A wildfire burns while a lure slowly sinks toward hungry trout. PHOTO BY ANDREW CREMATA


The older I get, the harder it is to live in the moment. The results-oriented daily grind is often a drag. Fortunately, trout have no such timetable. Many of them live in deep water, so the only way to catch one is to let the bait sink.

This takes time. A half-ounce spoon takes 30 seconds to sink 100 feet. There is nothing anyone can do to make it sink faster while maintaining its effectiveness.

I cast my lure. When it hits the water and begins to sink, I start counting. One one-thousand, two one-thousand…10 seconds…20 seconds…30 seconds….Sometimes the fish are all the way at the bottom. Sometimes they’re suspended at a certain depth within the water column. By attempting retrieves at different depths, the trout eventually reveal their location. Sometimes I get lucky and hook up on the first cast. Sometimes it takes 30 casts. There are never any shortcuts.

Someone with a boat and fish finder could locate these same trout without ever making a cast. They would appear on a screen as tiny, pixelated electronic fish holding at a particular depth. All of the electronic boat equipment in the world cannot change one simple fact – to catch those fish, you have to let the bait sink.

When targeting trout under these circumstances, a fisherman that doesn’t allow time for his lure to sink will not catch fish. Trout do not care if you have an appointment later in the day and are pressed for time. Trout do not care if you’re anxious because of an argument you had with a loved one. Trout do not care if you think that they should swim to the surface to grab your lure because you don’t have the patience to let it sink.

A trout’s entire existence is within the moment. Failure to ease into this same mindset most often leads to failure and frustration.

Over the summer months, I take a lot of people fishing. Some are working seasonally in Alaska for the first time. Others have lived in Skagway for 25 years and have never “had the time” to go. Almost all are novices with little idea of what to expect.

For someone with little angling experience, there is a lot to learn in a very short period of time. They must enter the wilderness and tread upon slippery rocks where wild animals may appear at any moment. They must learn to properly handle the fishing rod and operate the fishing reel. They must learn to cast, and retrieve the lure at the proper speed. They must learn what it feels like when a fish is biting. If they hook into a trout, they must learn how to fight and land it.

All of these lessons are important, yet they are secondary to the most important rule – let the bait sink. It makes sense when you think about it because the lure only works when it’s presented in a place where a fish can find it. However, there is more to the “let it sink” philosophy than mere mechanics. Fishing success hinges on an angler’s ability to purge the noise of existence and settle within the moment.

I watch my fishing guests while they slowly get into a rhythm of casting and letting the lure sink. First they get quiet, counting silently to themselves as the spoon flutters invisibly toward the bottom. After a few casts, the counting becomes more abstract and I see them open up to the vast surrounding landscape.

One one-thousand, two one-thousand – golden leaves painting a wild mountainside.

10 seconds – small minnows swimming among the algae-covered rocks.

20 seconds – loons calling somewhere in the distance.

30 seconds – the musty smell of autumn’s red glaze.

40 seconds – mountain goats moving along jagged alpine rocks.

The mind’s metronome counts the interval of space from the water’s surface to the place where trout like to feed. Somewhere in between, the noise of the world is pushed away. Focus fills the vacuum. Within the solemnity of the moment, natural vibrations find harmony. It’s then that I often hear the words, “I think I’ve got one!”

Last night I watched a fiery aurora burn down the night sky. Even after it faded, the heavens seemed to smolder with a ghostly, pulsating afterglow. It was the last day of summer, but the morning welcomed a winter frost that clung to golden leaves until the rising sun swiftly melted it away. Tendrils of vapor lifted into the air and quickly coalesced into nothingness.

So too passed another season.

Just two months ago, I was fishing near Montana Creek near Conrad in the Yukon. A wildfire, ignited by a random lighting strike, enveloped the entire mountainside. Black tree husks smoldered within a vast perimeter as the blaze slowly expanded outward. Every few minutes, orange and red flames swirled high into the air as they engulfed a stand of aspen or spruce in a conflagration that was visible from miles away. Smoke billowed into a pale sky until the sun was nothing more than a dull-yellow circle of light.

After working the water column for a half-hour, I hooked up on a large trout but eventually lost it in the shallows. I waded back out into thigh-deep water and cast. Across the lake, another tree burst into flames. Letting my lure sink, I put my head down and started to count.