Springtime in Alaska comes first to the panhandle. Even as my home waters up north remain frozen, the Pacific’s salt-cod breath slips mildly through these coastal forests of Douglas fir and red cedar, a gentle promise of the bright season, the days of midnight sun to come. Streamside salmonberries bloom pink and sweet, orbited by hummingbirds; freshets swell with snowmelt from the timbered mountains above and the time of wading rivers and stalking big ocean-fresh trout begins.
Isolated and wild, Southeast Alaska (called the “Alaska Riviera” in the saccharin veneer of cruise-liner brochures) is among the planet’s last, best steelhead strongholds. The great sea-run rainbows return here each spring to hundreds of streams. In recent Aprils, I’ve fished mostly out of Petersburg, a rustic seaport founded a century ago by Scandinavian fishermen. The town, accessible only by boat or plane, has become for me a springtime place, a community of retreat and repair. Set upon the edge of North America’s last great temperate wilderness, Petersburg and its people—its silver-eyed young women and lanky, lantern-jawed men, all roaming the docks and alleys with a quiet pride intrinsic to the sons and daughters of Norway—generate a bucolic small town warmth that, along with the steelhead, have a way of calling you back.
Dan Savone is a Petersburg crabber, a one-time visitor from California who fell for this far-flung region of secluded beaches and isolated steelhead streams. His home—a weathered but tidy frame cabin—rests upon two enormous spruce logs hauled up at the head of a bay a few miles outside of town. He commutes back and forth to Petersburg in a decrepit Toyota Corolla, tweaked on the driver’s side from collisions with a Sitka deer and a black bear encountered in the same stretch of road on separate evenings.