January 05, 2021
Anglers raised during the 70s who watched Fantasy Island each week know that when a short man announces the arrival of a “de plane,” good things are about to happen. Simply put, it’s one of the best ways to get to the places most capable of making your dreams come true.
I’ve flown on float planes, wheeled Cessnas and other airborne tin cans of dubious provenance into fishing grounds in Alaska, Africa and various parts of Brazil, and in each case it has led to adventure as well as fishing opportunities I could not have gotten without taking flight. Nevertheless, there’s always a catch, a hitch or a bit of doubt attendant to the experience.
On my first trip into the Amazon, the pilot taped a piece of notebook paper to the windshield of the float plane. On it was a crude, hand-drawn map of our destination, showing the approach to the river and any possible obstacles. On the way home, he simply detached it, flipped it upside down, and taped it back up.
All I could do was channel my inner Doc Brown from Back to the Future: “Roads? Where we’re going, we don’t need roads.”
Indeed, upon landing and then seeing the plane depart, I felt a twinge of doubt. The roadless terrain that had excited me so much also meant that we were stuck here no matter what until it came to pick us up. Once the fishing started, all doubts evaporated, as big peacock bass sucked in our prop baits and destroyed our jigs and jerkbaits. The night sky, unaffected by light pollution, lit up with the shimmering of thousands of stars. If you’re aerophobic or claustrophobic, you’re going to need to get over that hump, because the Wright Brothers want to take you to trophy town.
Obviously, the greatest advantage of flying into a remote location is just that – remoteness. You’re getting away from at least 99% of the other anglers. Yes, dumb fish are fun fish but their abundance and lack of intellect means you’ll have plenty of opportunities to become a better overall angler. They’ll eat baits that lure-shy fish will not. For example, as beginning fly anglers, we wanted to catch some Alaskan rainbows and grayling on topwater mice. In many places, even in Alaska, you might not get many shots at that in a season. On a flyout, we got dozens of opportunities in the course of a single day. That meant we got to refine both our presentations and our reaction times, so when we try it in tougher venues, we’ll be better prepared.
If you manage to stay awake during the flight – each time I’ve gone some of the jaded old-timers have immediately fallen asleep – it’ll also help you not only appreciate the landscape and remoteness, but also to dial in your fishing presentations. Decades ago, bass pros would fly over tournament waters to see which areas held vegetation, which areas had clear or muddy water, and to identify unmarked backwaters. You can effectively do the same, finding zones that are conducive to the way you like to fish, or dialing in your lure choices even before you arrive.
Finally, flying into your dream angling destination forces you to fish decisively and to some extent in a spartan manner. You can’t bring every lure you own, whether you’re headed to a Canadian outpost for a week or being dropped off at a glacial Alaskan stream for the day. You need to be mindful of what you’ll able to bring, in the former situation, or what you’ll be able to carry, in the latter. That may require some hard choices, but if you approach it with forethought, you’ll be mentally prepared from start to finish.
Of course, while the plane makes the approach possible, that doesn’t mean it makes it easy. These are, after all, wild places, and you won’t find them with marked trails groomed like a putting green. When we arrived at that Alaska stream in July, we had to hike two miles through spongy tundra to get from the drop-off point to the fish, but it was well worth it. I felt bad for the poor guide, who was toting the day’s lunch, the net and other necessities, while we had lighter packs.
Is it inexpensive? Definitely not, but there are fly-in locations for a wide range of budgets. But it’s not a matter of cost as much as value and knowing that you are the first people to fish an area in months, years or perhaps ever is remarkably humbling and invigorating, an opportunity not to be missed.