Courtesy of Jim Klug Yellow Dog Flyfishing Adventures

Overcast cites an adage that “helicopters always sound better when they’re coming to get you,” and adds, “If you’re abusive with where you’re flying the machine, you’re disturbing other people that have gotten there by other means. I think that’s inappropriate.”

Lunch spread from Talaheim Lodge
Courtesy of Talaheim Lodge & Air Taxi
The national forest exclusion effectively excludes heli-fishing from most places in the continental U.S. One exception is near Vail, Colorado, where Alex Rachowicz, owner of Minturn Anglers, flies guests to a stretch of privately owned river that offers privacy, seclusion, and fishing not too dissimilar from that available in the Alaskan backcountry.

Minturn’s anglers pay $3,495 a day for a party of three. As with the other heli-fishing operations, this is all-inclusive, with a professional guide, rods, reels, and other equipment along with a gourmet lunch. “They just show up in a hat and sun-glasses dressed appropriately for the weather, and we take care of everything,” Rachowicz says.  

Colorado offers a year-round fishing season. In Alaska, it’s more like mid-June, when the king salmon run begins, to early September, when rainbow trout fishing is at its peak. At Southern Hemisphere fisheries, naturally, the seasons are opposite, running from late November to April.

So who are these people who travel the world in order to board helicopters and wing into the remotest fishing holes? Some are heli-skiing enthusiasts who hear about heli-fishing while patronizing lodges, like Tordrillo, that offer guests both aviation-assisted sports. Others include adventure vacation addicts, looking for the most exotic and, perhaps, expensive recreation they can find.

But for the most part, heli-anglers are fishing fanatics following their obsession.  “It’s people who are fairly experienced anglers, who have been around and may have been to Alaska via floatplane and some U.S. rivers by floating,” Klug says. “They want to take it to the next level and access water that no one else is accessing.”

O’Connell, for his part, recently returned from his second trip to the Patagonian waters as a guest of Nomads of the Seas. He and Mary Jane are seasoned fly-fishers, having made annual journeys to Alaska for 25 years. The Chilean experience two years ago was his first heli-fishing, he says, and, while the cost was high, the memory of that waterfall-ringed Andean honeypot proved irresistible. 

“It’s almost once in a lifetime,” O’Connell says. “I just had to do it twice.”