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Make it up as you go: A Guides Story

Updated: Oct 22, 2020

Originally from upstate New York, Alaskan-based guide David Lisi has been fly fishing for nearly 28 years. When first starting out, David would fly fish for bass, walleye, pike

and other warm water species until eventually learning of the steelhead and salmon lurking in the local rivers nearby- hence, where he first picked up spey casting. Now, David is a full-time fishing guide and runs an outfitter that teaches both fly fishing and spey fishing techniques on the Kenai River on the Kenai Peninsula in Alaska. Below, David shares one of his favorite guide stories when taking a client out to catch big King Salmon on the swing.

"Everyone knows the stereotype that fishermen and women are known to exaggerate and even outright lie when it comes to their fish stories. I find myself in utter disbelief at the sheer number of stories I’ve amassed over the years as a fishing guide that simply seem too good to be true, or downright b.s. - but they’re absolutely true and that’s the funny part.

I have dozens of stories I tell throughout the day with clients and each spot on the river holds a unique story or two, that, to be frank, sounds unbelievable when I tell them (every time I tell them - I don’t even believe them sometimes. One particular story comes from my first season owning my own guide business with my partner Jackie. I had a single gentleman booked for 1 day by himself in June and I honestly didn’t know what we were going to do for the day. Leading up to our fishing trip, I noticed that Kevin, the gentleman I was guiding, had liked our facebook page and requested us as friends. Initially, I thought we might have a casual day floating the Upper Kenai River with single-hand rods looking for trout (this time of year in June, the fish tend to be smaller on average and the fishing can be difficult at times.)

Once I started checking out Kevin’s Facebook page, I got a little nervous. He had pictures of himself with some of the most famous guides in the world. He had been fishing in New Zealand for giant Brown Trout and Rainbows, he had pictures from western Alaska with giant Rainbows and Salmon and so on and so on… I kept thinking how the heck am I going to top all of that!? This dude really knew what he was doing and I still felt pretty green in the guiding game. 

For the 3 years prior to my fishing trip with Kevin, I had spent hours and hours swinging a two-handed spey rod for King Salmon in Alaska, learning everything it took to be successful: the flies, the swing speed, sink tips, casting angles, etc… I felt pretty comfortable on my own out there chasing Kings, but I had never taken a client to do it.  I thought this might be the time to give it a shot. To add to the “stress” of the situation, I was having difficulty reaching Kevin the night before his trip. He was on a cruise with his wife and they were set to make it to shore that night. Finally after sending a couple of emails with no reply, I received a phone call from a gentleman with an obvious Aussie accent and I told him the plan for the following day. He seemed a little hesitant, but he was willing to follow my lead.

That night, Jackie and I decided to go to the Princess Lodge here in Cooper Landing, AK to have some dinner. About halfway through our meal, I heard someone in the corner with a distinct Australian accent talking about his fishing trip the next day. He was telling the table full of folks he had met on his Alaskan Cruise about the trip his guide set up for him the next day. I could tell by the way he was talking that he was a little unsure, so I got up from our table and approached theirs. As I got closer, I said “you must be Kevin” and we proceeded to shake hands and talk about the fishing trip I was setting him up for the following day.

The next morning, I picked Kevin up from the lodge and we headed south for our fishing adventure. This was my first official King Salmon Spey Fishing trip and I was pretty nervous. We launched the boat and hit our first spot. I had asked Kevin if he ever Spey fished before and he modestly exclaimed that he had a little bit, but it had been a long time since he had. Naturally he failed to mention that he had taken lessons from world champion Spey caster in Whitney Gould.

Kevin was a natural; his casts were smooth and a pleasure to watch. I settled in for a long day of waiting for a tug. The saying in the Spey community about King Salmon is that they are the fish of 10,000 casts. I prayed that we would have at least one hookup that day. It didn’t take long for that signature pull from an angry King Salmon and Kevin was on! After successfully releasing his first of the day, he stepped back into the run and before we knew it, bam!... another King on the line!

Kevin ended up landing 4 kings on the day (a rather difficult feat for any angler). He also managed to break a rod on a king and we miraculously landed the fish. Throughout the day, we shared a lot of laughs and lots of great moments shaking hands with some nice anadromous fish, making this one of the most memorable days of guiding I’ve ever had. 

Since that trip, I’ve taken hundreds of anglers Spey fishing for King Salmon, Silver Salmon, Rainbow Trout and Dolly Varden. Had Kevin not been so agreeable, my foray into guiding Spey anglers may never have begun. Sometimes it pays to make it up as you go! "

Company: Cooper Landing Fishing Guide, LLC - Cooper Landing, AK

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Facebook: @clfishingguide

Twitter - i_guide_alaska

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