The Perfect Lure


Calm afternoons on Tutshi Lake are rare. As I approached the water’s edge, dimples appeared on the glassy surface like invisible raindrops falling from a bright blue sky. Each concentric ripple marked a point where fish rose to feed on unlucky insects. I jumped onto a large granite boulder, its surface worn smooth by eons of glacier, wind and water, and peered into the depths to identify my target.

Fish were everywhere. All throughout the water column, at least a dozen trout and grayling were on the prowl. I decided to take advantage of this rare opportunity by doing nothing more than watching.

Grayling quickly identified themselves as the surfacing fish, their distinctive dorsal sails shimmering beneath dancing columns of filtered light as they scanned the world above for tiny six-legged silhouettes.

Just below where I stood on my granite rock, something crawling along the gravelly bottom caught my eye. It looked like a black hirsute caterpillar, writhing among the rocks in about two feet of water. It was moving from the cover of one rock toward another, and it seemed to be in a hurry.

I was so focused on this rare underwater oddity that I hadn’t noticed the large trout closing in. The mysterious shaggy creature was surprisingly quick, but the trout buried its nose beneath the rock and used the force of its fins to move small pieces of gravel until there was nowhere left to escape. The trout held the twisting organism in its mouth for a second before gulping it down and slowly swimming away.

Other trout were exhibiting the same behavior, diving beneath larger submerged rocks to grab nymphs and grubs. Some of the larger fish managed to turn over the smaller rocks in order to pick away at the freshly exposed caddisfly cocoons.

All of this behavior was entirely new to me. I knew that lake trout ate insects because I’ve often found ants and flies in their stomach when cleaning them. But those fish were caught in the early spring. During the mid-summer months, I seldom caught trout at this particular spot. I always figured they had migrated to deeper water. But what if they were always there, hidden below the windswept waves?

As the thought crossed my mind, I said the words out loud, “Could I have been fishing the wrong way all of these years?”

I retrieved my fishing gear, tied on my lucky Don Hather spoon and made my first cast. About halfway through the retrieve I could see the lure “swimming” near the bottom. As I reeled it in closer, three trout were in pursuit about 12 feet behind the lure, but they made no motion to attack. Subsequent retrieves offered the same result.

I considered the knowledge from my observations, and tried something different on the following cast. When the trout were in view and in slow pursuit of my lure, I stopped reeling and let it flutter to the bottom. It lay there motionless for about two full seconds before one of the trout darted forward, picked it up off the bottom, and tried to swim away with it in its mouth.

While attempting to set the hook, the lure pulled free. As soon as it hit the bottom, two more fish made a run at it. During the next 10 casts I had somewhere around 30 hits, but I simply could not hook up. Spoons work fine when they’re in motion because fish are forced to bite around the trailing hook. But when picking the spoon up off the bottom, their mouths failed to come into contact with the pointy end.

Eventually, I hooked up on a lunker of a trout that made two strong runs and surprised me with its tenacity. Within a few feet of shore I got a good look at the big fish, and it was at least 36 inches long and broad across the shoulder. As I lifted the rod in an attempt to turn the fish toward shore, the hook came free and it swam away.

I don’t like losing big trout. It makes me angry.

After brooding for days on the circumstances that led to this lost fish, I became obsessed with developing my own perfect attractant for targeting those bottom-foraging Tutshi trout. While waiting for a flight in Juneau, I set out on a mission for supplies. I wandered around the tackle store for an hour and scoured the racks for the various parts that would make up my Frankenstein lure. When I laid out the odd assortment of plastics, hooks, feather jigs and swivels at the checkout counter, the young lady cashier exclaimed, “Looks like you’re going to do some fishing!”

I didn’t reveal what I really had in mind.

Back in my Skagway laboratory, a six-pack of beer fueled an evening of mad fishing alchemy. I cut and twisted bits of plastic and pieces of metal, and bound them together with loosely stitched monofilament line. When I was satisfied with the end result, I tucked myself into bed and dreamed of doomed fish.

The next day, I traveled to my Tutshi honey hole and launched the first cast.

Peering into the water on the retrieve, I caught sight of the lure. Five trout were in hot pursuit. When I paused the lure and let it sit, they attacked with wild abandon. The trout were actually fighting for the lure, and when one would pick it up, the rest would give chase. Still, the problem with the hook placement remained.

Fully prepared for this contingency, I quickly added a larger hook and shortened its distance from the lure.

On the next cast, I simply let the lure sink and bounced it once or twice along the bottom. The ensuing bite was unmistakable. After setting the hook, my rod bent over and the fight was on. When I caught sight of the trout, four of its buddies were trying to yank the lure out of its mouth. I landed a beautiful 20-inch laker with bright gold flanks and a fat belly. On the next cast, I caught another. Then another. And again, another.

Not even 20 minutes had passed and my limit of trout filled the cooler. I had created perfection, and I beamed down at the world’s most perfect trout lure gently laying in the palm of my hand. It dripped with fresh blood, and had become tattered on its fringes from the relentless onslaught of bites.

For a brief moment I was caught on the wave of a daydream where my creation was being sold in every tackle store from Nome to Key West. I was living the good life, sipping craft beer from the deck of my yacht that I bought with the money I earned as the clever inventor of the world’s deadliest trout lure.

I glanced over at my fish, lying dead in the cooler.

First I cut off the hook. Then I dismantled the plastic apron and bent back the metal clasp. After pulling the remaining pieces apart and unraveling the monofilament twist, I tossed the individual pieces into the bottom of my tackle box.

For one shining moment, I flirted with the power of the perfect lure. I like trout too much to ever use it again.