In my mind’s eye, Talaheim Lodge is the vision I get when I think about an Alaska fishing lodge. Rustic cabins crafted from hand-cut wood, a wood-burning stove, all set in an isolated location untouched by time. This vision has been embedded in my head since I was a kid and it’s now right in front of my eyes. The owner, Mark Miller, is a throwback to the early days of Alaska when fishing trips were simple and straightforward and expectations were not sky-high. You did what was necessary, ate what was in your guide’s pack, and walked like a nomad to get to the best fishing spots. While these days are not far removed, the way we travel and fish today is night and day in comparison. They run an intimate operation where six to eight guests are considered a full lodge and their experience shows in the way they conduct their trips.
The lodge’s location is only 80 air miles from Anchorage, but it’s arguably the most remote Alaska lodge I’ve visited during my time at Frontiers. The twisting Talachulitna River and its tributaries provide the landscape for your week. The size of the rivers near the lodge doesn’t allow for landing floatplanes and The Tal’s geography keeps most rafters and boaters at bay due to some technical water and natural features. In short, this will be your exclusive fishing trip and the potential for seeing anyone else is near zero! This is hard to find in present-day Alaska and is one of the reasons that make it unique.
The lodge and cabins are rustic, but the comfort level is high. Respectable beds, electricity, running water, hot showers, refrigeration, wood burner, or central heat, it has it all. The cabins are warm and cozy so don’t think you’ll be roughing it. Talaheim Lodge is where old school Alaska meets sophisticated present-day fishing.
Now, enter the mother of all-terrain vehicles, the helicopter. The lodge’s two Enstrom heli’s have the ability to access areas that nobody can reach without. You can set this nimble machine down just about anywhere, which allows guests to fish places that would be difficult, if not impossible to otherwise access. This opens a whole new realm of possibilities and grants fast access to the best waters in the area.
The main branch of the Tal offers all five species of Pacific Salmon along with trout and dolly varden. This makes it as diverse as any river in the state. The tributaries like Coal Creek are smaller yet and were very productive. The fishing was great during my stay, and you will have various means of transport once you hit the ground. Some areas are walk and wade, taking only what you can carry in your pack for the day. Your guide will carry the big stuff like lunch, water, fishing gear, etc., but you will need a daypack to carry your essentials like raingear and any personal items. Other locations you may have a raft for the day to easily move during your fishing day, stopping to wade fish at the best spots. This allows bringing some extra gear along as it will ride nicely in the raft. In other areas, you may fish from the jet boats with the potential to cover a good bit of water daily and have quick access for whatever target you’ll be chasing throughout the season.
The fishing is just part of the experience here. Although fly fishing is the heart of the business, they also offer an array of activities perfectly suited to break up the fishing week. You can tour the Triumvirate Glacier, as we did for a brief stop, which was simply incredible! Take a day to float down the Talachulitna River, or a surrounding river, by raft or canoe. Floating is a peaceful way to explore and view wildlife. The helicopter can also drop you off on the top of the Beluga Mountains, a perfect destination for a day hike or mountain top picnic. Their aim is to make your trip great and they are very generous with the options.
I’ll note the fishing guides as they were all seasoned pros: Scott, Mason, Doc, and Peter were the team for my week. Scott has been a part of the Talaheim family for eight summers now, whereas Mason five summers, and Doc, three. They all take guiding very seriously and are knowledgeable on the area’s fishing opportunities. Quite an impressive lineup of mature guides – no rookies on this staff. The helicopter pilots Bayard, Dave, and Danny have all been flying for Talaheim for over 15 years. Bayard and Dave, both helicopter instructors and registered mechanics, are true pros and know the area intimately. The owner, Mark Miller, can be found in the pilot’s seat as well expertly delivering you to awesome fishing spots. Safety is always the priority and these birds can operate in conditions that will keep any floatplane moored for the day.
What also makes a fishing trip at Talaheim Lodge so desirable, and different from other lodges, is the family atmosphere. Mark and his immediate family are all involved to some degree and the place runs like a clock. Add to this the delicious home-style dinners created by Chef Jeremy with fresh ingredients right out of their greenhouse and garden, warm hospitality, and interesting conversation and a cold mug of Alaska Amber is always welcome. Everyone I encountered was friendly, engaging, and happy to be there. You feel welcome the minute you land on their private airstrip and are greeted with an enthusiastic smile.
I knew I’d like this place from the start. I give high praise to Mark Miller and the Talaheim Lodge family for running a great operation.
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Tal Creek is shallow, meandering, and narrow. The River starts at Judd Lake, located at the base of the Tordillo Mountains in the Alaska Range, and proceeds for a 20-mile journey down the crystal clear waters of Talachulitna Creek and then another 30 miles through the canyons and timber of the Talachulitna River itself. The Talachulitna River’s many tail out pools, eddies and gravel spawning beds give salmon a great place to hold and spawn. It also offers ambitious rainbows a place to gather in preparation for the egg drop. Sweepers and log jams create a further variety of structure and fish habitat that make this an all-around great fishing drainage.
This is a river of legend in Alaska fishing circles, it’s been written about for decades, and fortunately, it also was the first river in Alaska deemed catch and release for rainbow trout, and the Tal’s rainbow population has become stable, larger, and more numerous. There is excellent fishing the entire length of the Talachulitna river with its numerous sandbars and shallow riffles that offer easy wading access to the many deeper pools teeming with Rainbow Trout, Arctic Grayling & Char or any of the pacific salmon in season. September marks the height of rainbow fishing that is legendary all season long on the river and when you consider the variety and quantity of fish available the Tal is a true Alaskan treasure.
Wildlife in the area includes brown bear, moose, wolves, wolverine, black bear, and beaver. Birds that may be observed are Bald eagles, swans, ducks, geese, ptarmigan, spruce grouse, and osprey. We personally spotted Bull Moose, black bears, and brown bears, all from the comfort of the helicopter. You can expect to see ptarmigan and small weasels all around the camp.
Talaheim offers guests the use of their lodge rods for their stay. TFO rods, both fly and spin, are the majority of their stock rods. Swinging flies with double-handed or switch rods is the preferred method for King Salmon (catch and release only), while single-handed rods for Sockeye, Silvers, trout, and dollies are the standard. Trout fishing is highly productive with various fishing styles all working well. Dries and streamers early season, skating mice and drifting egg patterns mid to late season (yes we caught trout on mouse patterns in September!) and the daily numbers can be impressive.
By: Tom Gilliland