PHOTO BY ANDREW CREMATA
The unexpected fishing hole
By ANDREW CREMATA
FOR THE SKAGWAY NEWS
When I was a teenager living in Tampa, I often walked a three mile long white sand beach fishing for redfish as vast armies of blood-red fiddler crabs scattered into tiny holes. To access this beach, it was necessary to cross a narrow channel that widened into a 100-yard long slough framed by thick mangroves. At low tide I could jump across the channel, but high tide required wading through waist-deep water.
I crossed that narrow channel hundreds of times, as did numerous other fishermen who frequented the fishing grounds. It was nothing more than an obstacle to overcome before working the beach and hoping for a bite or two.
One day, while jumping over the channel during low tide, I registered movement out of the corner of my eye. It was a swirling ripple on the surface of the slough’s murky-brown water, but it was large enough to draw my interest.
Walking along the slough’s perimeter, I found a break in the mangroves where a dozen large boulders descended to the water’s edge. I stepped down and cast toward the opposite shoreline where I’d seen the noticeable ripple.
My bait hit the still surface and sank slowly toward the bottom. The ensuing bite felt like snagging a downhill runaway freight train.
Wholly unprepared for this sudden attack, my fishing rod nearly flew out of my hand. The fish ran hard toward the narrow channel in an effort to escape, but the water was too shallow to allow passage.
After running back and forth along the length of the slough, the fish began to wear out. What I pulled out of the water was a 26-inch redfish with gold and copper flanks and a single black spot on its tail. I tied the big red to my stringer, put another piece of bait on my hook and made another cast. The second bite came quicker than the first.
Over the next hour, I landed four large redfish and one five-pound black drum in less water than it would take to fill a large swimming pool. The slough was likely a small estuary for minnows seeking protection among the mangroves. Redfish entered the slough through the channel at high tide to feed, and were trapped when the tide ebbed, making them easy targets.
In the ensuing years, this unexpected fishing hole became one of my most consistent for catching delicious reds. Sometimes fisherman jumping over the channel en route to the beach noticed me fishing the slough. They would pause, offer me a confused look, then laugh and say, “You’re not going to catch anything over there!”
“You’re probably right,” I would answer, making sure they couldn’t see my stringer full of plump redfish tied to the trunk of a mangrove.
There is a universal truth from Florida to Alaska and everywhere in between – fish have got to eat. In order to catch them, it’s necessary to fish in places where they feed. Some of these places are obvious, but others defy conventional wisdom. Some seem downright stupid.
There’s a high turnout on the Klondike Highway alongside Lake Tutshi where tour buses and rental cars frequently stop for photos.
It’s a beautiful scenic vista where the flat surface of the lake creates perfect mirrored reflections of indigo mountains capped in bright white snow. A brave individual could leap from the 100-foot precipice overlooking the lake and dive headfirst into the deep blue sky reflected below.
I’ve parked at this overlook more than once, peering down into the liquid mirror of the lake where an occasional ripple briefly undermines the upside-down illusion.
Hold on a second…a ripple?
Sure enough, upon closer inspection those occasional ripples were actually fish swimming to the surface. Some of them were large enough to draw my interest. I’ve often thought about trying my luck at this spot, but climbing down to the lake seemed far too dangerous.
Last weekend I went fishing in British Columbia with a buddy from Skagway who works as a tour guide. He told me that he frequently sees fish surfacing at this same turnoff when he stops to allow his tour passengers to take photos of the magical lake.
We spent the morning and early afternoon catching fish further north, but decided to stop at the overlook on the way home for a closer look.
It was almost straight down to the water, where mint-green shallows quickly gave way to a deep-blue hole. It’s not a spot that would justify a second look if we both hadn’t seen fish there on multiple occasions. After studying the topography, it seemed likely that minnows could find protection in the rocks and boulders that undoubtedly extended from the road all the way down to the bottom of the lake.
Where there’s food, there’s fish.
My buddy and I walked along the high guardrail looking for any way to navigate the sheer slope.
Not only was it steep, there were numerous loose rocks that made every footfall downright dangerous. We walked back the other direction and found what may have been a mountain goat path that zigzagged about three-quarters of the way down. After agreeing that fish were more important than personal safety, we climbed over the guardrail and began the slow descent.
I mostly scooched down the slope on my butt, carefully placing my feet on solid ground and avoiding the loose rock.
About 30 feet above the surface, it was too steep to go any further. We wedged ourselves in between large stationary boulders to minimize the chance of sliding into the icy lake.
Casting was tricky because we were practically laying vertically against the mountain, but a flick of the wrist sent my heavy lure sailing.
It took about nine seconds to sink to the bottom before starting to reel it back in. The hit was subtle but unmistakable. I set the hook and quickly fought the 19-inch trout to the surface. Without a 30-foot long net, there was only one way to land this fish, so I reeled down as far as possible and pulled my rod upward until that trout was flying through the air directly at my face. It landed firmly in my left hand and I somehow managed to hold on, like some big league baseball outfielder. My buddy seemed impressed that I literally caught a fish.
A few casts later, this same scenario once again played out in full. Other casts yielded more bites, but it was getting late and we had to head home.
As I climbed over the guardrail carrying two nice trout, a lady driving by in a Subaru gave me a startled and confused look.
It made me wonder what a passerby would think if they stopped to take in the view and saw two maniacal anglers attempting to land a 20-pound trout from the sheer cliff face below.
In my opinion, this would be an acceptable scenario. After all, it’s far better to be laughed at than hungry.