The Long Reach of the Elite Series

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With a few hours between our arrival at the King Salmon, Alaska airport, and dinner at the Bear Trail Lodge, our hosts took me and Keith Combs on a tour of that portion of the Bristol Bay Borough. In other words, we headed 13 miles to the end of the area’s longest road, down to the borough seat of Naknek, which as of the 2010 census had a year-round population of 544, down from 678 in 2000. That number swells in the summer as the commercial fishing industry and sportfishing lodges enter a brief but sleepless sprint to make their money for the year.

By the time we got there on July 30, the commercial seasons were all but over and the only thing keeping workers around was a lack of inexpensive flights back to Anchorage.

Nevertheless, we wandered into the Red Dog Inn at about 4pm to find a few commercial fishermen enjoying a drink or three while their pockets were still flush, and we likewise bellied up to the bar.

Within a moment, one of them came bolting across the room to Keith. He’d noticed his Shimano hat and Strike King shirt and despite being a little beer-addled, the bass clubber from the state of Washington was sure that the big Texan was not a mirage. He’d somehow stumbled onto one of his heroes and was thrilled to have a chance to talk cranking and flipping with him.

Remember, we were sitting probably 2,000+ miles as the crow flies from the nearest bass – I know that British Columbia has ‘em, but not sure about the Yukon – and there was no way to get there by road — but even in this dark corner of Troutville, being an Elite Series pro has its privileges. Indeed, while we supped each night with fly rodders and hung out with people who rarely left Alaska, when one of us mentioned that he fished the Bassmaster trail or that I write for the magazine, it was something that just about everyone immediately latched onto. Many of them had either seen the show or read the magazine. Even if they hadn’t, they were fascinated by how our whole ecosystem works. We just wanted to dip a toe in their waters, but they’d tasted enough of the bass world to want to know more.

We may not be fully mainstream yet, but every time I start to think that we’re only a niche, someone manages to tell me that our platform is bigger than that.