By Andrew Cremata

Fishing should never become perfunctory. However, the art of finding fish sometimes falls prey to expectations. Success writes the recipe for failure and the main ingredient is misguided faith.

There is a place on British Columbia’s Lake Tutshi where a creek flows with purpose in the spring. Lake trout cruise the depths throughout the year. Fishing this spot is as close to a sure thing as possible in the fishing world. When I fish in this spot, I have faith that I will catch trout because that’s always been the end result.

Until it wasn’t.

The ice on Tutshi broke up early this year, which has been a trend over the last five years. By mid-May, it was possible to canoe across the lake and target easy-to-catch lake trout. I took a friend along, fully expecting to catch a limit of trout in less than 30 minutes. After four passes of the creek mouth, it was obvious that my faith was misplaced.

There are a number of anglers that approach the art of fishing as a collection of spots and an assortment of gear. If they don’t catch fish after a few casts, they tie on a new lure. If a spot fails to produce fish after working through the tackle box, they move on to the next spot.

For them, catching fish is the only measure of success, and failure is always caused by external forces. These anglers can be heard saying, “The fish weren’t biting,” or “The tide wasn’t right.”

Anglers that believe in this philosophy have nothing to fall back on when they fail to catch fish. Consistent angling success hinges on the ability to find fish when historically productive spots fail to produce. Ultimately, faith in one’s own ability is far more preferable than faith based on past success.

In a way, misguided faith is complacency. The expectation of success impedes thoughtful observation. The end result is failure.

Lake Tutshi, about 20 miles long, northeast of Skagway, freezes sometime around January every year. Or at least it used to. Until about four years ago, the integrity of the ice on Lake Tutshi was as reliable as the setting sun and changing seasons. Anyone could have confidence that they could travel on the ice without falling through because it had always been possible to do so.

Until it wasn’t.

Above the aforementioned creek that flows into Lake Tutshi lies a small gold mining camp. There are various pieces of equipment hidden just out of sight, including a trailer and an old, decrepit boat. The miner who owns the camp brought the equipment to the camp by traveling atop the reliable Lake Tutshi ice.

A few years ago, the miner decided to drive his brand-new pickup truck over the ice to his camp. Somewhere along the way, the ice was no longer stable. His truck fell through and became a permanent fixture of Tutshi’s lake bottom. The next time my lure gets hung up on the bottom of Lake Tutshi, I will wonder whether it’s stuck on a dead tree or a Ford F-350.

Back in the canoe, a new plan was beginning to coalesce. Instead of immediately moving to a new spot, I took some time to study the water alongside the creek’s outflow. Plant debris collected in an eddy just south of the delta where it sat motionless on the surface of the lake.

The plant debris originated on the banks of the creek from the mountainside on which it flowed. If there were any insects living on or around the plants, it was reasonable to assume they were washing out into the same eddy.

I positioned the canoe to cast toward the eddy’s edge. The first cast yielded a hard bite. After hooking up, I fought the fish close to the boat before it got away. The next cast yielded another bite, but that fish also got away. I was certain the fish were lake trout because they fought hard and were hitting large lures. 

The next fish made it to the net. It was a fat 18-inch grayling. That’s a big grayling anywhere to our north, but especially large for Lake Tutshi. My fishing partner caught the next grayling, which was 19 inches, qualifying it as trophy class.

We caught grayling until they stopped biting and then looked elsewhere for trout. Eventually, we found plenty of lakers too. A cooler full of fish is a wonderful thing, but almost secondary to the rewards of finding them.

Fish are a force of nature. As such, they are unpredictable. Meanwhile, our world is changing all around us. Winters seem shorter as the weather gets warmer. The tricks of Tutshi are still being revealed

Somewhere along the bottom of the lake, lake trout forage for minnows seeking shelter between rusted tire rims and a muffler’s exhaust. On the surface, a canoe glides silently on the waves while grayling feed on insects swept away on spring currents that flow between overlooked flakes of gold. Spring is earlier than it’s ever been. Who knows what will happen next year?

The fish will adapt. So will fishermen, if they’re hungry enough.