written by Dave Atcheson photos by Bruce King
Bruce King, a recently retired Alaska Department of Fish and Game biologist, is an avid traveler and adventurer, as well as a diehard angler, who could hardly wait to begin trekking to all the storied fishing destinations he’d been reading about for years. “The first lodge I ventured to was on the Amazon,” he said. “It was first class all the way, comfort plus, but I also began to notice some aspects about it that, to me, were a little disturbing.” One was the amount of food flown in. Another was the plastic, one-use water bottles. “It was hot and every boat, every room, had a lot of them.” When he asked how many they went through, he was astounded to learn that they used 11,000 a year. That’s when he decided to become a conservation-minded traveler and do some research before his next trip. “It wasn’t that difficult to do a little digging, a little fact checking and find out what was being done and where to limit our impact as tourists and fishers.”
In his research he came across a company called Untamed Angling which has lodges in Brazil and Bolivia, destinations he wished to visit. These are also high-end destinations, but because their business model is tied first and foremost to conservation, they were also a little different. For instance, food was being sourced from local producers as much as possible. Steak and lobster were not being flown in every day, which meant that the leftover local fish you had for dinner might be in your sandwiches the next day. They also served fresh juice at every meal that was made from the jungle fruits that grew nearby, and there were books on the tables that provided information on the fruit, describing in detail the trees it came from. “These are details some high-end clientele might not necessarily appreciate,” says Bruce, “but for me, this is the type of thing that actually helps make the trip.”
These lodges also had a firm commitment to work with local indigenous peoples, not only sourcing food from area farmers, but whenever possible, employing tribal members and training them to work in the lodge and as guides. Each boat, along with a longtime company guide, had two trainees who often hailed from the local tribes. And there were no plastic water bottles in sight, the lodges having teamed with Yeti to provide reusable containers.
An arapaima taken on an 8-weight at Pirarucu Lodge.
It didn’t take Bruce long to research and take a few steps to limit his impact on the local environment or the resource he was using, and the fishing was just as epic, the accommodations just as luxurious. This is something we can all integrate into our travel plans. Most of our Alaskan lodges, for instance, work to limit their impact on the fish populations they target. Many also go far beyond that by helping raise money for conservation efforts, signing on to letters advocating in support of conservation, by educating their clients about conservation through materials at their lodges, and even by providing programs to folks staying with them. Many are also now making it a priority to hire locally, believing that the key to long-term stewardship is having strong ties between local jobs and healthy rivers.
Incorporating conservation-minded travel into your trips does not only apply to those heading to swanky lodges. It also applies to daytrips, or general do-it-yourself excursions. If you’re spending just a day with an outfitter, go ahead and check their website or ask them directly what their commitment to conservation is, what they are doing to preserve the local resources. Do-it-yourselfers can reach out to local conservation organizations where they are planning to fish. Contact a local Trout Unlimited program or chapter for recommendations or join one of their restoration efforts. Not only is it a great way to find out about regional efforts to protect the resources you will be using, but it’s a wonderful way to meet likeminded fishers who may also be willing to supply some local knowledge—inside information that will surely add to your fishing success. Who knows, they may even be willing to invite you to join them at a few of their favorite fishing locales.
Additionally, when traveling it’s easy to research and patronize those businesses that support conservation efforts; and this doesn’t just apply to outfitters and fly shops, but also to the support of restaurants, breweries, and artists who donate time and money to causes that matter. Do they donate a percent of their profits to conservation organizations? Are they a part of The Conservation Alliance, or 1% for the Planet, or are they a Trout Unlimited business member?
A peacock bass from the Agua Boa River.
What else can we do? How about when we return home, sharing not just the fish we’ve caught but what we’ve learned along the way with friends, fellow fishers, or on social media? Let others know just what can be done and how you went about it.
The state of the world and how to make a difference can often seem daunting. Climate change, pollution, overfishing, and habitat destruction are just a few of the many ways we as humans have impacted the planet, all of it taking a drastic toll on our fisheries. For instance, three hundred runs of wild salmon in the Pacific Northwest have been lost, if we are of a certain age, during our lifetimes. Granted, these are impacts that can seem completely beyond our reach, only reversible at the highest levels of government or through some significant international resolve.
Yet, as fishers, even amidst these horrible examples of environmental degradation, we must take stock in what remains. We must celebrate the beauty of our planet and what we are able, if we do right by it, to pass on to future generations. That means doing what’s possible individually, and there is a great deal we can do. We can begin by limiting our use of disposable plastic. We can become more involved in regional restoration efforts, buy and eat local as much as possible, and support conservation organizations and businesses as well as environmentally responsible government initiatives and policies. It’s easy, doesn’t take long to implement in our lives, and it will make you feel better as you reel the big one in, whether at home or visiting that destination of a lifetime.
Dave Atcheson is with Trout Unlimited Alaska and based on the Kenai Peninsula. He is also the author of several books including, Fishing Alaska’s Kenai Peninsula. For more info: daveatcheson.com.