Steamboats, pipelines, and drills have not ruined the best fishing in North America. . . yet.
That’s because much of Alaska is still pristine wilderness. I don’t mean pristine as in natural areas with signs instructing “Please stay on path”. I mean the kind of pristine where you can fly in a float plane for 150 km, flying low over world-class rainbow trout rivers, and never see a road, house, radio tower, or any other disturbance that comes from development and extraction, in other words; civilization.
The streams here are not places where you wonder, after a day of casting a fly, what the fishing was like a century ago. The answer is self-evident. The habitat in the Bristol Bay region is mostly unaltered by man. Exotic species have not displaced the native dolly varden, grayling, and trout, and their behavior has not been modified by a daily parade of anglers and hooks. They still feast on salmon eggs; rise freely to dry flies; gulp dalai/dolly lama and brutalize mouse patterns.
If fly fishing is your ultimate connection with nature, a trip to the Bristol Bay region is the equivalent to a 'Holy Grail'. The trout-filled streams are pure and perfect, with nothing as ungraceful as a stocked trout in sight, and no obstacles like man-made dams and the chemicals that come from industry and agriculture.
Unfortunately, much of this true wilderness could disappear in coming decades, as a result of placing too high a value on resources like gold and copper, and too little on unspoiled trout streams. The proposed Pebble Mine - claimed to hold an estimated 48 billion pounds of copper, 57 million ounces of gold and 2.9 billion pounds of molybdenum on land near Lake Iliamna and the watershed of the Kvichak and Nushagak rivers - is only the tip of the iceberg. If this mine (and all its connected roadways, bridges, power lines and massive pipelines) goes ahead, it will likely open the door to more development on other Bristol Bay–Area lands. If the quest for natural resources in this land of salmon and trout is not halted, the trout streams will, inevitably, be sacrificed.
The great Michael Wigan, author of The Salmon: The extraordinary story of the king of fish, traveled to Alaska seven times and referred to the land as “the abode of the blessed.” For fly fishers, this may be truer now than ever. Everyone who has made the trip has surely felt blessed as the float plane cruises above the river valley for a bird’s-eye preview of the day's fishing.
More to the point, we may be blessed to be the last generation to see these rivers in their beautiful natural state, flowing unmolested over land not yet scarred by humanity’s greed for gold. Our descendants may never see it as it is right now.