Photo provided 
Daniel Balserak and Luke Konson fish for salmon in Alaska. The pair has been traveling the country and catching every official state fish for the past 11 months.

Photo provided Daniel Balserak and Luke Konson fish for salmon in Alaska. The pair has been traveling the country and catching every official state fish for the past 11 months.

A gap year like no other

High school graduates defer college enrollment to fish in every state

Alaska was last stop for Luke Konson and Daniel Balserak before heading home to Virginia, after 11 months of traveling the country during their gap year.

But the pair isn’t just sightseeing — they are fishing every state in the country.

“Me and my dad came up with this idea of traveling all 50 states and catching the official state fish because no one’s ever done it before,” Konson said Saturday before flying home Sunday.

The two late-teens graduated high school in the outskirts of Washington, D.C., in June 2020, and planned to start college at Clemson University in South Carolina the following fall. When the university announced it would only offer classes remotely because of the coronavirus pandemic, Konson and Balserak deferred their enrollment for a year and decided to fish all 50 states. They set out on their journey in August 2020.

They started fishing at a young age, Konson and Balserak said, but being busy with school and extracurriculars took up most of their time in adolescence. They decided their gap year was the perfect time to get out on the water again, mostly fishing on a catch-and-release basis.

“I haven’t fished anything close to this amount in my life,” Balserak said. “But I’m definitely going to be doing it a lot more going forward.”

Konson said it was also an enjoyable use of their lockdown and quarantine time, since they mostly stayed outside and away from other people.

“COVID hit and we had nothing else to do, so we just went fishing every day and decided that we wanted to keep it going for another nine months or so,” he said.

While traveling throughout the Lower 48, Balserak and Konson slept in their minivan — putting over 50,000 miles on their car — and saw parts of the country they might not have otherwise.

“You learn a little bit about how everyone in all these places around the country live their lives and how they do it differently and it’s just a lot of good experience,” Konson said. “It’s just cool hearing all these people’s stories.”

They mainly ate quick food on the road, too, they said. Pop-Tarts, ramen and oatmeal packets were some of their most frequent meals.

Balserak even said they’ve each lost around 25 to 30 pounds in the last year as they’ve tried to travel the entirety of the country on a personal budget and with help from a GoFundMe account. The trip didn’t come without a few hiccups, though.

At one point, the duo ran into the back of a semi truck and totaled their car in North Carolina. While fishing here in the Last Frontier, Balserak had to spray a bear when it got a little too close for comfort.

Alaska was No. 49 on the list, on the last leg of their almost yearlong journey across the country. The 50th state will be back home in Virginia. Both Balserak and Konson said Alaska is their favorite state for fishing.

“The group we’re staying with has really made sure we got a full experience, like we’re going on a bear flyout today, we’ve gone halibut fishing, we caught king salmon,” Balserak said. “It’s probably been my favorite state.”

“For me, it’s the best one,” Konson said.

Jim Voss and Kevin Chavira, both guides and part owners of Alaska Fishtopia, helped Konson and Balserak catch-and-release fish for kings, before the Department of Fish and Game closed the Kenai and Kasilof rivers, as well as part of the Cook Inlet, to king sport fishing. The chinook is Alaska’s state fish. Beating the closure kept alive the streak of catching the official state fish in all 49 visited states so far.

“He (Chavira) just worked tirelessly to make sure we got our fish,” Konson said. “They put in so much work to help us out.”

The duo said in reminiscing on their gap year, they’ve both learned a lot.

“I hadn’t traveled the country a lot, I’d gone … just maybe a couple places on the East Coast,” Balserak said. “And just going all around kind of gave me a better sense of kind of what the U.S. is and how diverse it is.”

Konson said the people really made the trip for him.

“People have read our story in the newspaper and offered to have us come stay at their house for a night because they know we sleep in our car,” Konson said. “Just meeting all these different people and seeing how willing they are to help out has been a really, really cool experience.”

To follow the end of their journey, they can be found on Instagram at @fishallfifty and on their blog website at fishallfifty.us.

Reach reporter Camille Botello at camille.botello@peninsulaclarion.com.

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