By Andrew Cremata

There are 50 miles between Skagway and sublime fall lake trout fishing. I can visualize every twist and turn along the highway from high atop the White Pass Summit to the deep blue depths of Tagish Lake. 

My car hurtles along the roadway, yellow center lines nothing more than a blur. Along the way, grizzlies grazing on grass and mountain goats climbing high toward unreachable heights. The radio plays well-known songs as my dog Rufus eagerly stares at the forward landscape toward familiar horizons. 

The autumn leaves are in full splendor as we turn off the highway onto uneven gravel roads. I know the trout are hungry because this place has been a part of me for more than two decades. 

Tagish Lake is deep and calm. The golden-colored mountains on the opposite shore are mirrored on its surface, but this is mere illusion. The truth hidden deep within the lake are trout that thrive beneath the veil of reflected light. 

All of these memories are themselves nothing more than illusion. The highway is closed past the Canadian border and probably won’t open for some time. Daydreaming about fall lake trout is an exercise in futility but also a welcome respite from COVID related topics.

Nearer to Skagway is a shallow creek where trout gather to spawn in the fall. The water swiftly flows downhill, creating random currents that reflect light in chaotic patterns. Small backwaters form near the creek’s edge where the water is still enough to see beneath the surface. 

At first, the space seems devoid of activity but if the eyes remain focused, trout begin to appear. A few minutes later and fish are suddenly everywhere. It almost seems like the act of looking causes the trout to manifest within the ether of water and light in motion.

Of course, the trout were always in the creek, just as they are in Tagish Lake. The ability to catch any fish requires seeing past the illusion of watery reflection. This is true whether fishing in six inches or 600 feet of water. 

Countless misguided anglers will say, “To catch fish, one must think like a fish.” 

It’s far more accurate to say, “To catch fish, one must think like someone really good at killing fish.”

Targeting local trout in a shallow creek only requires average eyesight but how does an angler peer into the depths to reveal that which is hidden?

There are many schools of thought relative to this subject but all can be consolidated into two distinct arenas – objective method and subjective method.

An objective approach to fishing strange waters utilizes proven angling methods gathered from reliable sources. The internet and old fishing books offer an unlimited supply of fishing techniques that can be employed in any given circumstance to create positive results. 

If you were to travel to any pier, bridge, catwalk, or shoreline next to waters where fish are running, you will find that virtually every angler is fishing in the exact same way. This is proof that the objective approach to fishing is by far the more popular. “If it ain’t broke, why fix it?” is the mantra of the objective angler. 

Another mantra of the objective angler is, “I don’t care if I catch any fish. I’m just out here to have a good time.” These are the words of fishermen that’s grown accustomed to failure and a testament to the fact that the objective angling method has an inherent flaw – when it fails, there is nothing to fall back on.

This underscores the fact that the objective fishing method is based on knowledge. In contrast, the subjective fishing method is centered on wisdom.

The subjective angler is a loner, content to fortify their knowledge through a wider understanding of nature itself. This trait allows them to see past the illusion of reflection and peer into the depths without prejudice, beyond the limitations and unreliability of eyesight. 

In other words, the subjective angler understands that inspiration comes from within. This is why anglers that employ the objective fishing method often believe that subjective anglers possess some mystical attribute relative to their overwhelmingly consistent success. 

In their search for this illusive fishing “secret,” objective anglers begin to believe in concepts like luck and karma. If you’ve reached a point where you believe that a kind act toward a fellow human somehow increases your chances of filling a cooler with dead fish, it may be time to consider a new hobby. I hear model railroading is fun.

In truth, the most successful subjective anglers are nothing more than keen observers. The only way to see through the illusion of reflection is to use all of the senses to quietly and patiently interpret any given environment. This means that perfect 20/20 vision may often be more of a liability than an asset.

Speaking of 2020…. What a strange year it’s been. For me, there will be no fall lake trout fishing in the Yukon. No fall colors painting steep slopes. No earthy smells of decaying foliage. No final taste of the sun’s warmth as it rises above the mountain peaks and sets the lake on fire. No bend in the rod, singing drag or fresh grilled lake trout over a warm evening campfire. 

All of which are nothing but memories of the past. Reflections all. Illusions of unfulfilled expectations. 

What happens next?

The road ahead is no different than a deep Yukon lake. Untrained eyes will see nothing but a reflection of the present, an illusion that will quickly vanish when fall winds turn the water’s mirrored surface into chaos. 

Keener eyes possess a clearer vision of the future. Unknown, yes. Uncertain, without a doubt. But within those murky depths is boundless inspiration and infinite possibility. 

What a ride!