Rainbow trout from Bristol Bay, Alaska
Courtesy of Jim Klug Yellow Dog Flyfishing Adventures

Just a few minutes’ flight from Miller’s Talaheim Lodge in the trackless wilderness 80 air miles northwest of Anchorage are hundreds of miles of gin-clear streams teeming with several varieties of salmon, rainbow trout, arctic grayling, northern pike, and other game fish that grow to trophy size without ever being offered a fly. The combination is addictive, he testifies. “Once you go helicopter,” Miller promises, “you’ll never go back.”

And heli-fishing offers more than just phenomenal scenery, solitude, and the realistic hope of spending more time catching than just fishing. The speed and vertical takeoff and landing of the helicopters used for backcountry operations mean you can fish all day in a spot miles from the nearest bed without having to spend the night camping.
Talaheim Lodge takes fishermen to rivers where salmon can be spotted 15 feet down
Courtesy of Talaheim Lodge & Air Taxi
Mike Overcast, who owns and operates the Tordrillo Mountain Lodge, which at 15 miles away is considered a next-door neighbor to Talaheim by Alaskan standards, says his heli-fishing tours can be set up to drop guests at a spot in the morning and pick them up in the afternoon. They’ll be back at the lodge in plenty of time for a gourmet dinner, with soft beds at evening’s end.

Helicopters also let anglers hit several different spots for briefer periods over the course of the day. This means a guest can fish rivers, lakes, and the ocean on a single visit. Without a helicopter, experiencing that much variety might have taken several trips over as many years. “The more time you spend in helicopters, the more you understand they are the ultimate for entry to the backcountry, especially in Alaska,” Overcast says.

In addition to Alaska, heli-fishing is available in British Columbia, where rotating-wing aircraft take guests to fish for steelhead on Canadian rivers; New Zealand, where the biggest fish are found high up in the mountains; in Chile’s Patagonia; and on the salmon rivers of Russia’s Far East.

As a general rule, though, helicopters will not take you to fishing holes that you can get to by other means, such as by boat or floatplane. One reason is the cost. “Nothing involving helicopters is going to be cheap,” observes Jim Klug, owner of Montana’s Yellow Dog Flyfishing Adventures, who includes a few dozen heli-fishing junkets each year among the thousands of other angling tours he books.

Talaheim charges $6,800 per angler for a typical weeklong visit, including daily helicopter fly-out fishing. A week wandering with the Nomads of the Seas is $10,000. At Tordrillo, a day of heli-fishing is $500 to $2,500, depending on how far away the fishing hole is and whether it’s a drop-off and pickup or an all-day trip testing several different spots. All these tours feature a level of luxury, including chef-prepared cuisine and well-stocked wine cellars, that goes along with such price tags. Still, notes Klug, “It’s a higher-end clientele.”

Another limitation affecting heli-fishing is the U.S. Forest Service, which as a rule doesn’t permit helicopter operations in national forests. Alaskan heli-fishing takes place for the most part on state-owned and other public lands that have looser restrictions. Overcast doesn’t have a problem with that.

“There’s a time and place for helicopters, and that’s in places you can’t get to by other means,” he says.