Teaching Juneau to Fish

Fly fishing guide says angling skill is a lifelong pursuit

Posted: Monday, April 02, 2007

Brad Elfers was a teenager in the late 1980s when he caught the rainbow trout that led him to a lifetime of fly fishing.

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A friend in the Seattle area had just introduced him to what anglers call "the quiet sport." To show what fly fishing is all about, the friend pointed out a line of ants next to a stream. Then he pulled out an ant-shaped fly and handed Elfers the rod.

"The very first cast, a fish came out and ate it," Elfers said. "It's like a light went on ... That was a mind-blower for me back then."

Elfers, now 37, went on to be a fishing guide and proprietor of Juneau Flyfishing Goods, which he claims to be the first all-fly shop in Southeast Alaska. In the nine years since he's run it, others have opened in Ketchikan and Sitka. As anglers prepare for the spring's first steelheads, he will be offering fly tying and casting lessons.

"This is the time of year when people start getting excited," he said.

When Elfers moved to Juneau about 14 years ago, he landed a job as a fishing guide. He took visitors on fly-out trips to the wilderness and places such as Admiralty Island.

"We'd fish for the day with these folks, which was very enjoyable because the creeks were full of fish, full of bears. A lot of these folks were from the Lower 48, where you don't see that anymore. Especially the fish in those quantities, it was mind-boggling for them."

But after five years, he wanted something new. Noticing the lack of fly fishing specialty shops in the area, he started one up. Back then, there were not many fly fishers in Juneau, he said. But after nine years of lessons, the numbers have increased.

"It takes a lot of instruction," he said. "How to cast, where to fish. We keep tabs. Our customers call all the time, trying to learn where to go. It's been a lot of fun."

Just last week, he was working on an unusual eel fly for a customer who was heading to Mexico to fly fish for cobia. Using strips of rabbit hide, he crafted a black, fluffy creature. When the thing gets wet, it will look like an eel.

One of the most popular local flies is the pink egg fly, designed to mimic a salmon egg. Dolly Vardens lurk behind salmon to eat the eggs, and the anglers are well aware of their taste in food. Though not everybody can differentiate between a starlite leech pink No. 2 and a purple egg-sucking leech, many people want to give the sport a try and cast a fly.

"It's not real difficult to be proficient, but to be an expert is a lifelong pursuit," Elfers said.

• Ken Lewis can be reached at ken.lewis@juneauempire.com.

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