The AStar B3E helicopter peels away and two fly-fishing guides and three guests are left on the banks of Alaska’s Talachulitna River. The weather is moody—temperamental enough that the flight almost didn’t happen—and a drizzle tests the Orvis waders everyone is wearing. Suddenly there’s a loud snap and crash from the other side of the riverbank and both guides, Skip Mullen and Lel Tone, feel for their gun holsters, which are attached to their chests like vests.
It’s just a tree limb shifting with the wind, but “we have to be on guard for bears—all the time,” says Tone. The riverbanks, littered with salmon carcasses, are an ursine “candy shop,” adds Mullen, especially in late August when salmon return upriver and die after spawning.
There are more than enough live ones too. Within minutes, everyone in the group has caught a ruby-red 10-pound sockeye salmon. The skies clear and the sun begs people to shed layers. Lunch—tomato bisque, turkey and cranberry sandwiches, cheese, crackers, chocolate chip cookies and cold beer—is served on the river bank. “In Alaska, you make hay when you can,” says Mullen. “This is what
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