Community showers that might have hot water, basic electricity powered by a generator (so don’t forget to fill it), bears that prowl through camp at night, and sleeping in a wood and tarp tent for six months – these are just a few things that ensure that the guides up at Alaska’s Naknek River Camp never have a dull moment.
After spending last summer with this crew we couldn’t help but be impressed by their passion and dedication for what they do… and the sheer insanity. Get to know a little more about the guides that really make Alaska tick.
Flylords: So, tell us, who is Connor?
Connor: That’s a hard one to answer. I am just a man who has tried a whole lot of different things and ended up finally chasing my passion that started when I was three. My dad told me, he said ‘you’ll never be able to get paid to hunt and fish’ and here we are: owning a company in hunting, fishing, and being outdoors.
Flylords: How did you end up in King Salmon, Alaska?
Connor: One of the other guides here, I’ve known him for about twelve years, has pestered me to come up here, and finally, I got an opportunity and it worked out and now I’m here every year!
Flylords: What does a typical day look like for you?
Connor: Starting at about 6:30 I roll out of bed and we start moving around trying to figure out what’s going on for the day: who I’m with, what they want to go for, eat some breakfast, try to formulate a plot. Then we’ll hit the river, we’re on the river from about 8 until 4/4:30. Some days we’ll chase just one species, other days we chase two or three, it all depends on what the client wants to do. Sometimes they have a particular method that they want to use and we just focus on using that one method. Then we come back.
Since I’ve done so many other things, I usually get off the boat and start working on cars, boats, buildings, whatever else needs to be fixed around here. And then there’s always typical day-to-day camp stuff that needs to be done: gas runs, trash runs. Then eat dinner, go to sleep, and do it all again!
Flylords: How do you prepare for a season in Alaska?
Connor: This being my first one, it was talking to my buddy who got me the job and try to figure out what to bring first and foremost. Seeing that a lot of the species and a lot of the methods being used in Alaska are used back in Michigan too, I had a good awareness already of what to do but prepping for Alaska is basically gathering gear, gathering clothes. The hardest part is figuring out flights because we are in rural Alaska, remote Alaska is fun to get to. Other than that it’s really just packing. Since I’ve lived out of bags and done all kinds of stuff all over the place I just pack up quickly and head out the door.
Flylords: What’s one thing you wouldn’t hit the water without?
Connor: Probably fishing rod, first and foremost. Haha. In all seriousness the right gear for the day. You always bring more clothing articles than necessary because: you can always take layers off to be cooler. Then if it does get cold put it on. Or clients often come ill-prepared so clients get to use the extra clothes that I bring. Other than that, lunch. Don’t hit the river without lunch!
Flylords: Where do you live in the off-season?
Connor: I am about 45 miles north of Detroit. I live there for now, but since I guide in Michigan, guide in Alaska, go back to Michigan, then back to Alaska, home for like a week, and then back to Arkansas, and then back to home, I would say that I’m not really home there that much anymore. And when I am home I sleep at a boat launch more than I sleep at my bed!
Flylords: What occupies your time in the off-season?
Connor: Hunting and fishing, that’s what I do. I like to travel too after the season has chilled out for a little bit.
Flylords: Do you guide anywhere else? If so, how is that different from guiding in Alaska?
Connor: My Michigan season starts in March, we don’t go for numbers of fish we go for big fish. Then April is your Detroit River season where we start our numbers. May is Detroit River as well, but I start weaning off and start heading to Saint Clair and focusing on walleye there and some multi-species trips here and there. And well now I come up here and do all the salmon and trouts. Go back home for a few walleye trips but really get into our sturgeon trips. This is such a fun season, it’s September through October. Then I’ll switch over to duck season which will go through early December. And then I’ll be back up here (Alaska) for more ducks and then to Arkansas for ducks and snow geese! There’s not really an off-season for me which is how I like it.
Much different boats and waterways. I mean, back home I look down and I see the bottom I need to abort the mission because I have made a critical error. Here, you look down and you’re going over a VW size rock two feet below you, and the pucker factor goes from 0 to 10 really quickly. So it’s way different here in that sense with how shallow the water is. You don’t really see too many jet boats on the east side of Michigan. And I experience so much more fly fishing here than on the east side. And there’s also just totally different tactics – same gear, different tactics. And being in the remoteness of it all.
Flylords; What is your favorite fish to target in your own backyard?
Connor: Edible fish? Walleye. Fun fish? Sturgeon, all day. We’ve had them rip 300 feet of line off in less than 3 seconds. It’s crazy. Watching a five-foot fish come clean out of the water and splash sounds like you’ve dropped a bathtub out of an airplane, it’s awesome. And you’re catching fish that are older than you and I combined. They’re prehistoric. Their skin is like a shark, it’s super rough. If you catch one of the small ones they’ll rip your hands to shreds because they have these sharp little scoots on them and they are like razor blades. It’s not something everyone gets to see so I enjoy that.
Flylords: If you were a fly or streamer pattern which would you be?
Connor: Wooly bugger because I like the name haha. Really, I don’t know what it is, Kessner brought it up, but that thing has caught so many fish. It’s a rabbit strip, with two jig heads on it. I don’t know. It’s a sweet-looking fly and it works great.
Flylords: What’s your favorite part about being up in Alaska?
Connor: It’s a totally different world. Every day I wake up to the sound of bald eagles, I walk out and see remote Alaska as my office. I drive up and down the river and what people are here to see for a week, and it’s their once in a lifetime, is my daily commute to work. My daily commute is either I avoid other boats or I avoid floatplanes. I had to stop yesterday because one was landing right in front of me and then a little while later one landed right behind me and scared me a little bit because I didn’t know he was coming up behind me! You just can’t take that for granted.
I was on the phone talking with my dad while I was fishing yesterday, and I’m just hooking up with salmon. I caught more salmon in that 20-30 minute phone call than he has in his entire life. He’s sitting there just like “dude, that’s it, I’m coming up there next year!”
And then the next thing is not necessarily Alaska but all of the guiding is being part of someone’s memory. Some people will only be here once in their life and I get to be part of their memory. Some days we have rough days, of course, I don’t control the fish. Liz and Curtis last week, we went 10 for 21 on silvers that day. And the next day we had 10 for 13 by noon! Then later we took Liz out, she was just dying to catch this chum. Last 10/15 minutes, I’m telling her to cast and focus on this bend, this bend produces chums almost every time. So she’s casting, casting, casting, and the whole top of her rod flew off. So I said strip it in quickly and we’ll put the rod back together. As she’s stripping it in a big ol gnarly, nasty chum comes up and smokes this fly and starts pulling line out on her.
Flylords: What do you miss most about home?
Connor: My dog, Cooper. That cute little shit. He’s very large, tall, and stocky. He’s a Brittany, 60lbs. He is just a phenomenal dog. He is my boat dog. He’s known around the marina I’m at, I’m on Sinbad’s Marina on Detroit River in the spring. He’s known up and down the way as my dog. He’ll go and say hi to everybody but he just trots down the dock like he owns the place, goes right to my boat, hops right on, and looks at me like ‘hey are you gonna start this thing, and are we going to go or what?’. I’ve got clients that don’t go if he’s not going.
Flylords: What is your favorite AK memory?
Connor: I can’t even answer that. There’s been too many this year with all my coworkers here, clients. Some clients have good and bad memories of good and bad days- fish lost, fish caught. I had one client, it was her second-ever fish, and she caught a sockeye and started crying tears of joy, she was that excited. And then we proceeded to beat up fish the rest of the week. She caught monster kings, and sockeye and I don’t even know what else she went after, and one client from her group caught the lodge record fish for the kings for this year: 40 inches and about 35 pounds and they’re all less than a year into fishing. Fishing will never be the same for them.
There’s no one memory I can put, you just have to be here to experience it: the good, bad, ugly, everything.
Flylords: Final Thoughts?
Connor: Do I have to go home yet?
To keep up with all of Connor’s adventure traveling follow him on Instagram at @dreamcatcherscharters