Bill and Melanie Betts have a little slice of heave in Alaska. Their lodge is located on the Iliamna River in Iliamna Alaska. With an easy flight from Anchorage into Pedro bay, you just have a short jet boat ride into the lodge from there.
Rainbow River Lodge is there sister lodge and is located on the Copper River just a short bush plane ride away.
Iliamna and Rainbow River Lodges have there own air taxi service so there is always a bush plane waiting to take you to a new river if you get tired of fishing the river outside your door. While my wife and I were there we did two floats down the Copper and one down Moraine Creek. Both were amazing fisheries but Moraine Creek for me was my favorite with giant rainbows everywhere!!
If you would like more information on the lodges and help booking your trip please give me a call.
As the fall of 2020 sets in around me, I find myself thinking about where I was this time in years past. Before the term social distancing was part of our daily lingo and we traveled the world freely and without hesitation. My reflections take me to our 2018 fly fishing trip to Alaska as the trees turned gold and the bears frolicked around us. I endearingly refer to this trip as fly fishing boot camp. In Colorado, we go fishing; in Alaska, we went catching.
The week started out with a scenic flight on a small plane from Anchorage to Pedro Bay, the pick-up point for the Iliamna River Lodge. Sitting in the co-pilot’s seat, I marveled at the beauty of the Alaska wilderness from high above, and as a rainbow appeared out of the clouds on our descent, the world stood still. Before I knew it, we were in a jet boat heading up the Iliamna River to our home for the next week. From the moment we arrived at the Iliamna River Lodge to our day of departure, we received nothing but five star treatment. Our days began with hot coffee delivered to our doorstep, which we sipped as we talked about the fish to be caught that day, and ended with a relaxing sit in the steam house reliving the ones that got away.
Our trip was in late-September, so salmon fishing season was over but we saw thousands of sockeye salmon at the end of their life cycle. Our timing was explained to me before we got there, but I don’t think it’s possible to fully grasp what this means until you’re surrounded by the fish in the river and on the banks (not to mention the distinct smell). The “tomatoes” or “firefish” were everywhere on our first fishing outing on the Copper River. Part of me was sad to see the end of so many stunning creatures, but then the other part considered how many living beings rely on this yearly migration. We saw bears taking advantage of this abundant resource on a daily basis. There were patches of eggs that would someday be nourished by the bodies of the dead sockeye. And, maybe most importantly for our trip, rainbow trout and arctic char were feasting on remains.
We mainly fished with two set-ups: egg pattern and flesh fly. Fishing with an egg pattern was new to me, so seeing the take and setting the hook took a little time to learn. The river was gin clear, fairly shallow and mostly skinny. Being taught by our guide how to spot fish in the river was a game changer. The guide would point to a fish, I would swing the egg, and wham, the fight was on. This scene was on repeat throughout the day.
After netting several good-sized rainbow trout on eggs on our first outing, we anchored at an island where we spotted a few giant rainbows from the bank. These fish were not interested in any of the eggs, so I threw flesh patterns at them. My guide tried several patterns of flesh fly on my line and not one got a response…but then my husband stepped to the plate with the solution to the problem: a Bandit Leech. On the first pass of the fly, the rainbow took it and we all screamed until we saw the tension release from the line – ugh! A second huge rainbow moved into the trough and my husband swung the fly again. We all held our breath as we saw the fish of the day take the fly and head straight down river with it. Shouts erupted from all three of us and then we were silenced as we saw the fish jump out of the water, fly in mouth, and pop the fly right off the line. I guess the fish have to win sometimes to keep us coming back for more.
On our second day, we set out on the Copper River again. I was dutifully casting and resetting my egg pattern daydreaming about the delicious lunch awaiting me when I saw a hit, so I set the hook. I’m not sure where this fish was going, but it was taking my line and heading downstream with it. I stood flabbergasted at the speed at which my line was ripping and the fact that no amount of pressure was slowing this fish down. When I looked down and saw the amount of line that was out, I started to panic and didn’t know what to do, so I grabbed the reel and the fish popped off. I stood there in shock about what just happened. I was later told that the answer to my problem would have been to run downstream chasing after the fish and reeling up my line, which is easy to say when you’re not in waders, surrounded by salmon and in bear country. I guess that’s a lesson learned for another day, but I still stand behind that I must have hooked the trout equivalent of Jaws.
My favorite day of fishing was on the Moraine River, but this admittedly might be attributed to the sunshine and clear skies. We flew out of the Lodge, landed in what looked like a puddle from the air, assembled the rafts, and were on our way. This river hosts a variety of fish and we proceeded to catch arctic char, rainbow trout, and grayling right off the bat on both egg patterns and flesh flies. As we were happily floating down the river, our peace was interrupted by our friend in the other boat manically screaming from up river that it was time for lunch. Having no concept of time, we agreed that maybe we should eat except the banks on either side of the river were being occupied by bears, so we kept floating, which sent our friend into even more of a hysterical shout. Our guide instructed me to drop my line in the water as we were searching for a place to anchor, and so I tried to follow his instructions but ended up right off the boat instead of in the suggested ripple. A fish hit my fly, I set the hook, and a beautiful colored-up rainbow came shooting out of the water. As our guide pulled the boat over and our friends pulled up next to us, I continued to fight the fish from the bank. The fish performed a few tail walking maneuvers and could be seen to have a bright pink stripe and cheeks – talk about pressure to land a fish! After a good fight, the fish was netted and I was holding the prettiest fish I’ve ever seen (see the picture above). I dubbed this trout the fish of the trip for both color and size.
The daily settings of our fly fishing outings were absolutely awe-inspiring. Whenever I took a break from fishing and got my feet out of the water, I found myself taking in the surroundings. Many times there was a bear just up the river from us, and I would become mesmerized by the sheer strength and beauty of the creature. Other times, my gaze would go to a bald eagle perched above watching us as we fished. Living in the mountains of Colorado, I’m emerged in breathtaking scenery and bountiful fly fishing opportunities. But Alaska is a whole other dimension of magnificence. To experience Alaska as we did was truly a trip of a lifetime.
Escaping to the Alaska wilderness and away from not just the distractions of life but the heaviness of this year is not possible, but I can always travel there in my memories and dream about the fish that will be waiting for me on my return.
By: Melanie Bartlett
Baranof Wilderness Lodge and Beyond Boundaries Expeditons. Is owned by Mike and Sally Trotter. My Farther started doing business with Mike in early 2000’s and it has been a pleasure. I have provided some information about their operation below and links/phone number incase you want more information.
About Baranof Wilderness Lodge
We would like to take this opportunity to introduce ourselves. We are Mike and Sally Trotter. Our passion is to share three decades of fishing, exploring and outfitting in Alaska with Our Guests.
Simply put – Baranof Wilderness Lodge is an experienced and novice anglers paradise. Expect unforgettable fishing and wildlife encounters, incredible cuisine, cozy accommodations and memories to last a lifetime.
We and our entire Team are committed to providing you with the personal attention you should expect and deserve. With a 90% repeat/referral customer list as testimony to our successful program, believing our new Guests are friends we haven’t had the opportunity to meet yet and we certainly treat you as such.
Make your plans with us with confidence. We offer You our personal invitation, to join us at Baranof Wilderness Lodge for a extraordinary time of your life as undeniably one for your Bucket List.
Fishing Programs At the Lodge
Fishing Options: You may choose your fishing experience each day, from freshwater to saltwater, stream or lake, light tackle spinning, or flies. World class waters are all a short hike or boat ride from our lodge.
Species Available: King Salmon (Chinook), Silver Salmon (Coho), Pink Salmon (Humpy), Chum Salmon, Sockeye Salmon, Dolly Varden, Cutthroat Trout and Rainbow Trout, giant Halibut, and many varieties of Rockfish.
Boat Arrangements: Baranof Wilderness Lodge uses comfortable, safe 24 foot Cuddy Cab cruisers and 16 foot aluminum skiffs. We pride ourselves in choosing the most durable marine watercrafts available. Our fleet is equipped with GPS, sonar, and the latest Raytheon marine radar. All boats are Coast Guard licensed, approved, and equipped with all required safety gear.
Tackle: All saltwater tackle, rods, reels and bait are provided. Freshwater fly and spinning rods are also available with custom flies and tackle that may be purchased in our shop.
Our Guides: Our truly talented staff and guides have the benefit of many years of experience. We all have an enormous love of fishing and the Alaskan outdoors, but most of all we enjoy sharing the experiences with others. Our staff of professional guides are licensed and certified by the U.S. Coast Guard.
Maintaining a Resource
We at Baranof Wilderness Lodge use barbless tackle and practice catch & release for all fresh water fisheries. We respect and thrive to preserve this precious ecosystem for the future while working hard to minimize the impact our presence brings to this great land. At the Lodge, we will package and freeze one box of halibut and salmon (from salt water) per guest for travel home.
The unpressured waters around our lodge offer the most abundant and diverse salt- and freshwater fishing available in Alaska. Dozens of spectacular bays, estuaries, fishing streams and lakes within a
short boat ride or hike from our lodge offer premier angling.
Tongass National Forest
The Tongass National Forest, surrounding Alaska’s Inside Passage, is our national treasure: one of the last forests of its kind in the world where old growth forests, brown bears, eagles, and wild salmon still thrive.
Covering 17 million acres, over 1,000 islands, and stretching an area the length of Florida, the Tongass is America’s largest National Forest.
This temperate rainforest provides a healthy, vital habitat for fish and wildlife, as well as world famous opportunities to fish, hunt, view wildlife, and enjoy the quiet of nature.
This symbol of Alaska, the Tongass National Forest, is home to healthy and abundant wildlife, vital spawning habitat for Wild Alaskan salmon, and world-renowned opportunities for recreation. With careful management, it will remain this way for generations to come.
Conserving the Tongass National Forest will preserve this one-of-a-kind rainforest and Alaska’s outdoor heritage and way of life
For more information visit there website https://flyfishalaska.com or call Mike at 1-800-613-6551