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Cheers to Local Knowledge

The 100-foot motoryacht my friends had chartered in Southeast Alaska was anchored in a cove with no other signs of human life. To say the solitude and the mind-warping views of high mountains rising from Chatham Strait were overwhelming is an understatement. I was on deck with my camera listening for a very human sound: that of a floatplane carrying a guide we’d hired in Juneau a couple of days before to put us on a few salmon, make our fly rods bend and keep the yacht’s chef happy. As if on cue, a red and blue de Havilland Beaver, with its noisy radial engine, rounded the point, did a flyover and dropped into the cove. The crew delivered the guide to the boat, and we began our briefing for the day.

A case could be made that if you can’t find fish in the rivers, streams and bays of coastal Alaska without a guide, you might as well have brought your golf clubs instead of your fly gear. That may be true, but our day with that guide made me a true believer in the value of having an experienced local on board.

After our briefing, the guide grabbed his 12-gauge anti-bear artillery, and we boarded the RIB for a short ride to a picturesque pool just above the mouth of a small stream that emptied into our anchorage. We rigged up with flies the guide brought and proceeded to haul in plump pink salmon and cutthroat trout all day, interrupted only by a streamside gourmet lunch catered by the chef and crew. In all my piscatory pursuits, I’d never experienced my arms quaking as they did from landing so many fish in one day.

We all seek out local knowledge when we’re cruising, be it for where to anchor, where to eat or where to find the best off-grid sightseeing. Yacht chefs seek out the best fishmongers and sources of other local ingredients. Captains—the ultimate enablers—can make just about anything happen through their local networks around the globe, whether it be hiring a reef pilot, snagging a hard-to-get restaurant booking or having fresh flowers delivered by helicopter for a birthday in a remote anchorage.

In this issue, Editor-at-Large Jill Bobrow tells the tale of a bucket-list-topping adventure in the remote Galápagos Islands aboard a luxury charter yacht. Aboard was an Ecuadorian friend of the yacht’s owner who is a longtime resident of the tightly regulated island chain. He stayed on board for the entire trip and regaled the group with his deep understanding of the history, geology, topography, zoology and botany of the islands. His was just the kind of encyclopedic local knowledge you’d want on board for a jaunt through such a complex, fascinating place.

My appreciation for local guides is something I’ve learned over time. Generally speaking, I’m a self-drive outdoorsman. Before a nearby fishing or hunting adventure, I’ll do a little web research and stop by the sporting goods store to make sure I have the right gear for the quarry I’m chasing, the destination I’m considering and the time of year I’m out there. I like to believe I get more out of the experience using my own wits and skills to achieve success.

Maybe so, but I was recently reminded of my Alaska experience when my partner gave me a great gift for a significant birthday: a day of fly-fishing for my sons and me with a guide in the North Carolina mountains. It was one of the best days of fishing I’ve ever had, and again left my arms aching from hauling in so many fish.

My sons have caught numerous fish in their lifetimes, but never on a fly rod. They had a pinnacle experience, and I was compelled to tell them that not all days are like that, but calling in the local cavalry is almost always a winner, especially when you’re out of your native element.

This article was originally published in the Summer 2021 issue.