by Michael Bales, Head Guide at Alaska Rainbow Lodge
There’s the familiar knock on the door. Good morning. It’s 6:30 a.m. A pot of fresh hot coffee is steaming on the bedside table. It’s time to get going.
We all gather in the main lodge for a hot breakfast of made-to-order omelets, homemade blueberry muffins and sausage. Then it’s back to the room to gear up for the day.
Today, we’re headed to Brooks River in the Valley of Ten Thousand Smokes. You’ve heard about Brooks all your fishing life. You’ve seen all the famous pictures of bears fishing for spawning salmon by the falls, but nothing prepared you for this. It’s estimated that 150 brown bears gather at the Brooks River to feast on the Sockeye Salmon spawn. These massive brown bears are EVERYWHERE. And we will be fishing right next to them. If that doesn’t get your imagination running, check your pulse!
The Brooks National Park Service requires that every visitor take a class on bears. It’s short, but very informative. After graduation and the donning of our bear class pins, we head down to begin in an area that’s a ten-minute walk to the river.
Our target fish are Rainbow Trout and Sockeye Salmon. The river is stacked with fish – STACKED with fish. You’ve never seen anything quite like it. Just about every drift produces a bump or a strike. There are so many fish. There are so many bears. It’s hard to concentrate. Directly in front of you, a massive brown bear has just sprinted across the river and pounced on a salmon. You’re hooked up on a big trout that’s fighting like mad, making a long run downriver. With a salmon in his mouth, the bear looks at you. You look at the bear. You think that the bear wants to eat his lunch right where you’re standing. So you slowly back out of the river, into the alders, to give that big boy all the room he wants.
The day flies past. You’re at ground zero of Mother Nature’s finest and most primitive work. You’ve seen more wildlife in one day than you’ve seen your entire life. You’ve caught more fish than you ever imagined possible. The flash card in your camera can’t hold another photo. The fishing stories you tell now will be unlike any fishing stories you’ve ever told.
This was Brooks. This was Alaska Rainbow Lodge. This was day three.
This was epic.