How to have a successful guided float trip in Alaska.
By: Cory Hansen
My name is Cory Hansen, and I am the Marketing Manager at Alaska Fly Fishing Goods. I have been guiding fly fishing professionally in Alaska for the past 12 years. I got my start doing fly-out day trips in Juneau and started guiding float trips in western Alaska shortly after that. Guiding has allowed me to see some of the most incredible places in our state and I feel lucky to be able to share it with clients who make the journey north. Over the years I have had my share of memorable experiences on the river. Great fishing, tough fishing, bears, epic storms and days of pleasant temperatures and easy floating. Sometimes all on the same trip! My goal with this article is to help you get in the right frame of mind and offer some tips for a successful trip.
First, let me state this, float trips are not for everyone. The weather doesn't always cooperate, the bugs are always around, there is no warm lodge to retreat to at the end of the day and to a certain extent you are always busy. However, floats offer a more intimate river experience than you can get at a lodge. You will see things while floating down a river that would otherwise get missed. Every day brings new water to fish and new sights to behold. These are truly wild trips, when the plane flies away you and the people you are with for the next 8 days are in the middle of nowhere together.
What to expect?
Float trips are, by nature, more involved than going to a lodge. You make camp every night, break camp every morning, and are constantly working your way to doing it all over again, day in and day out. Sometimes the weather is great, the bears are behaved, the fishing is killer and things go as planned. Other times, one factor is off and will compound to effect other portions of the trip. It is of the utmost importance to keep a positive attitude when you are on a float trip. One person has the ability to either stoke the rest of the group or be a total bummer and bring everyone down.
The guides will be doing a lot of the leg work and will help keep everyone in good spirits. It goes a long way for clients to help around camp, mostly setting up and breaking down. The faster boats can get loaded and unloaded the faster we can either start on dinner or get on the water and start fishing. Guides don't expect clients to cook, clean or stay up all night dealing with weather and bears. Plan on setting up and breaking down your own tent and carrying your personal gear to and from the raft. While the guides are there to keep people happy and safe, there are certain things that you as a client can do to help keep yourself comfortable and happy.
Potential Challenges & Considerations
Things don't always go as planned. In Alaska this can happen more frequently than other places you may have fished. It is important to remember that the best way to combat these challenges is to keep an open mind. Enjoy whatever experience comes your way and go with the flow, pun intended. Knowing some of the things that can happen will help you as a client get in the proper mental state to keep your spirits up and make sure you have a great trip. Safety is paramount on the river, your guides know this and will keep safety the number one priority, always.
Bring Your Own Fishing Tackle
When you go on a guided float trip, you should expect to bring your own personal gear. While lodges may have loaner gear on hand, it really isn't an option for most float outfitters. There is just too much to pack already for a self supporting week long float. Have your own gear (and a back up) and you will be all set.
If you have questions about which rods to bring, either your guide service can answer your questions, or you can contact us at Alaska Fly Fishing Goods. If possible, I like to have two rods rigged per angler. Depending on what you are fishing for, rod between 5 and 10wt are appropriate. If you must narrow down your rods, a longer (9'6"-10') 6wt for mousing and beading paired with a sturdy 8wt for streamers is a hard combo to beat. If you need to purchase a new rod, contact us at the shop. We have a lot of good options in a wide range of prices. Everything we sell is with Alaska fishing in mind, they won't let you down.
Anyone who has traveled in Alaska knows how unpredictable the weather can be. Sometimes you get lucky and don't need to battle the wind and rain, but this is not the norm. The guide service you are going with has the appropriate gear for the elements. Your guides will help you place your tent, but it is good practice to put your tents up high on the gravel bar and try to tuck them in the trees. Wind can really be a downer if you aren't prepared. Always guy out your tents and use the rainfly!
High water events are part of a river trip. Not only can traveling downriver during floods be dangerous, but you will blow through good fishing. If possible, your guides will often try and turn situations like this into a two night camp. The luxury of not having to break camp and move is quite special on these floats. Camp days are fun and sometimes staying in one spot till the water drops is both the safest and fishiest option.
This goes hand in hand with weather. Low clouds or stormy weather can prevent your air taxi from flying you to the river or picking you up on time. As stated above, go with the flow. There is no reason to get worked up about things outside of your control. The guides don't want to get stuck on either end of the trip either, but we don't control the weather. Make sure you have some extra cash with you as the B&B's don't care if a big storm kept you from going to the field. You will need to cover the cost for extra nights should that happen. Sometimes your guides will decide that the trip needs to be cut short. This is always because of safety. It may be a sick client or a big storm coming in. This rarely happens, but it is always a possibility.
The best way to combat bad group dynamics is to go with your own group. This isn't always possible and occasionally people who don't know each other will end up on a trip together. Often times a shared passion for fishing is enough to make friends for the week or longer. A couple of my former clients became good friends on a trip and still fish together regularly. In my experience, things usually go great when mixing groups, however, this is not always the case. Some people just don't get along and that's fine. Just try to deal with it respectfully, don't let little things get to you and try and relax.
Alaska Flies & Fishing Techniques
The flies you will use in Alaska are unlike those you will use anywhere else. Our trout mostly eat mice, streamers, eggs and flesh. And when it comes to eating eggs, I'll come right out and say it, beads work! I would suggest that you leave the bead stigma at the door, like it or not, this is how you get big fish during certain times of year. Down south, matching the hatch is knowing your entomology, in Alaska, it's making sure the plastic ball pegged above your hook perfectly mimics the roe in the water. I will personally not let clients fish egg flies. It's easy to hook fish in the gills and trout fishing in western Alaska is exclusively catch-and-release.
Streamers also catch fish up here and the mousing is second to none. Certain folks are less concerned about numbers and want to catch fish on mice or the swing and that is totally OK. In fact, I would highly encourage anyone floating a river to catch fish on streamers and mice. Mousing is perhaps the most famous and fun ways to catch a rainbow trout. If you choose to mouse or streamer fish, be aware you are trading numbers for an experience at certain points of the season.
7 Personal Items to bring on a Float Trip.
- Ear Plugs - These can be saved from the flight out or the noise cancelling variety so you can listen to music as well. In the last 11 years guiding float trips I can safely say that EVERYONE snores. As the person who's up well beyond everyone else, I have heard it all. Finger pointing over breakfast, people getting forced to the end of the gravel bar, etc. Just wear the ear plugs!
- Camp Shoes - Bring comfy shoes to wear at camp. Waterproof boots like Xtra-Tuffs are nice when it's raining but be sure to have some crocs or sandals as well. A few days in, your feet will thank you for some fresh air.
- Rain Pants - Having a way to stay dry that doesn't involve wearing your waders 100% of the time you aren't in your tent is critical. Get something light that packs small and dries out quickly if they get saturated.
- Battery Packs - These days everything is rechargeable. Bring plenty of power for your phone, camera, headlamp, etc. Your guide will have their own, but between an InReach, GPS, lights, speaker, they won't have enough juice for you, too.
- Your own flies! - Seriously, this should not even need to be stated. If you book with a reputable guide service, they will provide you a list of flies and leaders to purchase and bring. Purchase those flies! Don't expect your guide to supply you with endless flies all week. Plus when you break off a fly, it just feels better to grab another out of your fly box instead of tromping 100 yards down the gravel bar to ask for another.
- Hooded Puffy & Rain Jacket - It gets chilly in the evening and sometimes the rain just won't quit. If you have an insulated puffy jacket and the best quality rain jacket you can afford, you'll be warm and toasty no matter what comes your way.
- Extra Vices - If you use tobacco or like a glass of whiskey in the evening, bring more than you think you will need! (See weather delays above) No one wants to deal with someone who runs out of cigarettes, chew or booze on the river.
A week long float trip is an adventure you will never forget. And for many of you, if you do one float you will want to come back and do another. If you arrive with the right gear, a good attitude and a willingness to accept adventure on whatever terms it comes, you will have a great time. And before your trip is even done you and your fellow anglers will be dreaming about which river to float next!