Just hours after handing over a fistful of cash in exchange for a lovely, 14-foot Mad River canoe, Emmie and I head northeast on Alaska’s Glenn Highway to explore Lake Louise Road and christen our new watercraft with some trout slime. Even though it connects to one of Alaska’s most well-beaten thoroughfares, Lake Louise Road still feels nicely out of the way.
Sure, it’s paved, but it’s also dotted with a galaxy of frost-heaves and potholes that require stopping to check your tire pressure (and your canoe straps) often. The road is also fringed with dozens of lakes, many of which are stocked with rainbow trout or arctic char by the Alaska Department of Fish and Game or have harbored native populations of grayling, lake trout, and burbot since the last ice age. Most of these lakes are information black holes, so pioneering them with first-hand experience is the only way to go.
We twiddle our way down the road over the course of a weekend, stopping at several lakes, paddling around, and casting caddis imitations on our fly rods. On some lakes, the trout are biting; on others, we opt for blueberry picking or frog watching instead.
Lake Louise Lodge
Eventually, we find ourselves at the end of the road at the crown jewel of the area: Lake Louise and the shoreside lodge of the same name. The lake itself is one of the largest in the region and serves as an ice-fishing mecca for lake trout and burbot. The lake trout here, (mackinaw or lakers), commonly go north of 30 pounds, while the state record burbot (24 pounds, 12 ounces) was hauled from these depths by a fellow named George Howard back in 1976. At something like 25,000 acres, the lake begs for exploration. And Lake Louise Lodge provides the perfect jumping off point for our forays.
First built as a hunting cabin in 1953, the lodge has enjoyed steady year-round business since then. It was converted to lodge status in 1957, though it wasn’t until 30 years later that customers could bathe anywhere besides the lake or use a restroom that wasn’t an outhouse. Long-time local residents Glen and Jayne Miles took over ownership in 1987, whereupon they expanded the lodge significantly but kept the original hunting cabin intact. By 2007, Glen and Jayne’s daughter, Yvette, along with her husband, John, decided to purchase the lodge and take up the reins. Together, John and Yvette managed the lodge until selling recently.
When John and Yvette Delaquito sit down to chat with me at the bar, they do so with the pleasant air of people who love what they do. Just outside the window, a stone’s throw away, the gunmetal waters of Lake Louise lap against gravel shores. I ask what it takes to own a lodge like this in Alaska.
“For one thing,” Yvette says, pointing to one of the fiberglass lake trout mounts hung above the dining area, “you have to love the outdoors.” Tacked above the colossal mount is a photo of Yvette herself cradling the actual fish.
John’s answer speaks to sheer gumption. “You have to do everything with the satisfaction of being self-sufficient.”
Everything in sight had to be hauled in at one point or another, and every bit of energy is generated on-site. John and Yvette and their kids do everything from fixing a generator engine in about 10 seconds flat and cooking up world-class prime rib to keeping their patrons entertained with yarns of years past long into the night.
John, Yvette, and scores of others call this “the real Alaska.” It’s not just the antique chainsaws and the moose heads and the mementos; it’s not even the constant buzzing of generators and mosquitoes. I think it has more to do with arriving at the lodge as a stranger (one that’s just had a few fillings shaken loose by the road) and leaving as a friend.
Once the ice goes out in spring, Emmie and I vow to return to the Lake Louise Road. Our canoe didn’t get nearly enough trout slime on it, and we’ll need to stop at the lodge for libations and a good story, too.