A Combined 81 Years of Experience is a Sign of This Group’s Passion for Guide Life in Bristol Bay

What makes a community of Bristol Bay guides stay together? Passion, commitment, and fun.
All photos by: John Smolko

When most fly fishers think about the life of a guide in Alaska, it seems like the best job in the world, but any guide in Bristol Bay will tell you that the lifestyle isn’t easy. From June 1st through September 15th, there are no days off. Whether it’s camping on a remote section of river on the upper Nushagak surrounded by bears, chopping down trees for firewood, prepping the 40 boats they have located on random sections of river, or daily maintenance, it can be a grind. More importantly, committing to multiple seasons in Alaska entails shelving much of one’s personal life, be it maintaining relationships or missing your best friend’s wedding. 

The chance to introduce others to incredible experiences on the water is rewarding.

So what keeps great guides coming back season after season? In Alaska, it’s about more than just the fishing; it’s about the overall experience, which almost always outweighs the actual fishing. It’s getting to drive a jet boat down a side channel that no one has ever seen before. The daily opportunity to float by an Alaskan brown bear at sunrise. It’s the chance to be completely disconnected from technology and to be viscerally tied to the natural world in a time where it feels nearly impossible to find true solitude. 

Living in the bush requires ingenuity and resourcefulness.

Whether or not guiding in Alaska is harder than anywhere else, there is a unique bond that holds any real community of fishing guides together. Beyond the location, it’s the people who form its backbone and the collective experiences that etch themselves into the very fabric of their worldview. If you are one of the few lucky guides who’ve taken the time to guide in Bristol Bay, you can speak a language that most others cannot. The same can be said for more remote lodges around the world and their communities of veteran guides. 

Special moments like this don’t happen every day, but they are more common in Bristol Bay than almost anywhere else.

As Tikchik Narrows Lodge’s Capt. Will Paul puts it: “Guiding in Bristol Bay has become less about the quality of fishing and more about the quality of people—both coworkers and guests—and cumulative experiences we all have together. Nowhere in the world can you encounter the level of professionalism and level of wildness in the same environment.”  

A good fishing guide will get you into fish, but a truly exceptional one crafts an unforgettable day. Not just to earn a good tip, but because authentic connections shared on the water define a guide’s purpose. For the veterans, it’s about building relationships, which requires dedication, sacrifice, and plenty of patience. 

There isn’t much downtime for a guide at a remote lodge, so they make the most of it.

In southwest Alaska, the concept of sharing that experience with others is on an entirely different level. Set in the shadows of Wood-Tikchik State Park and Togiak National Wildlife Refuge, Tikchik Narrows lodge boasts a 2024 guide staff with a collective guiding experience spanning more than 81 seasons in the Last Frontier. Among their roster of 15 guides, two have more than 15 seasons at the lodge, and five others have marked more than 8 seasons. Capt. Adam Franceschini explains what holds it all together: “Passion isn’t a trend. It’s part of who you are, and as a guide you either have it or you don’t. . . . I think our longevity speaks to that.”

Tikchik Narrows Lodge is more than 300 miles from the nearest road system, which means

This level of guide experience isn’t just a brag; it’s also a testament to what we are all thankful for, and what separates the good from the great. Sure, guiding isn’t easy, but at the end of the day, the best stories you take home from any trip involves the process of getting to where you want to be, and opening yourself to the experience.

For information about Tikchik Narrows Lodge, visit the lodge’s website or the Orvis Adventures page.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *