The Trip of a Lifetime

By Mike Carey

Over the loud throb of the single engine, our bush plane made its steady, if slow, journey over the Alaskan tundra. Several hundred feet below, the landscape was sparse and untouched by human hands. Between the marshes and brushy hillsides, I could see game trails crisscrossing the tundra. Straining to see an elk or moose, or maybe some bear, I imagined being dropped into this wilderness which looked so barren from above.

Suddenly, a river came into view ahead, long and meandering, cutting a path through the wild Alaska landscape. Rising up from the wilderness was our destination, Alaska Trophy Adventures Lodge. Our pilot lined us up with the dirt runaway and the land rushed ever closer. Wheels touching, bouncing the plane back and forth, our pilot throttled back and taxied the plane from the end of the runway back to the lodge.

“Welcome to Alaska!” We were greeted by Wayne McGee, the owner of ATA, and his son Tyler. Surveying the land before me, I took in the rustic lodge and various buildings, tents, and at the river’s edge, a lineup of fishing boats tied up to a dock, seemingly ready and begging to be taken for a ride down the wild and free river.

The Alagnak River, a designated scenic river, and ATA Lodge lie within the Katmai National Park. The Lodge itself is on 160 acres of prime river frontage in an iconic section of the Alagnak River known as the upper braids, and can only be reached by plane. Our group included me, Rob and Hillary Holman, and Mack’s Lure’s Britton Ransford. We had been waiting a long time for this adventure, as the previous year’s trip was canceled due to Covid. But the masks were off now, and Alaska was once again welcoming guests to enjoy this vast wilderness.

The Alagnak is a wild river, flowing steadily from inland through vast woods

and tundra, finally emptying into Bristol Bay. Hosting five species of salmon and several species of trout, the river is a teeming habitat untouched by human hands. Anglers travel around the world to experience its beauty and incredible fishing, not to mention the amazing wildlife which includes moose and an impressive display of bears, which were our constant (if distant) companions for our six day stay.

Settling into our quarters, we took in the vast view from our chalet looking back toward the lodge and guest cabins, Below, I noticed a couple anglers working the waters along the shoreline. I wasted no time donning my waders and gear and walking down the short trail to the water’s edge. For the next hour I brushed off the cobwebs on my fly-casting skills and worked some productive seams in front of the lodge dock. I watched as fellow anglers landed several pinks, but it was not yet my time to hook into my first Alagnak salmon.


With the dinner bell ringing, we headed back to the lodge for a warm welcome from Wayne and the crew. Introductions around the dining room revealed this week’s group of twenty or so anglers, having come from around America and even from Germany and Ireland. Truly an international clientele. Our dinner was elegant and delicious, the main course a fine pork chop as moist and flavorful as any I’d ever had. After dessert, Wayne greeted the group and provided a view of the coming week’s adventures. Introducing everyone from the guides to the lodge staff, the feeling of a close family was obvious. Topping off the evening with a glass of fine wine, we returned satiated to our chalet. The morning would come soon enough, and it was time to light a fire, play some cribbage, and get a good night’s sleep for the coming day’s fishing adventure.

Fly fishing for salmon and trout is what the ATA experience is all about.

While fishing the river does not exclude hardware (and we did have great success one day twitching Mack’s Lure jigs) the appeal of fishing the Alagnak River is without a doubt fly fishing. The lodge has all the quality gear that you would expect, but many anglers choose to bring their own favorite rods and reels. I brought a rod and reel of my own, which I soon discovered from our guide, Tyler, was not set up quite right for the large streamer flies we would be using. After a few adjustments my set up allowed me

to cast much better, and by the end of the trip I was making my casts longer and straighter than I could ever have imagined. The guides at ATA are pros and excellent fly casting instructors as well. Hillary, new to casting flies, by the end of the trip was excited by how much she had learned. Don’t think that if you have no fly-casting experience this adventure isn’t for you. Indeed, many of our fish were caught close to shore and didn’t require long distance or accuracy. The river is bountiful and there is no lack of willing finned friends waiting to tug your line.

“Fish on!” My streamer came to a dead stop as I was stripping line in, and the head shake of a powerful fish caused my rod to strain and bend over in a solid arch. The fish broke the surface in front of me, a chrome-bright coho fresh from the ocean. Taking strong, line peeling runs, the fish began to tire and I eased her into Tyler’s waiting net. After admiring her chrome colors and fresh sea lice, she was sufficiently revived and darted off on her mission. Anglers do bring fish back from the Alagnak, but Wayne and the guides encourage only keeping the bucks and releasing the hens to procreate. It’s a policy that the anglers that come to ATA are in agreement with as the Alaska experience we are here for is not bringing home coolers full of fish, but rather days full of memories. The Alaska wilderness experience is what ATA is all about.

Each day we fished we got to try a different species to target. One day it would be salmon, working the numerous seams and back eddies for coho, chums, and pinks, the next day taking the long, scenic forty mile run to tide water to battle chrome coho, another day bead fishing for artic grayling, char, and leopard rainbow trout. The rainbows grow large from the abundance of feed and follow the spawning salmon, feasting on eggs. Earlier in the season, anglers can target powerful chinook salmon and massive runs of sockeye that thrill with acrobatic leaps, challenging even the most experienced angler.

The ATA lodge is situated deep in bear country. Every day we saw large brown bears walking the shoreline, feeding on the salmon. Mother bears and cubs were a common sight. Wayne informed us that in twenty-five years of service they have not had a bear incident. The guides have a strong understanding and respect for bears and safety is always the number one priority. I never had much worry about the bears. It was awesome to look down on sandy shorelines and see the large tracks of these majestic creatures interspersed with anglers’ footsteps.

For a change of pace one day, Britton and I decided to do a hike in with our guide Tyler to a local lake that holds northern pike. Having never caught a pike on a fly I was very excited! We ran about thirty minutes by river, secured the boat, and began our one-mile hike to the lake. The Alaska tundra is a unique habitat, with open fields interspersed by woods and tall brush. Periodically calling out “here bear”, we were sure to make plenty of noise to alert any bear in the area of our presence. The tundra is soft and giving, much like walking on a mat of foam. Our every step we would sink six inches into the turf, making the one-mile hike feel like three. It was a workout which I enjoyed, although when we reached the lake, I was very grateful for the break! Sad to say, on this day the pike were not cooperating, although I did get a small one and had a nice strike from a larger fish. It’s an adventure I’d definitely try again!

As most things do, our Dream Adventure came to an end much too quickly. The last evening, we shared our group meal with new friends and recapped the week that was. The smiles and laughter around the room were a clear indication of what a magical place we had the good fortune to enjoy. We shared our highlights from the week and the common bonds the week’s group of anglers experienced. In the morning we boarded our bush plane for the quick flight back to King Salmon, then Anchorage, and then home. Watching the lodge recede in the distance, I sensed we all left a part of ourselves back in Alaska, but took a piece home with us as well.  

For your trip of a lifetime, learn more Alaska Trophy Adventures at or call 1-877-801-2289.