Wayne McGee of Alaska Trophy Lodge on best seasons for each of the activities, guests and unique location in the woods.
What would you consider to be the top attraction or attractions that drive tourists to Alaska?
The stunning scenery and wildlife viewing is amazing. We are a remote Fly In wilderness lodge offering the best fishing and wildlife viewing anywhere in the world! We are located in the pristine wilderness of the world-famous Katmai National Park and Preserve.
Millions of square acres of roadless wilderness, best known for having the largest population of Brown Bears in the world, sustained by the largest migration of wild salmon anywhere on the planet.
Here you can fish for trout and salmon yourself or watch the bears do it without any crowds. The only access to our exclusive resort is our own airstrip located on the property which is beautifully situated on the banks of Alaska’s first ever designated Wild and Scenic River – The Alagnak Wild River, an national park in it’s own right.
Which areas would you recommend visiting? What would be the top destination for fishing enthusiasts?
The region of Bristol Bay has long been known as the mecca of Salmon and Trout fishing in Alaska which is already renowned for its unsurpassed fishing. The Alagnak Wild River is a Gem in the Crown of Bristol Bay’s rivers and has long been one of the top destinations for anglers and outdoors enthusiasts alike!
What is your favorite local area where you like spending weekends?
We offer week long packages Sunday to Sunday, so you will find us spending every weekend on the river, enjoying its magnificent beauty and unparalleled fishing and wildlife photography opportunities!
Which adventures are the most popular, in addition to fishing—hiking, kayaking, anything else?
Many of our clients enjoy the wildlife viewing and photography that our unique and exclusive location provides. You can get up close and personal with Brown Bears fishing for salmon, wolves, moose, eagles, beavers, mink, otters and other wildlife of our region. Our lodge is the chose venue of a number of world renowned wildlife photographers and artists that host wildlife photography and painting workshops.
We offer flight seeing trips over the amazing landscapes of the Katmai National Park, where you can find remote beaches where Bears meet to mate, or that are covered with “sunbathing” walrus. You can visit the Valley of Ten Thousand Smokes, the site of the last centuries largest Volcanic eruption – landing on an ash field over 100 feet deep in places, presenting a scene resembling a lunar landscape – so much so in fact that this is where US Astronauts trained before their lunar mission! You will fly over volcanos with lake filled craters, glaciers and more! We offer hiking, berry picking, kayaking and raft trips as well.
Which seasons are most popular? Why? What are the seasonal activities or events that you recommend visiting?
Our season is very short – only 3 ½ months from the 8th of June when the river opens to fishing until the end of September when we shut down for the season.
Of course we are primarily a fishing lodge and wildlife viewing and photography destination. June is our best trout and grayling fishing before the salmon arrive. Then in July when the first waves of salmon enter our river, we begin to see the largest number of bear on the river starting to feast on the salmon that have come to spawn. In July we see between 25-40 unique bears a day! The Katmai National Park is known for having the largest concentration of bears in the world. This is a great time to be on the river. Fishing is great from June through the end of our season.
Although this is only a short period of time of approximately 14-15 weeks, you would be amazed at how the season changes from one week to the next. You could actually come up to us 4 or more times in a single season at feel like you are fishing a different river. That’s how much the fishing on the river changes with new fish moving in to the river from June through September.
In June, before the salmon arrive, we have some of the very best trout fishing found anywhere! This is perhaps my favorite type of fishing and preferred time to be on the river. Why is that? Well, for the dedicated trout fisherman, June may well be considered the very best time of our season to come and fish both dry flies and streamers for leopard rainbow trout and grayling. We definitely consider it the very best time of year for “mousing” up rainbows (and some grayling for that matter). This is when we like to skate mouse patterns across the surface for exhilarating top water action!
Then by the end of June we start to see the first “scouts” of the Sockeye Salmon run entering the river. The Sockeye run last season continued all the way through mid-August! The next species of salmon to join the parade will be the King or Chinook Salmon. These river monsters average 18-25 lbs with fish up to 55-60 lbs a real possibility. The Kings will start to enter the river in late June, building in numbers and moving upstream in to our part of the river by mid-July. Chum Salmon are the next to arrive around mid-July and then they are joined a week later by the Pink Salmon on even numbered years like this year (2018, 2020, 2022, etc.).
We will start to catch good numbers of sea run char by this time as the egg drop starts in August. Fishing for other “egg eaters” like the Trout and Grayling is phenomenal at this time as well. August is a great time to catch a real “mixed bag” of fish, often catching 6, 7, 8, 9 or even up to 10 different species of fish on a single day! The first Silver Salmon (Coho) start to join the party the very end of July, but we don’t consider ourselves fishing for them until mid-August, and they are still coming in to the river and building in numbers when we close our doors for the season around the end of September.
September is considered our trophy rainbow trout, grayling and char time as they have fattened up on the eggs of so many salmon spawning in the river. We are switching over from drifting beads to swinging articulated streamers in flesh patterns for the big trout at the end of the season. Silver Salmon (Coho) fishing remains excellent throughout the month of September!
Multiple years of healthy, big runs for all our various salmon species bodes well for the Alagnak Wild River! We anticipate that fishing will only get better, if that is possible, and our system will continue to fish well for years to come. Abundant food, in the form of salmon eggs, flesh, fry and smolt will continue to sustain this world class fishery for resident species such as leopard rainbow trout, arctic grayling and char. All those spawning salmon mean that future runs should also remain strong into the foreseeable future as this natural spectacle and “cycle of life” on the river continues!
Could you tell us about you personal favorite adventure locally? Favorite fishing spot, maybe?
To be honest I love it all, the whole season, watching the river change as new species of fish enter the system and the way the entire ecosystem depends upon and thrives on the bounty that 4 million salmon returning each year to spawn creates.
How long have you been a travel agent? What differentiates you from other travel agencies?
We have been running this lodge for 4 years now. We are a bespoke service that specialize in the types of experiences described above and we put a special emphasis on customer service, providing a quality experience that create memories for our clients that last a lifetime. That is why we have such a high return client ratio – with over 50% of our annual bookings being repeat customers. Their satisfaction is our highest priority and that is why our client reviews on TripAdvisor keep us at the top of the list as a destination for our region!
What areas of travel does your agency specialize in? Why did you choose this specialization?
We specialize in exclusive, remote, wilderness activities such as trout and salmon fishing, rafting, kayaking, hiking and wildlife viewing and photography. This was a lifelong dream of mine to own and run a world class fishing operation on a prolific Alaskan river system.
And that is exactly what you get on the Alagnak River with ATA Lodge. I have fished across the globe from Tiger Fish to Nile Perch in the Congo and Nile Rivers of Africa, to Atlantic Salmon and Sea Trout in Norway and Scotland! I previously owned a charter boat company based in Senegal, West Africa chasing Blue Marlin, Tuna and Sailfish. But it is in Alaska, in particular Bristol Bay, and now on the Wild Alagnak River, where you’ll find me sharing my passion for the beauty and bounty of this very special river with you.
What areas of the business are performing particularly well at the moment and why?
We have become a very popular destination, with many return clients who are re-booking every year or every second year. Therefore, we are increasingly finding that people need to be thinking about booking their week with us up to 2 years in advance. This way you can ensure that you get a bed during the week of your choice. For example, this season we are running at near capacity and are already 65% full in 2019 (with 4 weeks already fully booked)! Over 30% of our beds are filled in 2020 at the time of this interview.
What do you think is the most important aspect of your business that has contributed to your success so far?
The river sells itself and once you’ve been once, you will want to return. For many, Alaska has always been a dream destination, somewhere they envision coming to only once in a lifetime. But once you get up here and experience all of what we have to offer, it will be hard to stay away. There is something about catching a huge Alaskan rainbow trout or salmon, surrounded by beauty beyond compare, that I believe calls to the deepest part in all of us. I would think that Bristol Bay in SW Alaska is one of those “must do” destinations that has to be on the “Bucket List” of every fly fisherman on the planet. I know it was for me! And once I got a taste of it I was “hooked”! Now I own one of Alaska’s premiere fishing lodges on one of the most highly esteemed and prolific sport fishing rivers in all of Alaska – the Alagnak Wild River of Bristol Bay! The remoteness of our location, ensures that it is a true pristine wilderness area, far away from the crowds and any modern intrusions.
You can spend most days without seeing another fisherman! This is a true outdoors man’s paradise, with crystal clear rivers full of a diverse and wide variety of hard fighting fish that are eager to grab a well-presented fly!
And we have well over 100 miles of 3 rivers accessible by jet boat right form our lodge, with no need for expensive fly outs to find good fishing. What more could you ask for!
Once there, we take care of you and make you feel like part of the family. From the moment you first contact us, we make sure that your trip is one that you will cherish and remember the rest of your life. We do this by attention to detail, prompt and informative communication and providing the kind of professional service that people deserve when traveling so far to such an amazing part of our planet. It is our privilege to be the custodians of the little piece of paradise and our great pleasure to share it with our guests.
What travel trends have you noticed?
I can’t speak in general as we are only operating in our one location. The only trend I’ve noticed is that people love their time at ATA Lodge and tend to come back as often as they can.
What are the biggest challenges of working in adventure travel?
The biggest challenge we face is the logistical challenges of running such a remote lodge – from ensuring we have a qualified, and friendly staff, to making sure that we have all the supplies we need for the season and its activities.
How will you continue to grow your business in the future?
During the off season when we are not at the lodge, I do a lot of trade shows to maintain a presence in our industry. It gives us credibility and helps people “find us”. I am very active on social media be it Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, LinkedIn, etc. We also invest in SEO work so that people who are looking for the type of experience we offer can more easily find us. The best thing for us though, is taking good care of our clients and all the satisfied customers who share with their families, colleagues and friend by word of mouth, what a great place ATA Lodge is.
Which popular blogs on adventure travel do you follow?
I don’t follow any blogs, as I don’t seem to have the time to anything else but concentrate on running our business the best we can.
Favorite quote about adventure travel or adventures in general that we could share with our Facebook and Twitter audience?
Not all who wander are lost!
Or did you mean something like this!
“Wayne, You have the best spot on an extremely rare river! I have fished all over Alaska for over 30 years since 1984 and if I had to pick just one place and only one to go back to, it would be your lodge on the Alagnak River!”