By ANDREW CREMATA
For first time visitors, Skagway might seem but a narrow valley, hemmed in by mountains, snow, and ice. Yet, there are a great many hidden things that lie just beyond what is readily seen. There are narrow coves where families of otters drift lazily on the surf at the first light of day. Bald eagles scan wide expanses of sandy flats that reveal themselves with the ebbing tide. A short walk through the woods can reveal a hidden lake where mysterious ripples appear on the surface, a clue as to what might reside beneath.
These are the places where pristine image of Alaska, sold in the brochures and on the internet, come alive and resonate with some innate part within. It is an opportunity to reconnect with something lost amidst the daily drudgery of work, traffic, and routine. It is, no doubt, one of the reasons so many people cruise or drive to Alaska for vacation, and it is also the reason why so many native Alaskans love to go fishing.
Skagway locals have unlimited access to wild places where salmon teem by the thousands and trophy trout are always one cast away. For the visitor with limited time to explore, the options might be fewer. However, what makes Skagway unique in Southeast is that the wilderness lies just beyond the periphery, and much of it holds lakes, streams and fish.
Two of only a handful of lakes holding brook trout in the entire state of Alaska can be found in Skagway. Both Lower and Upper Dewey Lakes were stocked with the hearty, colorful fish in the early 1980s. Lower Lake, as the locals call it, is a moderately steep 30-minute hike from downtown and its quiet waters are host to an array of natural wonders. Upper Lake is for the more serious hiker, with a strong legs and a lot of extra time.
A short drive to Dyea will reveal the Taiya River, a great place to stalk Dolly Varden in the spring. Further along is the Dyea Flats, where sloughs meander through high grass, alpine lupine, and wild purple irises. In the summer these sloughs fill with salmon and become something out of a fly fisherman’s Alaska daydream.
Not far away is Lost Lake, so named for its difficulty to locate, but a place where the perseverant are rewarded. This is a spot that seems almost primeval, where blueberries grow thick in the fall and rainbow trout are eager to strike throughout the spring, summer and fall.
Along the Klondike Highway to the north are an uncountable number of places to wet a line. As the road traverses a narrow slice of British Columbia en route to the Yukon Territory, every single roadside turnout is a potential spot to catch world-class grayling and lake trout. Anywhere along this road is an opportunity for isolation, peace, and the unrivaled beauty of sheer mountainsides framing deep glacial lakes.
There are many other places to fish among the throngs of tourists and hustle of the summer season. Many of these places can be quite productive. But for someone desiring a more authentic Alaskan experience, or the adventurous angler who seeks more than a notch on the handle of his rod, the chance to experience something unforgettable is not far from where the cruise ships dock.
Grab a trail map or ask a local Skagwegian for advice on the best place to fish during your visit. The locals take their fishing seriously but they’re a friendly sort. If you ask nice you might just find your own little slice of fishing paradise.
And don’t forget to buy a license.
Andrew Cremata’s award-winning column runs monthly all summer in The Skagway News. Oh, and then there’s his book, Fish This!, which is all the rage in fun fish circles and the subject of constant bar conversation.