Hooked on Talkeetna: Small Town, Big Fish

They say that big things come in small packages, and that phrase rings pretty true when I think about Talkeetna, Alaska. It is such a fantastic little town with so much to offer.

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The famous Nagley’s Store on the main street of Talkeetna. PC: Getty Images

After an extensive amount driving from the Yukon to Homer, Shona and I needed a few days of relaxation to recoup.  Straight after our bear adventure in Katmai, we drove nearly 6 hours to the charming little town of Talkeetna, to do just that.

If you were ever a fan of the TV show, Northern Exposure, you’ll be interested to know that it was modelled after this quirky little town. During my research, I’d read it was nestled at the base of Denali National Park’s, Mt. McKinley, a haven for local art, a favourite spot for salmon fishing, home of Denali Brewing Company, and its honorary mayor – for nearly 20 years – was an orange cat named Stubbs.  How could a person not want to visit a place like that?

While Talkeetna isn’t really ‘nestled’ at the base of Mt. McKinley, it is certainly a worthwhile place to visit if you are traveling in Alaska. Of all the places I stayed, Talkeetna was my favourite. It definitely lived up to some high hopes I had when I booked into cabins called, Peace and Quiet.

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Our home away from home while in Talkeetna – Peace and Quiet

There was a bit of sticker shock in paying for these cabins on AirBNB, but they were worth every penny. Shona and I lucked out and secured 3 consecutive nights, which gave us a solid chunk of time to chill. Celisse, our Host, was easily one of the nicest human beings I have ever met. Super kind, helpful and welcoming. Absolute gem!

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The power and scale of this river system leaves a person in awe.

Our cabins were only a 2 minute walk from Talkeetna’s main street and they overlooked the confluence of the Susitna and Talkeetna River. On a clear day, one can actually view Mt. McKinley from the riverside. Our first day in Talkeetna was sunny, but the rest of our days were overcast or rainy. We, sadly, didn’t get a glimpse of the mountain.

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Inside of the cabin. PC: Celisse/AirBNB

Inside they were super cozy, built for two, with a small fireplace, writing desk and queen size bed. I was still fighting a bad cold, so this little abode was the perfect place for me to get some rest.

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Shona making her mark on the river bed.

While I tried to get rid of my cold, Shona lounged by the river with a book, took in the town shops and enjoyed the peace and quiet, quite literally. Being a super-mom to three amazing kids and wife to an equally amazing husband, she deserved it!

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Looking in on the property. A third, upgraded cabin, looks out at the river. Beautiful!

The highlight of our second day in Talkeetna was visiting Denali Brewing Company. Shona and I had eaten at Talkeetna’s Denali Brew Pub and loved their beer and food. The bartender also deserves a special shout out for his homemade ginger ale, which was just what my cold needed that day!

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Must visit spot if you visit Talkeetna!

I’m a big fan of visiting local breweries and wineries when I travel. They always present a unique perspective on the local culture, community and lifestyle. Denali Brewing was all over Alaskan menus and beer lists, so I was looking forward to checking it out.

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Take your pick! I always go for the stout!

We enjoyed sharing a flight of their selection on the patio and I picked up a bunch of  t-shirts as gifts for family and friends. I fell in love with their Chuli Stout and thoroughly enjoyed the experience at the brewery. If you visit Talkeetna, it’s almost an injustice to not visit! I still regret not getting one of their hoodies, but there is always next time!

After two days of relaxing, Shona and I were up for a bit of excitement. Both of us wanted to get out on the river during our stay and Talkeetna had a solid reputation for salmon fishing.

We finished at the brewery, then met Margo, co-owner of Phantom Tri-River Charters to book ourselves on an early morning trip. After a failed attempt to catch an elusive grayling in Delta Junction, I was itching for another chance to catch a fish!

Margo was awesome and her customer service was top-notch. She booked us in, prepared our licenses, we chatted about my blog and were all set to go!

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We arrived at the dock around 6am the following morning. Rhett, the other owner met us at the dock to get us set up in waders and gear for the river. Our guide would be Dawson, a university student studying sustainability, who’d grown up in Talkeetna. We couldn’t have asked for nicer, more patient and encouraging guides. They were fantastic.

Once everyone arrived, we jumped in the boats and headed up the Talkeetna River. We were the only ones there when we arrived, but that soon changed when another charter and a group of men fly-fishing appeared to try out the same spot.

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I could have watched these guys casting all day! Mesmerizing!

Dawson and Rhett got us situated with our fishing rods, gave us all a quick tutorial on the fish that would be present, made sure we were comfortable and then let us do our thing.

For Shona, this was a blast from the past! She hadn’t fished since she was a kid, but picked it up super quick; surprising herself at how much she remembered. I really do feel like fishing is kind of like riding a bike. You tend to forget how easy fishing can be, and how much fun it is to feel the rush of the catch! It’s super addictive and I missed it!

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Shona reeling in her first fish! Go Shona!

It took 15 minutes or so for us to find our groove, but after that both Shona and I started catching silver, chum and pink salmon. I had my heart set on catching a sockeye, but they were few and far between. I was happy to be catching anything at all!

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My first catch! Love the look on the lady’s face behind us! Ha!

My first catch would be a chum. I’d never caught a fish like it before, so I was pretty excited! It’s easy to take for granted the power of a fish this size and the fight it gives. Dawson was a calm and helpful coach. Eventually I got it in, much to my delight.

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My first chum salmon! Whoooooot!

I have to laugh when I see this photo now. Not only do I look absolutely joyful, I also look like I’m practically hugging the poor fish! In the moment, I probably was and so were other people around me. Many proud Alaskan moments!

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The joy of the catch! Gotta capture the moment!

Since this trip, I’ve become much more aware of #KeepEmWet principles. It’s easy to look back now realizing these “money shots” (and most in this post) are not in the best interest of the fish. Knowing what I know now, I would act a lot differently and take different photos.

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The reel deal! Such a champ!

Over the course of the morning, Shona and I collectively brought in over 15 salmon.  I was catching them so regularly Shona wouldn’t even take a photo anymore. Haha! It was all in good fun, though. We were both having a great time and catching fish was the whole reason we were out there.

I may have caught the most, but Shona had the most epic of all catches that day. One chum took her almost 4 minutes to bring in (see video). It was inspiring to watch and I was so proud of her persistence! She didn’t give up and it was awesome!

Video: Shona’s epic battle against a chum. Try to ignore my excited voice too! Ha!

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Persistence pays off!

After the excitement of Shona’s catch passed, our success calmed down. Rain picked up quite a bit and the fly fisherman headed out. It wasn’t the most ideal weather to be outside with a cold, but the excitement made me forget all about it. The boats were heated, so we were able to warm up and watch others bringing in fish of their own.

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A little piece of heaven. Meditative, for sure.

The pace and solitude of this day was exactly what I needed. It was so nice to be outside surrounded by nature, hearing the river and seeing the fish hanging out just infront of us. I’m so used to lake fishing, it was really cool to be able to stand in the river and see fish all around. I had high hopes of catching a sockeye salmon, but simply seeing their flashes of red every once in a while was something I just couldn’t experience at home!

Patience does pay off, or perhaps luck was on my side that day. I certainly caught my fair share, but luck did end up bringing me my sockeye. I jumped up and down when I realized I had one finally on the line and am thankful I was able to bring it in. It was the perfect finish to an amazing day. Such a beautiful fish!!!

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Super Happy Erin!

Our time in Talkeetna was definitely special. We relaxed, enjoyed great beer, stocked up on beautiful art, pottery and clothing for gifts, plus we had an amazing day on the river.

This fishing trip showed me that there was a whole other person inside me I’d forgotten about. My inner child seems to have grown up into a bad ass nature lover, and it’s a lot of fun reconnecting with her lately. Who has your inner child grown up to be?

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If you’re headed to Talkeetna, definitely check out all these places. It’s such a great town and I truly hope I have the opportunity to return.

Wild and Found

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