Goose Goes North To Alaska

By Sam Brown, Goose Hummock Outdoor Center Manager

Anvik River Lodge, Alaska

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The campfire at Anvik Lodge.

In 2009 my grandmother lost her battle with cancer, and in her will she left money for each of her 11 grandchildren to take a trip outside of the country (or at least outside the “lower 48”). The trip had to be educational, adventurous, and you were only allowed to take your mother. No friends, no girlfriends and no other siblings. For years I thought about the trip, but I couldn’t seem to find the perfect place.

While my mother was on vacation in the Bahamas, she became good friends with the owners of The Anvik River Lodge, a remote fishing lodge in Alaska. Knowing that I have always wanted to catch a wild Alaskan salmon, she suggested that we take our trip to their lodge. Immediately I knew it was the perfect choice. So in early September, we flew out of Logan Airport headed for Anchorage, Alaska. The next morning we took a three hour chartered flight from Anchorage to the small village of Anvik, home to roughly forty native Athabascan Alaskans. Our plane landed on a small dirt landing strip and our journey began.

Walking through the village was an eye opening experience; there were no power lines, just a small community of natives who built their own houses and make their living off of the river. We purchased some smoked salmon sticks from one of the villagers and continued down to a stretch of the Yukon River. There we met up with Cliff, one of the owners of the Anvik River Lodge, and his son Blair. We boarded a jet boat and headed 80 miles up the river; along the way we saw bald eagles scouting for a fresh catch and signs of recent bear and moose activity.

We arrived at the lodge around 4pm, and I was blown away by how beautiful the land was. We were greeted with open arms by the staff and owners (along with the guard dog Kobuck, a large Akita who chased a bear out of the camp on our first night.) The accommodations at the lodge were spectacular; no phone service, limited internet access, and no TV, just great company, all you can drink beer, and wonderful meals prepared by host (and owner) Cheryl. After settling in, we went through some safety procedures and got right on the river.

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Sam with his first male silver salmon caught on fly.

I’m a very confident spin caster but my fly technique definitely needed some work. I started the first day strictly spin casting just to get some fish in the boat. Using light tackle, (usually 2500 series reels) made pulling in the bigger salmon a challenge due to the current. I was curious to see what species were around, and was surprised to find so many different kinds of fish living less than a mile from the lodge. Using a small pink jig with some feathers and a worm tail, I landed a grayling, a small but beautiful fish the guides also called the “Anvik river sailfish” due to the abnormally large sail like dorsal fin. A few casts later I hooked my first silver salmon. It took my jig just a few feet  from the boat and peeled a solid fifteen yards of line off of the Shimano Sahara 2500 before I pulled it in. It was a gorgeous female Silver full of eggs, but since regulations do not allow you to keep females I released it.

It wasn’t long before I caught my first male silver salmon, and I was surprised when I got my first glimpse of color: it was a beautiful fire-engine red. The juvenile silver salmon, or Coho salmon, start out as silver and as they move up the river to spawn, they change color and develop a large hook like snout. After about a half hour we moved up the creek and spotted a school of large fall chum salmon in the calmer waters. These fish are hard to target this late in the season; they are sluggish and rarely bite because they are at the end of their life cycle. I couldn’t get one hooked but had a blast chasing them around in the clear waters of the eddy.

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Sam and his mother, Lisa Armstrong, with a nice silver salmon.

The next day the weather took a turn for the worse, but luckily I brought my STORMR gear along with me. We managed to stay dry, even though we spent the whole day on the river in the freezing rain. The weather wasn’t ideal but the fishing was phenomenal. I got some practice in on the fly rod, but was still struggling to find my rhythm. My mother was reeling in fish on the spinner so I decided to give in and pick up some spinning tackle. After that, we caught fish at every spot we hit.

The next day we headed up river to target large male silver salmon in the fast moving water. We made several catches, and our guide Michael filleted one of the salmon and cooked it over an open fire on the side of the river. He cooked the fillets with olive oil, cream cheese, garlic, onions — and a few secret ingredients. We also had smoked salmon sandwiches with cheese and jalapeños. The “shore lunches” were one of my favorite parts of the trip; sitting hundreds of miles from civilization, taking in the clean air and perfect view of the mountains, eating a meal worthy of a five star restaurant. It is a memory I will never forget.

After lunch, I stayed on shore and practiced my fly technique. It was a bit easier on land than on the small skiffs we had been fishing from. I came up empty handed on the fly that day, but had a blast exploring north of the lodge and catching fish on the spinners. I even got a “grand slam”, catching four different species: grayling, salmon, dolly varden, and white fish.

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Hitting pay dirt in the Pike Slew.

I really wanted to target pike, so the next day Bryan, our guide, took us to a spot they call the “Pike Slew”. I threw the fly for a solid forty five minutes and finally hooked a pike! After watching my mother catch a couple on a top water frog I decided to throw one of those a few times. I caught a couple more pike that way before we headed back up the river.

SamAlaskaBoatBefore we got back to the lodge, Bryan beached the boat, pulled out his 357 magnum (in case we ran in to a bear) and took us on an adventure through the woods to an old trapper’s cabin. The cabin was full of old traps and other tools of the trade, and Bryan, being a trapper himself, explained how everything worked. So far, the trip had definitely proved both adventurous and educational!

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28 point, 1600 Bull Moose! Welcome to Alaska.

On the last day the sun was shining, and I finally got my rhythm on the fly rod. I caught several big salmon on a streamer. After lunch we heard a commotion in the distance and decided to check it out. Down the river at a spot they call “The Road House” one of the guests at the lodge had taken down a 28 point, 1,600 pound Bull Moose. I had never seen anything like it. I got to help quarter it haul it off the river, and for two and a half hours we skinned and cut the moose into sections while watching our backs for bears. We loaded the animal up in to 3 separate boats and headed back to the lodge for dinner and drinks. After filling up on steak and Alaskan king crab, we sat by the fire on the river —just a bunch of fisherman and hunters telling stories and a few lies.

I know my grandma Mary was looking down, proud of the decision we made to visit Alaska. My outlook on life will never be the same. Since I’ve been home I spend a lot less time in front of the TV, I try my hardest to not stare at my phone too much, and I have a better appreciation for the outdoors. To Cliff, Cheryl, and everyone else at the Anvik River Lodge, I can’t thank you enough for making my experience in Alaska memorable.