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Fly Fishing fantasies

Chase the fall doldrums away with fishing trips to far-off places

Posted: Sunday, September 22, 2002

The next time you're gazing listlessly out of the gray box that's your office onto a gray sky, or maybe serving up a pot of oatmeal to the ungrateful roommates known as your children, think about what Brad Elfer's doing right now.

He's getting ready to go to Mexico. Sure, that's nothing unusual. A lot of Alaskans take refuge in frou-frou beach cocktails when the summer light begins to fade. But Elfer, owner of Juneau Flyfishing Goods, is going to Ziahuatanejo for work. Yup, he's going fly fishing in the deep, blue Pacific off the coast of Mexico and it's all tax-deductible!

The last big trip he took to Christmas Island, a roughly 1,300-mile flight south from Honolulu, was a busman's holiday as well. Get up, fish all day, go to sleep, get up, fish again, repeatedly, until it was time to fly home.

You really have to be dedicated to fishing to take a trip to Christmas Island, according to Elfer. There are no resorts, no casinos, no shopping on this equatorial atoll.

The jet flies in once a week to the corrugated-tin airport and the entire island comes to greet it. But there are bonefish, a shimmering, torpedo-shaped demon that are the Maseratis of the fishing world when hooked.

"It's an incredibly exciting ride," says Elfer, who would go back to Christmas Island in a heartbeat, getting dropped off for the day in knee-deep water with a beer and a sandwich, with the occasional manta ray gliding by for company.

Some people do go to Christmas Island to dive, but that doesn't appeal to Elfer.

"I can't imagine getting in the water," he says, pointing to a picture of a black-tip reef shark. "Everything in (there) is a predator."

There are other Shangri-Las for fly fishers looking for sun - Midway Island in the Pacific Ocean, the Seychelles, north of Madagascar off the southeast coast of Africa.

"That just looks like heaven," Elfer says of the points on the map. In Mexico he'll be looking for sailfish, dorado and roosterfish with a fly rod that could almost be considered a halibut pole.

For fellow Juneau fly fishers Kurt Iverson and Jon Pond, their dream trip was fly fishing Argentina and Chile last February. Remember, now, that south of the equator it's summertime in Patagonia while the Taku winds nip at our toes.

With frequent-flier-mile tickets, a folding canoe and a truck rented for six weeks, the two were in heaven, from a fly fisherman's point of view.

"It's warm and dry and it's easy to do," says Pond." The people are wonderful."

According to Pond, Argentina is like Montana was 100 years ago.

"If you are a real trout fisherman, Chile and Argentina are the places to go," Iverson says. He worked as a fishing guide there before moving to Juneau permanently.

The trip was his last hurrah before settling down to a job with the state Commercial Fisheries Entry Commission, married life and parenthood.

In Argentina, though, Iverson and Pond sometimes headed down dirt roads on a whim, camping on the banks of rivers and lakes known to flyfishing addicts around the world - the Chimehuin, Alumine, Corcovado and Tiaful, where Pond caught two of the biggest stream trout of his life.

There were thick steaks cooked over open fires, 12,000-foot volcanos rising from lakeshores, quiet moments at sunset with a good cigar and big, biting brown trout.

While remote, the Patagonia region of Argentina and Chile also caters to fishers with big pockets - exclusive lodges are scattered around the lakes of the Andes Mountains. Pond and Iverson, however, stuck to their tent or the occasional small-town hotel for about $25 a night.

Pond also can recommend salmon fishing on the Kamchatka Peninsula of Petropavlovsk-Kamchatski, not quite the pin dot on the map that is the Seychelles, but not exactly Ixtapa, either.

He piggybacked some fishing onto a professional conference one summer, snagging helicopter rides to remote streams in a bear preserve. The helicopters were relics from the Cold War, but the Kamchatka Peninsula is home to big steelhead and a type of salmon found nowhere else in the world.

Some fishing outfitters offer guided trips to the region, but Elfer said the political and economic climate has forced many out of the area.

Staying with Russian families and fishing country that in some ways was even wilder than Southeast Alaska - think Admiralty Island brown bears on steroids - Pond was in his element.

Remote, exotic, yes, but he's noodling with the idea of an even more exotic fly-fishing excursion: Angling for 30-pound striped bass in the Hudson River.

Guided trips are offered at $450 a day for the pleasure of fly-fishing the Big Apple. Really. Garbage barges and the Staten Island Ferry may pass on the port bow of your chartered vessel, but that's all part of the charm of fishing within casting distance of Manhattan's skyscrapers.

Start tying those flies.

Jeanine Pohl Smith is a Juneau writer and former Empire reporter.



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