It would seem that the more “eventful” trips often make the best stories. The more that goes haywire, the longer the memories are talked about over beers during the winter months. My friends and I have grown accustomed to hellacious hikes to backcountry fishing holes. Once you leave the highway in Alaska, things can get wild, quick!

The Travel:

As our mosquito-splattered trucks came to rest, only thoughts of wild native Arctic Char filled our heads. Although we still had quite a few miles to cover on foot, we figured, it would be business as usual. “That’s a lot of mosquitos,” I thought to myself as they tapped on my truck windows. We stepped out onto the dirt trying to ignore the droves of bugs that were now tapping our faces looking for the perfect spot to bite. We threw on our packs and loaded up the poly-sled with a raft and extra gear while swatting the insects and breathing through our teeth.

Image by Oliver Ancans

The bugs.

Horseflies and Mosquitos, attracted by the carbon dioxide given off by our exhausts, knew they were about to be fed. Bug repellents were useless. Relentless droves of the starving insects swarmed anything warm-blooded including our poor dogs. We could only wipe the blood-sucking insects from their faces and cover our own exposed skin with bug shirts and heads with mesh nets. For the first leg of our journey, although the bugs were awful, our spirits were high.

Pictured: Mike Sharp. Image by: Ian Campbell

We clambered along a tundra-stricken Ridgeline, Owen, Mike, Gaby, and I led the way for Ian who was harnessed to his overloaded poly sled. As we dropped down into the valley, small creeks ran alongside us and the dogs swam and drank from the tannin-stained stagnant pools. The water began to surround us and turned into bogs full of soft tufts of grass drowning in ankle-deep water. A perfect breeding ground for pesky insects, rolled ankles, and soaked socks. Thoughts of hiking in our waders came and went but every time we stopped, the mosquitos ensured we got up and pushed on. As the lake approached, the water got deeper, and soon we were trudging through vast knee-deep pools. Just a few more miles now.

Image by: Oliver Ancans

Fly Fishing the Arctic

As we finished dragging the sled to the lake, the crystalline water lay still. Undisturbed except for the small rings created by air bubbles along its glassy surface. After 14 hours of nonstop travel, nothing seemed more inviting than to cast into the abyss. Except for the discoveries of permafrost melt and heavy-metal leaches, the waters of the Arctic are often clear, drinkable, and sometimes, teaming with slow-growing, cold water species.

After a few hours of casting and hiking around the lake, the water remained undisturbed and our confidence was fading quickly. This seemingly simple trip had gone from an endurance test to a test of mental willpower and drive to catch a fish. We had come all this way, hiked through some of the nastiest terrain Alaska has to offer with clouds of mosquitos biting through our clothes only to find that fishing was less than “hot” and that maybe, we had found ourselves on a fishes journey into the arctic.

Pictured: Mike Sharp. Image by: Oliver Ancans

We reconvened at camp after a few hours. Had we gone to the wrong lake? Were we throwing the wrong flies? Were the fish too deep and unreachable from shore? As Ian tossed gear from the sled, he said “The raft pump isn’t here. I’m going for a walk” and hiked off toward the trucks. Our hopes of fishing deeper water were left with him. All we had to show for our efforts were a few Caribou antlers and soaked socks. Gaby had enough of the mosquitos and retreated to the tent, I didn’t blame her.  Mike, Owen, and I walked back to the lake hoping for just one fish. A few more hours passed, it was 11 pm but the sun was still up, and Ian returned empty-handed. The drive, hike, and dampness began to take its toll. The wind picked up and began to rip across the tundra. I mindlessly cast into the lake, but then, Mike shouted “Fish!”. No way we thought, but as we looked up, his rod was bent and his fly line was swimming away. The fiery orange fish came into view, and Ian scooped it up in the net. We marveled at this fish, and all of our misery was finally brought to justice. Gaby heard the commotion and came running from camp, fly rod in hand and ready to fish. The Char took off like a rocket back to the depths. The trip was worth every blister, every mosquito bite, and every rolled ankle, but now, we all wanted one. 

Pictured: Owen Humberg. Image by: Gabrielle Mordini

We cast, pestering Mike about how he did it, he handed each of us the pattern he caught the fish on, but nothing. Soon, Mike had caught three char, and the rest of us had only one small lake trout and a few missed fish between us. The gusts of wind got stronger and stronger and it began to sound like thunder rumbling in the distance. Gaby once again retreated back to the tent and one by one everyone began to call it quits. It was late, the sun grew dim and danced behind the mountains through the wildfire-smoked filled sky. I turned to Ian and said, “Man, that wind really sounds like thunder doesn’t it?” Before he could answer, a bolt of lightning struck the earth just a couple hundred yards away and the rain began to poor. The sky began to flash every few seconds and we were by far the tallest objects in the area. I made one more cast and began reeling my line in as fast as I could but my line came tight, then loose, then tight again and I saw a bright orange flash through the waves. “No way a fish hit that fly, it was moving at mock-10,” I thought. For a second I forgot about the storm, the lightning, the thunder, and the icy arctic water on my waderless legs and lobbed my giant black monstrosity of a fly back into the lake and began stripping as fast as I could. Tap, tap, tap, I felt another fish, I strip-set hard and did not give the fish a chance to fight. It thrashed in the net, still full of energy, my one. The one fish, that made the haul worthwhile for me. 

Pictured: Oliver Ancans. Image by: Gabrielle Mordini

The Storm

I released the fish and the rain pelted us as we sprinted for cover. The lightning lit up the sky and the wind scattered our gear across the rugged landscape. The wind threatened our ultralight tents as they were about to cave in, we could only hold on and wait for the storm to pass. The rain blew up under our rainfly, soaking my sleeping bag and backpack while Gaby heated water for our freeze-dried food and asked if I wanted to play cribbage. “What if this storm doesn’t pass?” She asked. I replied, “We’ll get out of here”, knowing that we may have to make the hellacious hike out in a lightning storm. We heard some indistinct shouting coming from Owen’s direction, but couldn’t make out why he was upset or even out of his tent. A few hours went by, and the storm finally began to break. The rain slowed to a mere drizzle and the thunder rolled off in the distance. The buzzing of tiny wings drying was drowned out by Mike playing 80s hits over his speaker and we all poked our heads out of the tents. Owen, looking a little worse for wear, came out soaked and immediately began throwing his gear out onto the moss. Everything in his tent was soaked. In our delirious scramble to assemble camp when we first arrived, his rainfly had been attached inside-out which funneled the rain directly into his tent.

Pictured: Gabrielle Mordini. Image by: Oliver Ancans

After collecting our miscellaneous gear that had been scattered around the camp, we fished for a few more hours. Everyone ended up catching something, whether it was a lake trout or arctic char. We had taken enough abuse for one outing, running on almost no sleep and freeze-dried spaghetti, it was time to head home. Owen, Gaby, and I hiked ahead again, so Owen and I could go back to help Ian with the sled. We hardly noticed the mosquitos anymore, we were just hell-bent on pushing through the miles that lay ahead. A few hours later, we arrived back in a small town, where burgers and beers were enjoyed and the next few trips were discussed. Although downright grueling, we all agreed we wouldn’t change a thing and were already scheming on how to make the trip better the following year.

Pictured: Owen Humberg. Image by: Oliver Ancans

Trips like these seem all too familiar in Alaska. Often filled with bugs, more often than not, bears, and a whole lot of unknown. Keeping your whits about you and being prepared is key and even still, things can get sideways. Alaska is truly still rugged, wild, beautiful, and we as anglers and outdoorsman must strive to keep it that way.

Gear Used. There are so many options for gear these days, it can seem overwhelming. Below is a list of some rods, reels, and lines that accompanied us on this trip and would be a great place to start if you were to find yourself targeting Arctic char.

Rise Fishing Co. 6wt Level Series 

3-Tand Reels Vikn V-50

Alaska Rod Co. 8wt Anadromous

Airflo Kelly Galloup Shovel Head Fast Sinking Fly Line

AirFlo Ridge 2.0 Superflo Power Taper 

Article and photos by Oliver Ancans (@Olleyeh). 

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  1. Outstanding article, & fishing experience! Being an adventure seeking individual & understanding that some of the greatest adventures means being off the grid I really appreciated his honesty & the true grit of being in the back country of Alaska.


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