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King Salmon Fishing At Copper River Guides in Alaska

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The Upstream Dream: Copper River Guides

Home To Fishing Expert Brandon Thompson And The Key To Catching The Prized King Salmon

Fisherman With His Prize On The Copper River Guide [Photo Credit: Brandon Thompson]

For travelers and adventurous spirits who want the most authentic outdoor experience in Alaska, Copper River Guides allows visitors to spend a few days white water rafting and fishing under the supervision of someone whose not only knowledgeable about fishing and knows the rivers inside out, but knows a thing or two about surviving in the Alaskan wilderness.

This isn't just any old fishing trip.

A 14-mile backcountry drive through the wilderness of Alaska brings fishermen and -women to The Klutina River, the premier king salmon fishery in the state and home to some of the largest kings in Alaska, as well as a healthy run of the famous “Copper River Reds,” and rainbow trout. Anglers and rafters also have the chance to check out the Gulkana River, one of the most popular sport fishing rivers in Alaska, with a rich population of rainbow trout, king salmon, red salmon and sockeye salmon. Then there's the Tonsina River, a remote river with a reputation for “scaring the average boater away.” But under the expertise of Brandon Thompson, more adventurous travelers have access to the small window of opportunity to catch trophy king salmon.

During his 11 years living off the grid 50 miles from Valdez – the closest town – Thomspon has held many jobs, including founding Copper River Guides two and a half years ago. He's caught multiple 60-pounders, flipped boats... But it's the days he spends out on the river, enjoying the water, teaching others to fish that stand out to him as his most memorable memories during his time in Alaska.

“It's not about going out and catching fish and stocking your freezer. It's about a whole Alaskan river experience, floating down the river, seeing wildlife, taking photos... It's about enjoying the river,” said Thompson. “I think I show a quality trip and really teach people how to fish. Hopefully people enjoy that.”

Fishing is a very short season in Alaska. But during those few months, Thompson takes about 100 people out on the rivers to go white water rafting and fishing. The most common feedback that Thompson gets is about how knowledgeable he is about the rivers, about fishing, about the area. He believes that his stories about the area's history and his time spent fly fishing for salmon really make the day even more enjoyable for the couples and groups of friends who spend a day or two out on the water with him.

Founder and Fishing Guide Of Copper River Guides, Brandon Thompson, With A Massive King Salmon [Photo Credit: Brandon Thompson]
Fly Fishing In The Alaskan Wilderness [Photo Credit: Brandon Thompson]

One of the biggest draws to people traveling to Alaska – and booking a tour with Thompson – is king salmon, he said. Thompson often comes across RV'ers making their way through the state who are just passing through and want their chance at a king salmon. The 50-plus pound trophy fish is often found in class three rivers. He noted: “It's definitely a fight. You're going in, or he's coming out.”

Guests from throughout the United States can have the king salmon – and other fish they caught – shipped to their home. Right on the river, Thompson will filet them and clean them up. After the trip, Thompson takes the fish to a processing business to be shipped to the owner's home.

It's this kind of authentic experience – from traveling through the Alaskan wilderness, to fighting with a 50-pound fish in the rapids, to watching Thompson filet the day's catch – that makes Copper River Guides an adventure unlike any other. But it's just a taste of what life is like living off the grid in such a tough environment, something Thompson has done for the past 11 years.

Thompson, who originally grew up in Wyoming, came to Alaska 11 years ago to “see what all the hype was about,” said the avid camper and fisherman. “And it really was that wild. It was that big, that vast... There is no help out here. It's just you. I just fell in love with the place.”

Now 31 years old, Thompson purchased some property near some of the “world's best skiing.” While he is working on building a home, he currently lives in a canvas tent with a log structure built over it. He has a wood stove, a jug of water and a “nice bed with a caribu hyde to sleep under.” He described his life as “one big camping trip,” living outside all year-round, even when it's -20 degrees outside.

When asked if he's faced any hardships living such a rugged life, Thompson said he's “had his troubles,” including thawing out toothpaste before being able to squeeze it out the tube. For Thompson, once you figure out a system and follow those steps it just “becomes the way it is.” It's just a part of life.

He attributes this can-do attitude to never having anything handed to him. He said he's learned to appreciate how hard it is to live out in the Alaskan wilderness, although he can't wait to “live off the grid in style” once his home is built. While he'll still be 50 miles from the nearest town, he will have a washer, dryer and running shower.

Fishing Group Pleased With Their Day's Work [Photo Credit: Brandon Thompson]
Not A Bad Way To End The Day [Photo Credit: Brandon Thompson]
Excursion Out To Copper River Guides [Photo Credit: Brandon Thompson]

When he's not taking people out on tours and showing them a small slice of his life, Thompson is also a wilderness first responder. He guides snow mobile tours, taking people 15 miles out into the wilds of Alaska. He is also an apprentice log cabin builder. He's even helped out on some reality shows, including Ultimate Survival Alaska and River Monsters.

“I think more people are coming to Alaska from watching reality television,” speculates Thompson. “Alaska is becoming more and more popular. You hear about the Alaskan salmon and the copper river reds. If you ever go to the market, when they come in it's a big deal. It's a very expensive meat. That is where I fish, so people are after that copper river red. A lot of people want to fill the freezer. Some people just want to fish. Some people want to see Alaska first-hand, not through a window.”

Taking Jeremy Wade out onto the rivers to catch king salmon was one of his favorite reality show experiences. It felt authentic to him, with no added drama. In fact, Thompson recalled it being relaxing.

“He's a really cool guy. It's really just him fishing. I don't like to be in the camera or limelight at all, so I do a pretty good job staying behind the scenes and taking care of the crew. It's more of a safety thing. I make sure they're not doing anything stupid or things that may hurt themselves,” explained Thompson.

But after spending so much time in the Alaskan wilderness, survival shows now seem overdramatic to Thompson: “They make it seem like if they don't chop wood and build a fire they're going to just die right then... I'm just over there thinking, 'Why don't you just relax and have some tea?' I mean it's hard. It's a tough living out here. But it's not life or death all of the time. You just have to get up and work.”

Living off the grid in the Alaskan wilderness might not be for everyone. But for people looking for just a taste of that adventure, there's Copper River Guides. It's an excuse to escape to the outdoors, to explore the most exciting rivers in the state. And “when you pull a big fish like that,” said Thompson, “it's a special thing.”


Olivia Richman

A graduate of East Connecticut State University in Journalism, Olivia has written for Stonebridge Press & Antiques Marketplace among others. She enjoys writing, running and video games.

Blueberry Lake State Recreation Site

Make Sure To Stay At:

Blueberry Lake State Recreation Site is located in spectacular Thompson Pass, specifically at the large switchback before descending into Keystone Canyon. The high alpine lake offers excellent grayling fishing.




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