Meghan Barker joins TU's Alaska team

The Alaska program's newest staff member, Meghan Barker, enjoying the beauty of the Last Frontier.

By Meghan Barker

Only in Alaska can you catch a massive salmon on the third cast of your entire life.

On an abnormally sunny August day in southeast Alaska in 2015, I was invited to try out a friend’s new fishing rod. As a Colorado resident who had come to the Lodge at Glacier Bay National Park to work seasonally for the summer, I had been talked in to purchasing a fishing license at the beginning of the season.

Even though I had never picked up a rod or put on waders in my life, the promise of Alaska’s famed salmon intrigued me. Fishing was on my summer bucket list, but my lack of skill, lack of gear, and general lack of knowledge made it easier for me to stick to things like hiking in the old-growth forests of the park or kayaking in Bartlett Cove amongst the seals and humpback whales. But when my friend Nate offered to show me how to fish with his gear, I figured this was a great time to at least learn the skill. I was doubtful that I would actually catch something on this trip.

The next day, Nate, Sam and I hiked about two miles on the Bartlett River Trail until Nate decided that we were at a good place to stop and try casting a bit. Nate started casting, talking me through the form and where I should be aiming to land my fly in the river.

He put the rod in my hand, and I cast my first line ever. It was ugly. We laughed at my horrible form, and he kindly gave me some pointers. The second cast was better, but still a little awkward. After watching my fly float down the river a bit, I pulled it back upstream, and tried a third time. Immediately, I felt a huge tug. I nearly dropped Nate’s new reel, I was so shocked. Nate and Sam helped me reel in what I had caught, and I literally jumped for joy upon realizing it was a beautiful and wild Alaskan salmon, which we enjoyed with gratitute and a campfire later that night.

In that moment, I had caught the fish, but really, I was the one who was hooked.

When our work season ended a few weeks later and I boarded the plane to head back to school, I tearfully promised myself that I would come back to Alaska as soon as I graduated. The experiences I had, including catching my first salmon, and the friendships I formed combined for what I still call the best summer of my life.

Keeping my promise to myself, I returned to Alaska following graduation. I immersed myself in the small fishing town of Homer, at the end of the Kenai Peninsula. In Homer, I got a great taste of the subsistence and commercial fishing life. Shane, one of the nicest people I have ever befriended, took me fishing multiple times. With him, I landed my first halibut, and shared it with my family when they came to visit from Colorado. I met Meg and Kobi, commercial fishermen who spend their summers in Bristol Bay. Through them, I was given clear insight to the generations-long tradition of commercial fishing, and how families rely on strong and plentiful salmon runs throughout the state.

When I joined Trout Unlimited’s Alaska program and the battle to save Bristol Bay from the proposed Pebble Mine, I knew that I wasn’t just signing on to stop a mine. While the goal is making sure that a monstrous open-pit mine is not dug in the headwaters of Bristol Bay, what we work for is so much more than that. Bristol Bay needs protection so that the region may remain the powerhouse that it is so that all people, even someone who has never fished before in their life, can experience the joy that sportfishing in Alaska can bring, even after just two casts. Pebble Mine cannot be built so people like Shane can continue sharing his love of fishing with others, and so Meg and Kobi and families like theirs can continue to provide as commercial fishermen. 

As part of my position, I will be traveling around the Lower 48 sharing with our fishing friends why the Pebble Mine is the wrong choice for Alaska’s future. Our environment, our economy, and our people need Bristol Bay to remain the salmon powerhouse that it is, and we collectively need to honor that by standing up to Pebble and rejecting this proposed mine.

Please stick with us in 2019. All hands are needed on deck to stop Pebble’s phase-one mining permit in its tracks. Submit a comment on our Action page today, and stay tuned at and our Facebook page.

Meghan Barker is an organizer for Trout Unlimited’s Alaska program based in Anchorage.


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