By: Andrew Cremata
There is a lake north of Skagway where trout cruise the depths below the outfall of a mountain stream. In July, bright pink dwarf fireweed flowers sprout from river rocks along the bank while gulls and eagles patrol the shoreline for easy meals.
The stream runs through a much larger riverbed, hinting at a time long ago when far more runoff flowed from mountains to the west. Large rocks carried down from this ancient riverbed extend into the lake from the shallows and descend a steep drop-off of more than 100 feet.
The ledge provides lake trout with the perfect habitat for foraging and spawning. Cold mountain water appeals to their senses, and the shallows into which is flows provide ample forage. The deeper drop-off assures that trout eggs will hatch when water levels recede during the winter. Large rocks provide cover for trout fry and protect them from predators as they grow into minnows and mature into spawning adults.
A harmonious symphony of geography and climate spanning eons created a place where trout, eagles, dwarf fireweed, gulls and many other organisms coexist, compete and procreate.
How many generations of lake trout instinctually returned to this place every fall to spawn and start the cycle anew? Perhaps their ritual started soon after the last Ice Age ended around 10,000 years ago when glaciers receded and raging waters forced large rocks down to the lake.
Pictures from the early 1900s show mustached men catching large lakers from this very spot. I’ve been proudly carrying on that tradition for more than 20 years. Throughout that time, the fishing remained average to excellent from ice-out to early October.
This year I haven’t caught a single trout. In fact, I haven’t had a single bite.
Something else has changed. Fishing in this spot used to require neoprene waders. Strong flows of ice-cold mountain meltwater from the mountain creek maintain a consistent temperature in this part of the lake throughout the season. Even when wearing waders to access the drop-off, my feet would numb in less than 40 minutes. It’s a small price to pay for an opportunity to catch large trout on ultralight gear.
Suddenly this year, waders are no longer required. The lack of snow reduced the stream’s flow to a fraction of what it used to be. Bright sun-filled days heat the rocks in the stream and the lake, warming the surrounding water to a temperature more suitable for human skin. It was so warm last weekend, I thought about taking a swim.
Lake trout thrive in water temperatures around 48 degrees. If their preferred habitat warms above 52 degrees, they seek out deeper water where temperatures are more hospitable. If the lake warms to 65 degrees, lake trout will die.
Lake trout live on a fragile plane of existence. A single elemental shift can alter what eons have built. Whether the shift is permanent or temporary remains to be seen. When termination dust settles into mountain crags and melts in the warm daytime sunlight, will cold creek water motivate trout to return and spawn?
Time will tell.
I used to catch red and black drum in a musty mangrove backwater hidden among the endless shores of Florida’s West Coast. Drum fish are so named because they emit a low-frequency thumping sound generated by their pharyngeal teeth. Energy generated by this drumming can travel great distances. Homeowners living along South Florida canals sometimes hear this drumming from the comfort of their living rooms as the sound vibrates into floorboards and walls.
After catching a drum, the pulsating beat of its ancient genetic rhythm vibrates into the angler’s body and resonates somewhere between the stomach and chest.
In the musty backwater, the drum’s distinctive voice generated a backbeat among the mangroves. Water moccasins slithered among roots where baitfish gathered for protection. Great blue herons walked the shallows, occasionally stabbing the brown water with their beak and emerging with a wriggling killfish.
Each tide carried smaller fish into the backwater where fat wily drum laid in wait for an easy meal. Some of the fish grew so plump that they could no longer escape the shallow backwater inlet that led to open water. For years, I could pull two or three drum from this backwater before moving on.
Then came a day when the beat stopped.
The inlet to the mangroves was cut off by rising sands carried along by random ocean currents. With no more fresh seawater to feed it, the backwater silently changed into a bright green algae-covered pond.
Many years later, I waded up to my knees in a warm Yukon glacial lake and cast toward nothing for more than an hour. The only sounds were the gears of my fishing reel and the splash of my lure hitting the water.
There are songs that play wherever water flows. Tides roll in and out, pulsing like a lunar metronome where wild things born of land, air and sea gather on the fringe. Currents from rivers and streams mingle and flow into chaotic oscillations where predator meets prey. The cadence of seasons pulses amidst shimmering shoals of salmon as they gather together for one last gasp of life.
All of which are reminders that every song must end.