Back in the spot


There were moments during the busy summer season when the relentless waves of the world’s rising tide began lapping at my threshold. Skagway may be small, but it’s a nexus of planetary consumerism that attracts credit card holders from every corner of the globe. Our little town offers them a window to a wilderness that long ago became a commodity, and the ships only leave in the fall because the weather is one of the few things more powerful than marketing.

Even during the winter months we are still connected to the bulk of humanity via the filter of globe-spanning for-profit media that provides us with continuous updates on world affairs. This onslaught of information is quickly digested through our own set of personal filters, generating a frenzy of emotional response.

Fear generates the highest profits. The many screens that control our gaze offer doomsday predictions like Halloween candy. Follow the link, change the channel or share an opinion while magnificent machines catalog your every interest and feed the data into a mathematical algorithm. Once the numbers are crunched, it’s a whole lot easier to make a sale.

I recently bought an old used canoe from a friend who was moving down south. It cost $200 and came with two oars, two life vests and a two horsepower motor. There is a crack in the hull that was skillfully duct taped to prevent leakage, and the motor is bit quirky, but it is likely the best bargain I’ve ever made.

In early September I took the canoe to the Six Mile River in the Yukon for a fishing trip with a friend. The goal was to catch northern pike, and the target was a spot I hadn’t fished in 21 years.

A lot has happened during that span of time. In 1996, canoe rentals were offered at Barney’s Marina on the east end of the Tagish River Bridge. I noticed Barney’s while traveling to Skagway for the first time, mostly because “ICE-CREAM” was painted on the side of the building and I wondered whether the addition of the hyphen was unique to the Yukon.

I knew nothing about freshwater fishing in the north, and in the pre-internet era there was only one way to learn about something unknown. I checked out a book with information about pike fishing from the Skagway Library. In it I read that a wire leader was needed to prevent the pike’s razor-sharp teeth from severing monofilament fishing line. The book also revealed that pike eat just about anything, including each other.

On a sunny July day, three friends and I drove to Tagish to rent canoes and spend the night camping. Barney sold me a package of saltwater herring that he guaranteed would catch “jackfish,” as pike are often called by Yukoners. He even pointed out a spot across the Six Mile River where he said the jackfish could be caught.

We set out in two ancient canoes using oars that looked like they could snap in half at any moment. The current pushed us along at a steady pace while a blue Yukon sky rolled out to a vast horizon of endless mountaintops. A lone golden eagle circled overhead as we pointed the canoe toward a narrow inlet framed with high, mint-green grass.

After attaching a wire leader to my line and hooking up a still-frozen herring, I cast toward the middle of the inlet and let the bait sink. Everyone else did the same. In moments, large pike were flying into the canoes at a breakneck pace. While reeling in one pike, it was possible to see multiple other jackfish in hot pursuit, and some even tried to steal the herring from the doomed fish’s mouth.

With two canoes full of pike, we headed back to the dock. Along the way, my oar broke in two, confirming my suspicion. Barney charged me full price for a replacement oar, which made me wonder if he kept a pile of them behind his run down marina shack so he could make a few extra dollars off of unsuspecting American tourists.

We cleaned our fish by the river and made our way back to camp. Fresh-caught jackfish were prepared over an open fire. Our discovery that pike have something like 40,000 bones in their body came as a surprise, but it didn’t matter. We simply picked them out and enjoyed the feast.

My return to the Six Mile River earlier this month was accompanied by two decades of angling experience. In the interim I’ve learned how to catch northern pike on artificial lures and debone their delicate, delicious fillets.

The outing was also fueled by necessity. A chance to break free from the white noise of the world and enjoy a few quiet moments away from anything unrelated to fish and cold beer. I left the cell phone in the car while a friend and I launched the canoe toward a fishing hole I hadn’t tested since “The Macarena” was something people did on purpose.

The marina was still in place, but Barney’s large hand-painted sign and rundown building were long gone. The sprawling mountain horizon hadn’t changed, and a bald eagle cruised over the treetops where the golden eagle once flew.

We fished that familiar inlet for a while before the bite turned on. When it did, large pike attacked our lures like rampaging tourists at an end-of-season refrigerator magnet closeout sale. As we neared our limit of fish, I had an idea.

My wife bought me a novelty fishing rod for our anniversary last June. It was presented to her in an internet ad that was undoubtedly generated by algorithms that understood her unique desires as a good consumer and productive member of society.

The fishing rod looks like an ordinary pen, but when the cap is removed it telescopes into a three foot long angling weapon forged in some mysterious Chinese factory. It comes with a miniature plastic fishing reel that holds only 50 yards of the thinnest made monofilament line.

I pulled the pen rod out of my fishing bag, attached the reel and put it to the ultimate test against ravenous, ill-tempered northern pike. The lure was quite a bit larger than the reel, so it was quite difficult to cast. After a few attempts, a pike inhaled it and the rod bent far beyond its intended parameters. Luckily, its “carbon fibre” composite construction withheld the unyielding punishment.

The plastic reel didn’t fare so well. Its drag made a loud clicking sound as line peeled away from the spool. Then the handle came loose and almost completely fell off. I managed to hand-twist the handle screw back in place, but I still had to hold it firm with my free hand while gripping the rod.

The pike swam down into deep weeds and got stuck for a time, but I applied heavy pressure until it came free. After horsing it to the surface, my partner deftly gathered up the pike in the bottom of the net.

Even though the world grows stranger by the day, it’s reassuring to know that some spots will always hold fish.