Everyone deserves a second chance. Except this trout. PHOTO BY ANDREW CREMATA
By ANDREW CREMATA
FOR THE SKAGWAY NEWS
Shorter days. Colder nights. Less time for fishing. These are the only facts that matter as September nears. The problem with this troublesome reality is that I have a list of about a dozen fishing spots to try before time runs out. Most of them are new, but one is unique because I’ve been there before.
It was during the late summer of 2017. The primary destination on that warm and windless day was a fishing hot-spot in a glacially fed subalpine lake. Reaching this location requires three miles of canoeing to a narrow lake outflow that quickly descends along 100-feet of rocky rapids before emptying into another lake.
The rapids act as a funnel, drawing insects from the body of the lake and concentrating them in one place. In other words, it’s Utopia for fish. Grayling and trout simply sit and wait for delicious meals of flies and mosquitoes to get caught in the current and come to them. The nonstop feast combined with little fishing pressure makes it possible to catch fish on every cast.
Which is exactly what happened. None of the fish were picture-worthy, but the action was nonstop. After catching fish for two hours, I started to ponder the other end of those rapids. It seemed likely that the gauntlet of grayling and trout couldn’t collect every insect being pulled along by the current. Was there another banquet being held where the rapids spilled into the adjoining lake?
After beaching the canoe on a patch of sand, I hiked along a high plateau overlooking the rapids. The top of the ridge offered a bird’s-eye view of the lake. The rapids descended a steep slope, gathering enough momentum to create a long riffle in shallow water. What immediately caught my attention was the deep drop-off near the end of the riffle. Prime trout territory.
I worked the drop-off for an hour trying to hook into a trout before giving up and making a few attempts at catching grayling in the shallows. Nothing. Not even a bite. Perplexed, I packed up my gear and called it a day.
One of my fishing goals for this season was to return and give it another go. The perfect opportunity arose when my friend Steve came to visit last week. I remembered from a previous visit that he had never caught a grayling, so taking the canoe to grayling utopia was an obvious choice.
After waking to windless blue skies last Sunday morning, we strapped the canoe to the roof of the car and headed north. Steve and I were joined by Captain Rufus, my dog, who eagerly hung his head out of the open car window as we crossed the Pat Moore Bridge.
We were soon cruising along through the narrow lake channels, surrounded by lichen-covered rock shoulders nearly 100-feet high. In the distance, glaciers glistened with melt-water that ran down the mountainsides into the lake. The same waters where our canoe was slicing through small waves created by a gentle morning breeze.
Still a hundred-yards away from the rapids, I could already see grayling leaping out of the water. At any given moment, a dozen grayling were airborne, picking small insects off the surface at top speed. We brought the canoe to shore and climbed out on the rocks, making it easier to target rising grayling.
Captain Rufus perched on the bow of the canoe, watching as we cast toward hungry fish. Steve caught his first-ever grayling on his third cast. Then he caught his second, and third, and on and on. I started off with my fly fishing gear, which was a bad idea since I’m terrible at fly fishing. Even though my presentation was atrocious, I still managed to catch one grayling. Rufus stared at my pathetic display with quiet disapproval.
I decided that fly fishing is stupid and switched to conventional gear. Over the next hour, I tried an assortment of spinners and small spoons. Everything worked. Most of the grayling were relatively small, but Steve and I managed to put a handful of the bigger ones in the cooler.
The entire time, I was thinking about the other side of the rapids. Nobody is excited about making a move when they’re catching fish on every cast, but Steve agreed to the idea and we were on our way. After beaching the canoe, Rufus ran point as we trekked over the high ridge overlooking the rapids. The game plan called for Steve to work deep water for trout while I plied the shallow riffle for grayling.
I was anxious. A year had passed since my initial effort, and it was impossible to forget the end result. It took one cast to forever erase those memories.
While Steve launched a cast to the edge of the deeper water, I flipped a spinner directly into the riffle. A grayling snatched it up almost immediately, and it was the largest one of the day. Two more casts yielded two more grayling. Steve cast again, his lure barely making it to the fringe of the drop-off. Meanwhile, Rufus ate some grass and found a cool spot in the shade of a small willow.
While I pulled the hook out of the third grayling’s mouth, Steve said calmly, “I’ve got one.”
He was using one of my stout trout rods, and it was bent hard toward the water. Lake trout in our local subalpine lakes aren’t usually large enough to put heavier gear to the test, so I immediately knew Steve was into something special. Then the fish ran toward the riffle before launching skyward in a thrashing attempt to throw the hook. Upon seeing the trout, we knew it was a lunker.
Steve kept heavy pressure on the laker as it made another run back over deep water. He was standing on a large boulder, which was the perfect place to engage in battle, but less-than-perfect for landing big fish. I threw down my gear and started looking for a place where I could grab the trout when it tired out.
Steve brought the laker back into the shallows where it went into berzerker-mode. Many a trout has escaped at the last possible second, but Steve deftly guided the fish to my location where I grabbed the leader and pulled it safely on shore.
As we cheered and high-fived, Rufus lifted his head and glanced over from the shade. The trout made my “big” grayling look like a baitfish. This was fitting since there were two 10-inch grayling inside the belly of the fat laker, which measured 23-inches from the head to the fork in its tail.
There are endless potential fishing holes around Skagway. Too many to fish in an entire lifetime. Now that shadows are growing longer, it’s a good time to give the promising ones a second chance.