Rhett Nealis may have quite possibly the greatest job in the world, or at least in Alaska.
As owner of Phantom Tri-River Charters, he manages a fleet of seven jet boats at what many consider one of the state’s finest fishing destinations: Talkeetna, a place with excellent view of the Alaska mountain range, and where three rivers converge.
Visitors regularly come from around the world to cast a line and hopefully bring back a super souvenir, perhaps in the form of a super-sized salmon that they reeled in.
In between the Alaska salmon fishing expeditions, Nealis is known to run freight up river channels to remote cabins, which gives him a few minutes here and there to do some scouting of his own on the different waterways.
“I love fishing,” he said. “I tell people that I consider fishing to be part of my duty as well.”
As far as fishing destinations go, you can’t do much better than the home base in Talkeetna. It’s on the way to Denali from Anchorage, and provides easy access to the Talkeetna, Chulitna and Susitna rivers – each has its own special features, special spots and fish species.
Phantom has been in business for 30 years, and Nealis came aboard in 2000 to continue the charter service’s legacy and commitment to clients.
“We strive to make the best experience possible,” he said. “We all love what we’re doing.”
The company includes guides for each boat, who often have as much fun being out on the water as their passengers.
“These guys all love what they’re doing,” he said. “They also love seeing people come and get a fish.”
Coast Guard-licensed boats are available for five- or eight-hour charters, morning or afternoon. Reservations are recommended but walk-ons can sometimes be accommodated if there are availabilities.
Nealis said the clients can pretty much do whatever they want or go anywhere on the three rivers – each has its own special features, special spots and fish species.
Boats run from the thaws around the first of May to when slush starts to form in the fall, making it a pretty decent season and giving fishermen the opportunity to check out different runs or try different fishing techniques.
For instance, it’s always easy to drop a line from the side or the back of the boat, and anglers can use spin or fly casting. Or the boat can stop at a nice location and guests can fish from the shore.
“We welcome all skill and experience levels,” Nealis said. “People who have never picked up a pole before have a good time, as well as the more experienced anglers.”
Sometimes, it’s a group of friends or co-workers who put a fun trip together. Other times, entire families fill the boat and everyone enjoys the experience of Alaska salmon fishing.
And who wouldn’t?
Nealis said there are five different salmon species that can be reeled in. For some types, it’s catch-and-release only, but the guide can provide this info or let people know when they’ve reached their limit.
“Some charters will just turn the boat around and head home when people hit their limit, but we let people continue catching and releasing,” he said. “It’s important to read the fine print.”
One thing that Nealis thinks Phantom does well is providing a comfortable experience. All boats are covered and include heat sources. Passengers are encouraged to dress in layers and be prepared for changing weather conditions any time of the year, but great effort has been taken to make sure the focus is on the fun of fishing. All fishing equipment is provided as well.
Many clients can get especially excited about the possibility of catching a king salmon, which can range from 25 pounds to 60 pounds.
“When the first ones start showing up in the spring, they’re still a perfect silver color,” he said. “They have great meat as well.”
During king season, only one is allowed to be caught per day on the rivers. But bringing in something that big in is an accomplishment for any sportsman or sportswoman.
Grayling and rainbow trout can also be found in the rivers.
Some clients have such a good time and are so successful hauling out fish that they come back year after year.
The Phantom boats are also available as a “water taxi,” for people who want to be taken up a river and dropped off at a remote spot so they can camp far from civilization. The boat can return a few hours or even days later or whenever it’s needed for pick-up.
Nealis said there’s also plenty to do in Talkeetna when you’re not on the water, or if someone needs a break, or kids may not be that interested in fishing.
The area has an abundance of charter aircraft for anyone who wants to take a scenic flight around the region. There are ziplines, places to shop, and plenty of area to explore.
The most significant nearby natural wonder is Denali, the state’s largest peak. To Nealis, Talkeetna is actually a better venue to see the mountain’s majesty instead of going 90 miles into the park.
“We’re right at the base of it, so there are great views all around,” he said. “There’s wildlife, and a little bit of everything – you get too close and it’s hard to see everything.”
Overall, there are many fishing charter operations in Alaska, but Nealis said Phantom is able to offer so much in terms of what guests can see, do and experience, combined with his company’s attention to detail and service.
“We’re unique in terms of scenery, the fish you can catch, the wildlife you can see, plus our boats,” he said. “That’s really our commitment – you’ll have a great opportunity even if you’re not fishing all the time.”
For insight on more Alaska fishing outfitters check out 10 Alaska Fishing Outfitters You Need to Know.
For more details about Alaska salmon fishing opportunities visit http://phantomsalmoncharters.com