By Andrew Cremata
At first glance, learning the art of fishing seems like a good idea. Not only does angling reveal a window into nature’s most compelling mysteries, it often includes good company, cold beer and the procurement of fresh food. While the latter is only possible when the tools of the trade are rigorously employed to test one’s comprehension of natural forces, mastery remains impossible for anyone immune to self-deception.
Indeed, the angler is eager to brag about success but often quickly runs out of beer when plans go awry. This is unfortunate for a variety of reasons and may explain why so many fishermen are notorious alcoholics.
Madness is another very real threat that any aspiring angler must acknowledge. Consider the following:
A buddy calls and says that coho are running and it’s the best run in years. You both meet at your favorite spot at the mouth of the river and you immediately see schools of salmon so large that the water itself is vibrating. Over the next two hours, your buddy catches a dozen dime-bright coho and you catch none.
Now imagine how your mental faculties deteriorate over this short, two-hour-long period of time. At first, you’re optimistic and perhaps even a bit giddy. When your buddy catches their first fish and throws friendly jibes in your direction, you quickly laugh it off because it’s merely a promise yet to be fulfilled – i.e., the fish are biting, so you will certainly catch fish.
After 30 minutes and a few missed strikes, you register the first tinge of self-doubt. Your mind tries in vain to suppress its subconscious hesitation, but uncertainty has taken root and is already feeding upon your fragile angler’s psyche. After an hour, you begin to question the very nature of luck, karma and other mystical notions of random universal fairness. Your buddy’s taunts become daggers and with every stab, you feel the scales of justice teeter toward oblivion.
During the following half-hour, everything goes silent. Even your buddy stops taunting you because they recognize your rapidly deteriorating mental state. They then move further away from your location, obviously afraid that bad mojo is contagious. As the last 30 minutes unfold, time itself stands still. Within this infinite space beyond mortal comprehension, you feel a sense of betrayal but can’t pinpoint which divine entity to blame. Scorned by fate itself, you internally vow never to fish again and know immediately that it’s a lie.
Sounds fun, right?
The tenuous mental conditions of fishermen are well documented. However, individual case studies involving angler psychosis are far too bleak for a small-town newspaper column. Medical professionals dedicated to this unique branch of science all agree that fishermen are if nothing else, masochistic, compulsive, obsessive and prone to exaggeration.
If one imagines a graph that compares residency to angler psychosis, Alaskan fishermen are undoubtedly in the upper percentile group. This is a lonely place of abject desperation because, as we all know, the weather in Alaska sucks.
Now imagine yet another graph, this one solely dedicated to Alaskan anglers. As you’ve already likely guessed, Skagway fishermen somehow occupy space above where the graph ceases to exist. Lack of fish combined with unyielding wind, torrential rains and closed borders makes Skagway a veritable fishing purgatory.
If you are a fisherman that lives in Skagway, ask yourself, “What angling sin have I committed to deserve such cruel and unusual punishment?” Actually, it’s better not to ask because atonement for your unknown transgressions is entirely impossible. Angling mystics are in short supply and often preoccupied with conjuring fish for Alaska’s commercial fleets. After all, the job pays well and there are many verifiable perks.
It is often said that the last time a fishing guru passed through the Skagway area was just after World War II. I cannot verify the veracity of these colloquial stories but I can say that Skagway is in dire need of a modern-day fishing mystic with the ability to manipulate weather, control fish movement and power to influence the Canada Border Services Agency.
At this moment in time, nothing in the Trinity of fishing’s holy books (see: “The Old Man and the Sea,” “A River Runs Through It,” and “The Complete Angler”) offers any tangible hope. There is no angling prophet scheduled for return that is capable of turning two five-inch-long Lower Lake brook trout into anything more than an unsatisfying snack. Much less feed any gathered throngs of hungry Skagwegians. Have you seen these people eat?
Science is even less helpful. Weather reports are nothing but more “bad news,” filled with dire predictions concerning the same elemental forces from which Skagway earned its very name. Gale force winds? Record rainfall? Early winter? Predictions of doom, all!
My advice is to avoid weather reports entirely. Even pondering the tide chart can lead to depression and lunacy if the most advantageous phases of the moon’s gravitational pull fail to coincide with one’s work schedule.
You may be saying, “But did we not see a small pink salmon run in Dyea?” Indeed we did but greedy bears have staked claim to all of the good fishing spots and I would rather eat boiled hot dogs on a stale bun than become food for any Ursus species.
There is one possible caveat. September often brings schools of coho salmon and a buddy tells me it’s going to be the best run in years. Will the weather cooperate? Say a prayer for those you know in the Skagway fishing community. If you are unsure whether the fishing gods reward supplicants who do not partake of the holy angler’s communion, you are always free to buy any local fisherman a beer.
To this final suggestion, I say, amen.