the gear, because the day is beginning to get quite warm, and I know I’ll be claustrophobic if I’m encased in neoprene. I’m also worried that I’ll have to go to the bathroom the minute I don them, (not to mention that I’m afraid I’ll sink straight to the bottom if I slip into the water). (Ok, so I’m a high maintenance travel chicken; more about that in other blog posts).
It turns out that before we go out, we’re going to practice from shore, so I’m glad I waited to put on the gear.
We step to the water’s edge, which has a nice gravel shoreline. Ron gives us a quick lesson in fly casting, and we try to get the hang of it.
Uhhh… it ‘ain’t’ easy. First I try the ‘overhead snap’ (my term) straight line cast. My line wiggles and drops limply into the water at my feet. Then I try to ‘walk the dog,’ where you ‘skip’ the line across the water in little ‘hops.’ (For me, “that dog won’t hop”).
Hmmm… a champion I’m not, but, it’s a new ‘experience,’ the guys are congenial and supportive, and, hey, they’re having the same problems I am!
Ron becomes my ‘personal trainer’ — and takes me under his wing. Literally. He puts his big arms around me to help me throw out the line. He holds my arm to help me find the right moment to flick the line forward. He stands and coaches us as we try again and again to get our lines to arch out onto the water.
Finally, it’s ‘show time!’ Or ‘trout time,’ as the case may be.
I can stall no longer. Ron and Bob help me wiggle into the chest-high waders. Then come a pair of special shoes; next, a self-inflating life vest; and after that, a pair of flippers. What? Now I’m Jacques Cousteau?
In the water, my floating throne awaits.
Ron tells us to back into the water to avoid tripping over the front of the flippers. OK, so now I’m ‘The Creature From the Black Lagoon’ — in reverse!
Ron and Bob help me climb aboard my floating seat and assure me that I’ll be fine. It’s just like sitting in an easy chair in your living room, and with little pockets on the arms to put important things like keys, money and cameras. Our poles rest across the arms, with our legs a danglin’ down, flippers and all.
And away we go.
I’m flailing around like a wounded duck, but here’s the greatest: Ron hooks a little ‘leash’ to my floating chair so he can pull me around under control and safety. Arf, arf! I feel like I’m being ‘walked’ for my daily outing.
After a few seconds on the water I forget all my worries. It’s absolutely beautiful here. The scenery. The sun and blue sky. The quiet. The clean water. The light breeze. The eagles. The loons. The laughs and comments. I’m loving it.
And we fish. And we see trout ripples. And we use scud flies that mimic freshwater shrimp. And we fish. And we laugh. And we take pictures. And we fish. And we ‘flipper’ to other areas of the lake. And we talk. And we try Thunder Creek flies that mimic minnows. And we fish.
We see lots of trout in the water, but only Martin manages to hook a trout.
But many fishing days are like that. Fish-catching is truly secondary to the whole experience. Besides, it’s catch-and-release, so we can just say, we released, before the fish got to our lines!
As we begin to kick-paddle back to the landing, a moose ambled from the edge of the woods to the shoreline. And, although more than 2,000 moose are said to live in the Anchorage Bowl, we felt lucky to be part of this picture.
This outing was also special because Ron, ‘The Fly Guy,’ is like almost every Alaskan I met: Independent, self-assured, approachable, pleasant, patient, great to be with, and very competent.
And, now that I’ve got the hang of it, I can’t wait to go flyfishing again, soon — from a little floaty chair.
‘So, Chancellor,’ I think to myself, ‘What’ll it be? Sausage, war, or waders???
Naomi K. Shapiro is a Madison, Wisconsin-based travel and outdoor writer.
SIDEBAR ON FLY GUY’S URBAN ANGLER AND ANCHORAGE TOURISM INFO:
If You Go:
AUTHOR’S NOTE: THIS PIECE OF INFO ABOUT ALASKAN FLYGUY IS BEING VERIFIED TO BE SURE IT IS CURRENT. CHECK WITH AUTHOR (NAOMI SHAPIRO) BEFORE FINALIZING: You can flyfish out of Anchorage with the Fly Guy’s Urban Angler for about $95 for a half day and $175 for a full day, including transportation from your hotel, licenses, equipment and guide. Contact Ron Smith at ‘The Fly Guy’s Urban Angler’; call (907) 274-1923; e-mail: Ron@AlaskanFlyGuy.com; website: www.AlaskanFlyGuy.com
For General information about Anchorage:
Anchorage Convention and Visitors Bureau
For General Information about Alaska:
Alaska Visitor Information
With almost 200 flights arriving each day, Anchorage has connections from around the globe. I flew Delta Airlines (which partnered with Alaska Airlines at that time) directly from Minneapolis to Anchorage, in about six hours.
Sample Flight times to Anchorage:
Seattle: 3 hours.
Salt Lake City: 5 hours.
San Francisco: 5 hours.
Los Angeles: 5 hours.
Chicago: 5.5 hours.
New York City: 8 hours
Seoul: 8.5 hours.
Zurich: 9.5 hours.
You can drive to Anchorage from anywhere on the continent, any time of the year. The Alaska Highway, linking Alaska with Canada and the contiguous United States, is fully paved and offers services all year long.
Sample Distances to Anchorage By Land:
Seattle: 2,435 road miles.
Los Angeles: 3,712 road miles.
New York City: 4,649 road miles.
Miami: 5,434 road miles.
Several cruise lines offer excursions May through September along the famous inside passage, docking in Anchorage or nearby Seward. The Alaska Marine Highway, the State’s ferry system, runs year-round, calling on Whittier, Seward and Homer, which are connected to Anchorage by road and rail.
Tags: Alaska Alaska Airlines Alaska Highway Anchorage Chugach Mountains Cook Inlet eagles Fishing flyfishing flyfishing gear Little Campbell Lake loons Ted Stevens Airport trout waders