For anglers around the world, an Alaskan fly-in fishing and rafting adventure is a bucket list trip. My friends and I have made it a yearly adventure, and it’s always the highlight of our summers. With seemingly unlimited opportunities in Alaska, we have tried several different locations – but we always seem to come back around to floating a pristine river in the Susitna River Valley. No matter where you decide to embark on your adventure, here are a few tips on planning a successful backcountry outing.
Step 1: Assemble Your Team
I hold the value of the company I keep in high regard–which is important when taking on a big trip into the Alaskan backcountry. The friends that I go with are some of the best people I know. Having a deep understanding of your adventure mates, knowing each other's strengths and weaknesses, as well as being able to trust them in a survival situation are critical to assembling your dream team.
Before you do any further planning:
- Make sure everyone is committed to the trip from the start
- Make sure everyone is filled in with all the details of the trip as they unfold
Step 2: Make A Plan
It can be hard to narrow down where you want to go. For us, there are so many different aspects of the Susitna River Valley that appeal to the adventurous soul, but world-class fly fishing for a wide variety of species is at the top of that list. It has everything we were looking for out of a fly-in trip. The 70-miles of river (complete with class IV rapids), wildlife viewing, and pristine wilderness make for one hell of a trip.
If you only have a week or two, you want to fine-tune what your objective is. If catching a monster rainbow is your goal, venture north in the fall. If you want to catch the mighty king salmon, consider a trip in late May into early June. If “red gold” or sockeye salmon are in your sights, you have a larger window from June to mid-August. The most important piece is figuring out what fish you want to target; you can figure out where to go from there.
Once you decide on your species and region of focus:
- Plan your dates
- Book your bush plane or another method of travel
- Rent rafts and other required gear
- Buy your fishing license
Step 3: Choose Your Gear
I can imagine my dad’s voice in my head before we go on trips like this, saying, “Matt, you better be prepared for anything.'' And he’s right. The backcountry of Alaska requires a different level of preparedness.
Resources are slim-to-none, and you need to cover your bases from raft repair kits and first aid to your food and clothing choices. One of the most important things is rock-solid outerwear. When the wind and rain have you wanting to pull the raft over and hunker down, solid gear gives you the opportunity to laugh it off and forge on. There are countless ways to save money on outdoor gear, but a word of advice: second-rate outerwear can’t handle first-rate adventure.
I recommend 3-layer Gore-Tex waders and rain jackets. When you find yourself bushwhacking to the next fishing hole, the durability of your waders and jacket are paramount. Alaskan rivers can still be pretty cold during the summer, so the thicker Gore-Tex waders will keep you warmer while still breathing and wicking moisture.
When it comes to your fishing equipment, it will be dictated by the species you’re after. A good rule of thumb when chasing wild Alaskan fish is to never show up undergunned.
From my personal experience over the years, the hardest part of planning a trip like this, especially if you’re traveling a long distance to get to Alaska, is getting started. If you assemble a committed team and start the process, the rest of the pieces will come together faster than you think. With a little planning and a willingness to ask questions, you can soon be on the banks checking boxes off your bucket list. And the final step…
Step 4: BOOK YOUR TICKETS AND GO!
Author: Matt Liston
Matt grew up outdoors in Southern Oregon and Alaska. Adventure has always been a part of Matt’s way of life, but his access to adventure grew exponentially when he moved to Anchorage, Alaska over a decade ago with his wife Hayley. Matt is a sixth-grade teacher and has been a GORE Fishing and Mountain Technician for nine years. During the school year, they wear their weekend warrior hats proudly, making the most of their free time outdoors. During the summer, Matt can be difficult to get a hold of. You may not be able to find him, but you can bet he’s running rafts, chasing fish, hiking, and backpacking across the Last Frontier.