Alaska is home to five species of Pacific salmon. These fish are anadromous; they begin their lives in freshwater rivers and lakes and eventually make their way down rivers and into the ocean.

Depending on the species, salmon may spend between about one and seven years in the ocean before beginning their journey home to the freshwater where they were born.

The ability of salmon to find their way home is one of nature's greatest miracles. Among other navigational aids, salmon can detect a single drop of water from its home stream mixed in 250 gallons of saltwater.

Once salmon enter their native watershed, some spawn immediately and others travel a thousand miles or more up river. Soon after reproducing, they die and decompose.

Over the last 50 years, anadromous fish populations have declined significantly in California, Oregon and Washington. Alaska remains the United States last great salmon stronghold.

Salmon are extremely sensitive to water quality and depend on cold, clean, oxygenated water to survive - and Alaska is not immune to the same threats that have decimated salmon farther south.

Logging and mining degrade some salmon habitat in Alaska, and climate change is compounding these impacts.

For many in Alaska, salmon represents the wild, untamed landscape that makes their home so special.

Alaska has over 6,000 miles of coastline more than four times that of any other state.

There are a multitude of tiny fishing villages scattered along the edge of the Pacific Ocean, and many are accessible only by boat or plane. A number of these remote communities are indigenous villages, where fishing has been a cornerstone of life for thousands of years.

Many Alaskans are still concerned about the threats of the proposed Pebble Mine in Bristol Bay, the permit for which was denied by the Army Corps of Engineers in November.

This region of south western Alaska supports the world largest sockeye salmon returning to Bristol Bay have been caught each year, without an effect on their overall abundance, according to Daniel Schindler, a biologist at the University of Washington, in Seattle.

Lured by this legendary fishery, a few friends fly in to Dillingham to join me on a 10-day fly-fishing excursion deep in the backcountry, on the fringes of the Togiak National Wildlife Refuge.

We load a floatplane with food, an inflatable raft, fishing rods and camping gear. We fly low over the tundra, crossing river after river full of salmon. From a few hundred feet above, we can see the red sockeye in dense schools in the slow eddies of the rivers.

We land on a lake at the headwaters of the Goodnews River, inflate our raft and float downstream. We begin casting, and the action is nonstop.

For three friends who grew up in New England, the rip is the manifestation of a dream we've held our whole lives. As children we stared into deep pools of rivers in New England, imagining them pulsing with monster fish.

Here in Alaska, that dream is still alive.

The World Students Society thanks author Colin Arisman.


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