Just before you reach the Yukon border sign while traveling north along the Klondike Highway, a small creek empties into Tagish Lake’s Windy Arm. The land mass protruding into the lake on the east side of the highway is an ancient alluvial fan created by sediments carried from the prominent pinnacles of Dail Peak. Mountain goats and Dall Sheep often cavort on the precipitous cliffs just above this spot, sometimes braving traffic for a chance to sip clean water from the lake.
This obtuse stretch of shoreline looks like ideal trout territory. Not only does it create a bottleneck within the lake where targeting fish is simplified, the creek’s outflow delivers a banquet of unlucky insects into the waiting mouths of whatever finned predators may be hiding beneath the surface.
Getting down to the creek’s mouth is no easy task. On my first attempt many years ago, I drove down a dirt road on the other side of the landmass, figuring I could walk the shoreline until I reached the delta. When I got out of my car, I was greeted by a very angry and surprisingly agile three-legged Rottweiler.
On my next approach, I parked at the top of the hill and struggled my way through dense underbrush on a precariously steep slope where every step required unwavering attention. I eventually made it to the creek, but along the way I noticed some artifacts that piqued my curiosity. What I saw was nothing more than a couple of rusted cans alongside some rotten rough-hewn logs. I wondered about their origin, but my mind quickly shifted focus as I worked the shoreline in search of trout.
After two hours without a bite, I climbed the steep slope and drove back to my campsite where cold beer was waiting in the cooler. Getting skunked was neither expected nor welcome, but bottled brew is a splendid consolation prize.
I returned to the creek later in the season and in subsequent years, trying a wide variety of techniques that all ended with the same result. Cold beer. Other local anglers have shared stories about seeing fishermen catch trout at this spot, but I have yet to meet anyone who can tell me they’ve been the lucky catcher.
Now when I go fishing along the highway, whenever I get thirsty for a beer, I stop and work the creek in eager anticipation of my bubbling booby prize. In my experience, there is no more frustrating fishing spot in the land of the midnight sun. After failing to find fish yet again last fall, I thought back to those weathered artifacts and pondered their origins.
A few miles north of the Yukon border lay the ruins of the Venus Mine, one of the last standing remnants of Colonel Conrad’s sizable mining network. The tattered remains of Conrad City are a little further north, but in 1905 this expansive area hummed with activity. Tramways made of wood and steel carried heavy rocks from the mountaintops to the shores of Tagish Lake, where families built homes, shopkeepers sold their wares and men loaded sternwheelers full of hand-chiseled ore.
It was during Conrad City’s heyday that two wily entrepreneurs came up with a brilliant idea. “Big Bill” Anderson and A.R. McDonald understood one simple truth: men like beer. Conrad City boasted the finest hotel in the Yukon, but the liquor laws governing the frontier territory were very strict. However, liquor laws were far more relaxed in British Columbia, and the border was just a hop, skip and a jump to the south.
Big Bill and A.R. figured that if they built two hotels at this location, the Conrad miners would flock to their establishments to consume cheap beer. From the wellspring of alcoholic inspiration were born the Lakeview and Wynton Hotels, the two finest drinking establishments in the entire Conrad mining region. These buildings stood side-by-side, and when the last rough-hewn log was set in place, a town was born. They named it Wynton, after the creek with the same moniker that flowed into the lake.
Selling beer in Canada is one of those brilliant ideas that simply cannot fail, but right about the time Big Bill and A.R. opened their doors, the Conrad mines shut down. Perhaps sensing the inevitable, A.R. sold the Wynton Hotel to a contractor named William Hubert Simpson.
Over the next few months, the miners moved away and most of Conrad City was dismantled, leaving only a few hearty homesteaders. The tramways went silent, the wind howled and winter set in.
Wynton’s two residents made the most of the situation. Simpson would walk over to Big Bill’s Lakefront Hotel and slap a gold coin on the bar. After enjoying a brew with Big Bill, the two men walked over to Simpson’s Wynton Hotel so that Big Bill could smack that same gold coin down on its bar.
Simpson poured the next round and the unlucky proprietors would raise their glasses high, in defiance of their misfortune. When the glasses were empty, they started over.
This proud Wynton tradition born of boredom and thirst continued unabated. By season’s end, the gold coin was worn smooth.
Presumably, their livers suffered a similar fate. It wasn’t long before the hotels closed and the two men merrily stumbled toward their next misadventure.
In the ensuing years, the land slowly reclaimed what little was left of Wynton. Even the name was forgotten when the familiar stream responsible for creating the land mass was renamed Dail Creek in honor of Gold Rush miner and surveyor George Dail.
Further proving that this obscure site is a place where bad luck and poor timing converge, the currently-standing government sign intended to identify the small stream mistakenly reads “Dall Creek.”
It’s comforting to reconcile my own futile Wynton endeavors with muted echoes from a buried past. The spirits that inhabit wild places are often indifferent to man’s carefully constructed plans, but consider this record an effort to break the curse of ignorance.
Even though the odds are stacked against me, I still plan on trying to catch a trout from the mouth of “Wynton” Creek.
From a historical perspective, you can’t beat the reward for failure.