Fly-In Fishing Trips: Three Ways to Enjoy the Ultimate Northern Adventure

Fly-In Fishing Trips: Three Ways to Enjoy the Ultimate Northern Adventure

Reading Time: 8 minutes

“There is a delight in the hardy life of the open. There are no words that can tell the hidden spirit of the wilderness, that can reveal its mystery, its melancholy, and its charm.”

President Theodore Roosevelt

A float plane arriving for a fly-in fishing trip in Alaska

Do you ever dream of escaping the modern world? Of going somewhere with no roads, no pylons, just beautiful nature and incredible angling? If so, make your dreams a reality on a fly-in fishing trip. Take to the skies and head north in search of adventure. Return home with incredible memories and a ton of tasty fish.

These airborne adventures are a once-in-a-lifetime experience, so you want to get it right. With that in mind, we’ll cover the pros and cons of the three main styles of fly-in fishing: outposts, lodges, and day trips. Each one is amazing in its own special way. It all depends on your priorities, schedule, and budget.

Fly-In Fishing Outposts: Alone in the Wild

A remote fly-in fishing outpost in Ontario

If you truly want to escape civilization, this is the one for you. You’ll be flown to a remote cabin and picked up again a few days later. In between, you’re on your own. That’s not to say that you’ll be fighting for survival. Most outposts consist of a comfortable cabin and a boat to fish the local lake. However, don’t expect to find much in the cupboards.

The beauty of fly-in outposts is their simplicity. You’re entirely on your own schedule. Free to spend the day however you please. Battle huge fish from dawn until dusk or just kick back and enjoy the silence. And of course, this basic approach keeps costs down, meaning everyone can enjoy a few days in the wild.

Fly-in fishing outposts are a Canadian speciality. Ontario has the lion’s share of these DIY lodges, most of which are in the northwest of the province. If that’s not remote enough for you, there are also outposts in Manitoba and a few more dotted throughout the country. Wherever there’s great fishing, you can expect to find an outpost or two hidden away.

What to Catch

A happy angler holding a large Northern Pike on a boat

Secluded lakes in central Canada? That can only mean two things: Walleye and Pike! These are truly feral fish, many of which have never seen a hook before. They bite hard and fight even harder, giving you endless fun and a real feast at the end of the day.

Pike and Walleye are the main event, for sure, but there’s plenty more on offer. Most lakes hold good-sized Smallmouth Bass. Southern spots may have Muskie, while more northern ones are often home to Lake Trout. What these outposts lack in people, they more than make up for in fish.

What to Bring

An assortment of objects needed for a trip to a fly-in fishing outpost: raincoat, camping gear, hiking shoes, a backpack, and more

The list of what to pack for a fly-in fishing trip varies from outpost to outpost. Your average cabin has electricity and running water, although it may not be drinkable straight out of the pipe. They’ll also have the bare essentials like tableware and cooking utensils. Ask for a full list of what to bring when you book, but plan on packing everything you’d take camping minus the tent.

In terms of fishing gear, it’s a good idea to bring two collapsible or two-piece rods – a light pole for Bass and a stronger one for Walleye and Pike. Pack 10, 20, and 30 lb braid, as well as tough leaders for Pike fishing. We won’t go into every piece of terminal tackle, just know that swinging by a bait shop isn’t an option. And of course, remember to buy a fishing license.

Fly-In Fishing Lodges: Five-Star Escapes

An isolated fly-in fishing lodge on an island in Northern Canada. Several small buildings dot the island, boats cruise in the local waters, and a small seaplane is moored by the shore

After more of a luxury getaway? Maybe you don’t like the idea of bringing half the house with you. Either way, staying in a lodge could be the answer. These are usually large, well-equipped clubhouses or small cabin villages hidden in the wilderness. They often have a bar, a chef, and guides to take you out onto the water.

The main “drawback” in a lodge is that you might not have it to yourself. Larger lodges usually take multiple groups at once. That’s not necessarily a problem, mind you. In fact, you can meet lifelong friends this way. And if you want to get away from everybody else, there’s plenty of space for you to fish in peace.

Most North American fly-in lodges are in British Columbia and Alaska. Haida Gwaii is the top spot for Canadian Lodges, followed by Vancouver Island and the Strait of Georgia. The majority of Alaskan lodges are in the southeast, but there are also more remote ones in Prince William Sound, Kenai, and even the Aleutian Peninsula.

What to Catch

Three anglers holding a large King Salmon

Most fly-in lodges are on the coast, whether you’re in Alaska or in BC. This means double the species and a lot more fish at the end of your trip. In saltwater, you can target King Salmon and Halibut, as well as tasty bottom-dwellers like Lingcod and various species of Rockfish.

There’s just as much action in the rivers, although trips tend to focus on a single species when it’s in its prime. Take on any of the five species of Pacific Salmon. Battle wild Rainbow Trout or northern specialities like Dolly Varden, Arctic Char, and Lake Trout. Cutthroat Trout is also a popular target in BC.

What to Bring

A fly fishing rod next to a backpack, with an angler standing behind

Lodges provide everything you need for the fishing itself, especially the bulkier equipment like waterproofs and waders. Food, drinks, and other essentials are also provided as standard. However, some Alaskan lodges have a “bring your own” alcohol policy due to licensing laws. Speaking of which, don’t forget your fishing license!

Expect strict weight limits for the flight and pack accordingly. A few changes of comfortable, layered clothing will do, with a good-quality waterproof jacket and a waterproof day pack. If you’re bringing your own tackle, stick to the basics: a couple of 9’ fly rods (5 or 6 wt for Trout, 9 wt for Salmon) and a few of your favorite flies. There’s no need to bring saltwater tackle.

Fly-Out and Heli-Fishing Trips: A Day to Remember

A remote river in Alaska, with a blue rubber boat in the water and hundreds of Salmon swimming in the river

Fly-out fishing trips give you a taste of frontier angling without spending your whole trip in the middle of nowhere. Take off bright and early, spend the whole day fishing way out in nature, then get picked up in the evening. It’s a great option if a full fly-in adventure trip is too expensive. Alternatively, they can be the icing on the cake during your stay in a lodge. 

These trips either run on a floatplane or a helicopter. Planes are much faster, meaning you can get to the most faraway waters. However, they need space to land, so you’re restricted to lakes and large rivers. Helicopters are easier to land, bringing small streams and valleys into view.

Whichever option you go for, the best place to look for it is Alaska. You can’t even reach the state capital by road, so it’s no surprise that air travel is popular here. Some fly-in lodges in British Columbia run these trips, too. Either way, you’ll be heading to lonesome lakes and distant rivers, far from any sign of human life.

What to Catch

A large Rainbow Trout in a catch next in shallow water, with a Salmon next to it in the top left

Fly-out trips almost always go after freshwater fish. Sockeye, King, and Silver Salmon are common targets, as are Rainbow Trout, Char, and Grayling. Honestly, you can pretty much take your pick of what to fish for. What would be the point of chartering a flight if you couldn’t?

One thing to be aware of is that most fish are only around at very specific times of year. This will vary with the river or lake that you’re fishing on. Make sure you talk this through with your lodge or flight service well ahead of time if you have a certain species in mind.

What to Bring

This one really depends on who’s flying you out. Most of the time, the trip is run by a lodge, so they can provide you with waders and other large essentials. However, if you’re not staying at the lodge, or if the trip is being organized by a bush pilot rather than a guide service, you might need to bring it all.

As mentioned above, you can target most fish with just a couple of rods – a 5 or 6 wt for smaller fish and an 8 or 9 wt for larger predators like Salmon. If you’re chasing trophy Kings, you may need something a little heftier, like a 10 wt. As always, make sure to buy a license and any additional tags for harvesting fish.

Common Questions and Final Thoughts

These trips are different in a lot of ways. Even so, they all have a few things in common. Here are some final tips to bear in mind if you want to get the most out of yours.

When to Book

The short answer: Always reserve as far in advance as possible. Some lodges get booked up years ahead of time. Fishing outposts and day trips normally have more availability, but it’s still best to get your slot early.

That being said, it does depend on what you want to target. The major Salmon runs are the busiest times of year. If you’re more interested in Trout or Char, you have more options. You should be able to save some money by avoiding this high season, too.

Licenses and Insurance

A travel insurance form, with a pen, credit card, and mobile phone lying near it

We’ve already mentioned that you need to buy a fishing license. Another essential on every adventure is good travel insurance. Flying into the middle of nowhere to swing sharp hooks around is precisely the kind of thing that insurers try to avoid. Look for packages that specifically cover extreme sports or outdoor activities.

The final thing to think about is a boating license, as lodges and outposts often have boats that you can take out on your own. You don’t actually need one to pilot a boat in Alaska, but we strongly recommend that you take the optional Alaska Boating Safety Course. In Canada, you must have a Pleasure Craft Operator’s Card on you at all times while in control of a boat.

Getting Fish Home

What’s the point in catching all that delicious fish if you can’t take it home at the end? Lodges usually offer to flash freeze and vacuum seal all your catch, ready for the flight home. If you’re in an outpost or on a day trip, you might have to deal with this yourself. Check out our article on getting your fish home if you need some advice.

Fly-In Fishing: A True Bucket List Experience

A float plane flying over a forest at sunset

We’ve tried to give a fair summary of the three styles of fly-in fishing. They’re all pretty unique. Some even target completely different species. Whichever one you go for, you’re in for the time of your life. Taking on truly wild game fish without a single sign of the modern world in sight – what could beat it?

Have you ever gone on a fly-in fishing trip? Where did you go, and what did you catch? Any advice for first-timers? Drop us your stories and suggestions in the comments below!

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