By Andrew Cremata
While packing my fishing gear for a two-day Yukon camping trip, I stumbled upon two packages of plastic swimbaits. They were buried deep inside an old beat-up tackle box full of rejected fishing gear, broken lures and rusty hooks.
Plastic swimbaits are fishing lures made from silicone. Like all lures, they are built to mimic fish that bigger fish like to eat. I purchased the swimbaits online a few years ago during the dead of winter after watching YouTube videos of anglers using them to catch monster lake trout. If you’ve spent a winter or two in Skagway, you probably understand the underlying motivation behind this purchase.
When spring arrived, I was certain that plastic swimbaits were going to ruin the lives of many a laker. From the first of May through the end of September, I worked miles upon miles of shoreline. Dozens of casts turned into hundreds of casts. Hundreds of casts turned into thousands. I never once got a bite with those stupid plastic swimbaits.
Many of the lures that end up in my Tackle Box of Broken Dreams were purchased on a whim while scanning the aisle in Canadian Tire or after watching internet fishing videos. These lures are far better at catching fishermen than fish. Knowing that I can be trolled by clever marketing targeting desperate fishermen doesn’t make me proud, but I know it’s likely to happen again this February.
On a whim, I tossed the two swimbait packages into my good tackle box and headed north to the Yukon with my wife Brittney under clear skies full of opportunity. I planned to fish the Six Mile River for pike in the evening, catch some ciscoes for bait, and target trout from the Tagish Bridge in the morning. The plan was flawless except for the fact that a south wind was blowing 30 mph in the Yukon.
I camped by Lake Bennett, which was little more than one endless whitecap from the doorway of our tent to the place where horizon and oblivion became indistinguishable. At 5 a.m. I woke to the tent shaking in the wind and decided to go back to sleep.
Sometime between morning campfire and coffee, the wind shifted from south to southwest. This distinction is significant because the Six Mile River’s orientation creates a natural wind block when the breeze shifts west. Within an hour, Brittney and I were on our way to Tagish.
We launched the canoe just below Tagish Bridge. The bridge regulars were out in force, their lines extending downward into the Six Mile River’s current. A young couple with two kids were cooking a fresh-caught lake trout on an open fire along the riverbank. Juvenile bald eagles and seagulls fought over the trout’s carcass that had been discarded in the shallows.
About the time we pushed off from shore, the wind began to lay down. As we neared the inlet where I intended to target pike, I noticed that Marsh Lake’s surface was like glass. Never having fished on Marsh Lake, I figured we could give it a shot. Brittney and I canoed a mile past the last marker buoy, the demarcation between Six Mile River and the southern end of Marsh Lake.
My tackle box was full of gear for catching northern pike, but my trolling-for-trout selection was woefully lacking. I removed the bottom tray and immediately spotted the two plastic swimbait packages. One white. One black.
There were six boats fishing in our vicinity. All of them were using downriggers to troll their bait along the bottom. None were catching fish.
Gulls and terns were diving toward the surface of the lake, catching small fish that wiggled in their beaks as they ascended. It seemed likely that something was chasing them from below. Instead of targeting trout on the bottom like everyone else, I figured we should troll along the surface. The only lure in tackle box suitable for surface trolling were those useless swimbaits.
I rigged Brittney’s rod with a white swimbait and mine with black. We cast our baits behind the canoe to troll. My lure hit the water. Before I could engage the reel, something attacked the swimbait at maximum velocity and raced toward the bottom.
Totally unprepared for such a quick strike, I did my best to get the situation under control as line spun from the reel without any resistance. I managed to clumsily engage the bail arm on my spinning reel, causing the rod to immediately ratchet downward into a deep distended arc. The drag started to sing and the fight was on. Five minutes later, we were taking photos of a torpedo-shaped 33-inch lake trout that was too big to keep.
We were suddenly surrounded by boats. The other fisherman obviously took notice but they likely had no idea what we were using for bait.
It took a few minutes to maneuver back into position and get the lines out. Less than five minutes later, Brittney’s rod bent over double, almost pulling the rod holder off the canoe. This trout was smaller than the first, about 31 inches, but it was fatter and heavier. Also too big to keep, we were not able to familiarize the large laker with the interior of our cooler.
The third trout took a little longer to catch but it was a 26-inch, 12-pound keeper, making it the best fish of the day. As it neared the boat, two larger trout were in pursuit, presumably trying to grab that irresistible swimbait from the unlucky laker’s lower jaw.
The last trout mangled my swimbait. No matter. We still had pike to catch and there were six more in the package.
We bought ice cream cones for the drive home and ate them fast before they could melt. As tires hummed along the Carcross Cutoff Road, I started to wonder if there were any more surprises hiding deep inside the Tackle Box of Broken Dreams. Sometimes, even a worthless fishing lure deserves a second chance.