In the Bristol Bay Borough where I fished last week, float planes are a way of life. As you drive down the road along the Naknek River, you see a bunch of them, and as you’re fishing a bunch of them pass by. Because the road system is highly limited, many schoolchildren actually fly to school each day (except when the winter weather prevents them from going home, in which case they stay overnight with host families).
I’m not nearly that much of a float plane veteran. The only time I’d ridden in one prior to last week was during trips to the Amazon in 2011 and 2012, and despite some initial reservations about riding in a “Volkswagen with wings and pontoons,” I found the overall experience to be remarkably serene. Since then, the only time I’d experienced anything similar was in a six-seater in Zambia, which did not have, or need, the ability to land on water. Unfortunately, it also did not have any meaningful airflow. It was 114 degrees out, 105 in the plane, and I consumed 32 ounces of water during the flight but never needed to pee, which was fortunate because there was no in-flight lavatory, not even a bucket.
So I was thrilled to get back on the little bird last week for two Bear Trail Lodge flyouts to distinct parts of Katmai National Park. We were jammed in like sardines, but once again once up in the air it was a full Marlin Perkins experience. The largely unspoiled vastness of the region was mesmerizing to a suburbanite like me. It may gradually be getting developed, but there are still huge swaths of territory that remain unspoiled.
Making it even better, we were flying in the “National Plane” of Alaska, a de Havilland Beaver, about as iconic a mode of transport as you can find anywhere. You’d be disappointed to go to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and ride the track in a Yugo, right? It would get you around, but it’s not the same thrill. Riding in the Beaver has the same feeling. They haven’t made them in over 50 years, but they’re warhorses, meant to work day-in, day-out, without missing a beat. Like Alaskans themselves, they’re ready to operate in conditions where others won’t.
I likely would have caught just as many fish if we’d flown out in another brand or another model, but the sentimental side of me is glad that we rode what we did.