Bill Johnston from Omaha, Nebraska, and I met at Anchorage International Airport, where our trip to fish Iliamna began. Bill had won Alaska Outdoors magazine’s Alaska Dream Trip Contest, the prize being a fishing trip to Alaska fishing for a week with the magazine’s editor. We were whisked to Era’s flight to Iliamna almost before we had time to shake hands.
On our arrival at Iliamna, Dean Spear, our guide for the week, met us when the plane landed. We were shown our rooms and familiarized with the rest of the lodge. Dean then discussed the plan for the week, beginning that afternoon on the Newhalen River. The Newhalen is just a short drive from the lodge and is famous for rainbow trout in the 10- to 15-pound range.
I held the hot rod for the afternoon and caught the rainbow of the day—an 8-pounder on an egg fly. Bill gave me a go for it but couldn’t seem to get past the 7-pound mark. He would hook up, but he couldn’t land them for some reason.
Bill enjoyed the flight to, and the fishing at, the lodge’s Ugashik Narrows camp. The water at Ugashik was so clear he could see huge char holding behind the spawning sockeye, awaiting a meal of salmon eggs. Bill caught char, one after another, ranging in size from 3 to 6 pounds. Often everyone fishing had a hookup at the same time. Not only char, Ugashik-Narrows-size, arctic grayling, and silver salmon added to the excitement.
The last day was perhaps the highlight of the week. Chief pilot Mark Keen flew us, one at a time, in his wheel-equipped, Supercub bush plane. Using this plane and his knowledge of the area, we could fish streams we felt had never been fished.
Late in the afternoon, Bill returned a silver to the river to spawn. Turning, he grinned, “A fella can get downright tired fishing in Alaska.” Bill rubbed his arms, sore from catching so many big fish. It looked like he was about to give up and stop fishing for the day. No way. He took a deep breath and waded into the river to make his next cast. He stood there, slowly retrieving his lure, staring off at the mountains and the sun retreating behind them. He was all fished out. Alaska had won. She had furnished more fishing than the angler could take. Bill put away his rod and surrendered to his surroundings.
We flew back to the lodge tired and happy, enjoying the mountains and the wildlife below. Fall colors were creeping across the tundra. Bull moose sported huge white antlers, reflecting light, and gave away their location. Caribou were abundant. We spotted brown bears walking beaches or standing in rivers fishing. Bill was in awe of the scenery, the fishing, and the lodge.
Bill Johnston from Omaha, Nebraska, is glad he took his dream trip to the Iliamna country. Perhaps next time, it will be your dream trip. And why not? Someone’s going to do it. Why not you?