The fish were in, Savone said, had been since March. So we found them that April morning, a 45-minute upstream hike from the high tide mark. Steelhead. A threesome here, half dozen there, big, slab-sided, and salmon-sized, all holding in those tannic Alaskan riffles. We cast bright streamers at them well into the afternoon, flexing our forearm against their heavy, driving bodies. It felt good to be free from winter's stifling grip; every cast seemed a catharsis, each fish an epiphany.

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.

Petersburg Creek
Image: Jack Popowich

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.