Skwala stoneflies have become active on the Bitterroot River during the recent spurt of warmer weather, according to Pat Saffel, Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks regional fisheries manager in Missoula.
“Right now, the skwala hatch is really going,” he said Wednesday. “The fisherman hatch is booming, too.”
But eventually the ardent angler’s desires will drift to bigger things, such as Alaska.
This may be one of the best summers in years to splurge on a dream trip to the trout and salmon waters of The Last Frontier.
While millions of Americans are jobless or broke and looking no farther than their home waters this summer, a few anglers wisely stashed some cash in their waders last fall before their savings accounts sprang a leak.
And, of course, bankruptcy lawyers are rolling in dough.
Owners of Alaska fishing lodges are hoping these perfectly positioned attorneys and other financially solvent anglers can get a week off this summer for a major fishing trip.
Air fares are lower than normal. On the other hand, this is the first season in memory that an angler could wait this long into spring and still use mileage-plan awards to get seats on a plane during the peak of salmon fishing around Bristol Bay.
“Our family’s flying to the states this summer and I was able to use frequent-flyer miles for all five tickets – the first time I ever remember being able to do that,” said Jason Dye, Bristol Bay area fisheries biologist in Dillingham.
The fishing pressure is likely to be lighter than normal at remote waters that require fly-in or floating options.
“Some of the lodge business appears to be down 25-50 percent, especially on the real high-end stuff,” said George Cook, a well-traveled fly-fishing guru and rep for Sage rods, Simms waders and Rio lines.
“Midline places, like the tented river camps, are probably fairing the best for business overall.
“What remains to be seen is how big a turnout Alaska gets from the do-it-yourself crowd.”
The Kenai Peninsula could be even more crowded this summer if anglers opt for budget trips from Anchorage that don’t require a bush plane flight.
A wild card: Mount Redoubt and its ash-spewing tizzy fit.
It’s worth considering in your trip planning that there’s no way to predict how often the volcano will force more cancellations of airline flights in and out of Anchorage.
“The do-it-yourself crowd represents the traditional bonanza to the retail and service sector of south-central Alaska,” Cook said. “Everybody hopes they’ll turn out.”
Another unknown is how many people will wait until the 11th hour as they look for the possibility of even lower air fares and outfitter discounts.
“That might work for cruise ships, because their business is clearly down,” Cook said. “But it may not work for fishing outfitters. Most of the discounts I see are for the shoulder weeks, such as the front-end of the silver runs.”
At least one outfitter is offering cheaper exploratory trips for anglers willing to take a chance on fishing waters that are out of the guide’s normal comfort zone.
“Bookings clearly are down in some areas,” said Chris Batin, an Alaska outdoor writer and hunting and fishing consultant. “You can get some good deals, like booking two nights and getting a third night free; things like that.”
“I think it will be very interesting to see what happens between Easter and Memorial Day,” Cook said. “There’s a potential for deeper discounts, but some outfitters may choose to just drop guides, cut expenses and live with it.”
“Bush flights aren’t likely to be discounted.”
An angler on a budget may want to focus on renting a car and doing it yourself based out of Anchorage, where you could head south to the Kenai Peninsula or north to a variety of fisheries.
“In the Kenai area during June,” Cook said, “you could spend four days fishing and have a heck of a mixed bag with damned near unlimited daylight and hit on the Upper Kenai rainbows the Russian for sockeyes or the Ninilchik, Deep Creek, the Kasilof at Cook Creek – any number of road system king fisheries, maybe do a guided deal for a day, and then go catch halibut out of Homer.”
Budget-minded anglers also could check out Batin’s book, “Fishing Alaska on Dollars a Day,” which details 200 Forest Service cabins that can be rented for $35 a night. “A lot of them are in great spots for fishing,” he said.
Whether you’re making the most on a tight budget for a do-it-yourself trip or trying to sort out the choices and timing for a fishing lodge, consider spending $30 for a 15-minute telephone consultation with Batin to help zero in on the right location or river for the experience you want (check it out: www.AlaskaAngler.com).
“I don’t get a commission from anybody,” he said. “After 35 years of doing this, there’s little I don’t know about Alaska fishing.”
Meantime, Batin points out that attendance at the recent Great Alaska Sportsman Show in Anchorage was on par with recent years.
Indeed, the recent Big Horn Outdoor Adventure Show in Spokane attracted the largest crowd in its 49-year history.
“The American angler is adapting,” Batin said. “Regardless of the economy, he’s making the most of it, looking for opportunities or discounts.
“People are still dreaming.”