• U.S.

Board of Economists: By Chopper Only

4 minute read
Terry Mccarthy

Next time the budget meetings and staff cuts and underwater options make you desperate to get far, far away, imagine this. You are standing on the sandbar of a wild river, casting a gaudy pink-and-purple Showgirl streamer at coho salmon the size of fence posts holding in a pool downstream. There’s not another human within 100 square miles. The helicopter that dropped you off will return in four hours as the sun slips behind the mountains. By then you will have hooked at least 20 shining silver coho weighing from 8 lbs. to 15 lbs. You will have seen bears come down to the river to feast on the migrating fish. You might even have heard or spotted the resident wolf pack that roams the valley, apparently unconcerned about anglers in silly chest waders dropping in from the sky. Steep cliffs rise on each side of the river to snowcapped peaks and glaciers. The only sounds are of a waterfall spilling snowmelt into the river, the buzzing of insects in the afternoon sun–and the screaming of your reel when a big coho takes the streamer and tears off downriver, trailing 100 yards of line.

You are 350 miles northwest of Vancouver, deep in the Canadian province of British Columbia, where heli-fishing in the temperate coastal rain forest represents angling at its most spectacular. With some of the world’s biggest runs of migratory wild salmon and steelhead, along with abundant rainbow and cutthroat trout, the inlets and islands south of the great Skeena River offer the kind of fishing our grandfathers liked to reminisce about. Until recently many of the smaller rivers had not been fished at all. There are no roads along the coast, and the rivers have too many rapids for boats to make their way up from the sea. But in the past few years, intrepid outfitters here–and in remote parts of New Zealand and Alaska–have borrowed the techniques of heli-skiing to deliver anglers to the kind of fishing they have always dreamed about.

What’s the catch? Well, the price is steep: air fare from your hometown to Prince Rupert, B.C., (about $600 round trip from Atlanta), plus about $3,950 for everything else involved in three days of fishing. Logistics include a two-hour flight from Vancouver to Prince Rupert, followed by a 40-minute hop by floatplane to the fishing lodge. The weather (especially fog) is unpredictable along the coast, so be prepared for delays.

Much of the coastal land and the offshore islands are claimed by area tribes, which have helped keep the environment pristine. To minimize the impact of tourism, the operators use floating lodges to accommodate guests. I stayed at Rosewood Hotels’ King Pacific Lodge: 17 comfortable, wooden guest rooms erected on an oversize barge. The lodge is towed down to a small, sheltered cove 85 miles south of Prince Rupert in April and then towed back up to the city in November, leaving nothing but a wake in the water.

The lodge has a helicopter pad on a floating dock. Craig, one of the pilots, flies through narrow valleys half shrouded in mist and lands on tiny spits of land, with tree branches inches from his rotors. As he soars over river entrances, we see salmon massing in numbers that are just a memory in many of the dammed rivers elsewhere in the Pacific Northwest. King Pacific heli-fishes some 40 rivers within a one-hour flying radius of the lodge by special agreement with the local Tsimshian nation. Some of the Tsimshian work as fishing guides at the lodge, and they also take guests to view and photograph the rare white Kermode bear, a subspecies of black bear found only in these coastal forests.

The fishing is kept low impact: anglers must use barbless hooks and release every catch. At the end of the day, when Craig’s blue-and-white chopper whup-whups up the valley to lift you off the sandbar, only your bootprints remain. And you take home nothing but a tired casting arm and the memory of some of the greatest fly-fishing you will ever experience.

More Must-Reads from TIME

Contact us at letters@time.com