By Andrew Cremata
I wound my way down a narrow path toward the lake, doing my best to avoid a cluster of Sitka rose bushes. Their dew-slathered petals formed magenta five-sided stars that seemed to glow in the shade of the trees. My dog, Rufus, followed close behind, weaving between thorned branches and tall green grasses straining to stand under the weight of morning’s condensation.
In a little less than two years, the passage had become overgrown. My fishing line got caught on a gnarled tree branch and when I pulled it free, the branch smacked me directly on the face.
I reached the lake before exiting the woods. The water was higher than I’d ever seen it. Quivering aspen tree trunks were covered in knee-deep water. Some smaller saplings were entirely submerged. I wondered how long drowning trees could survive.
The wind was literally howling. Strong gusts blasted the waves rolling in from the south. Random shapes twisted and turned across the surface like invisible phantoms struggling aimlessly to escape some loathsome fate.
I looked down at Rufus and said, “What are we doing here?” but I already knew the answer. The last time I had fished this spot was September of 2019. A few months later, the Canadian border closed and the world tilted sideways. Now the border was open again. After going to the trouble of getting a COVID test and a fishing license, I was going to fish even if balls of fire started hurtling down from the dark and dreary Yukon sky.
Had it really been two years since I’d been fishing in the Yukon? In some ways, it seemed like mere days had gone by. In other ways, it felt like a lifetime. After dreaming about it for months, I fully expected to be overcome with joy once back in the Yukon. So it was disturbing to feel more like an unwelcome stranger in a place I once adored.
Every cast was an exercise in futility. As the lure arced skyward, the wind either clobbered it back down toward the waves or punched it sideways toward another stand of submerged trees. Somewhere between casts, I realized my mind was racing like the unrelenting southerly wind.
It seems that even a much-needed Yukon fishing trip isn’t capable of curing COVID-related anxiety. Perhaps it was foolish to think crossing an imaginary border would somehow wash away the unrelenting voices of uncertainty that speak in the language of our times.
Experience has taught me that the best way to calm the mind is to actually catch a fish, so I packed up the gear, walked back to the car, and drove to a spot where I hoped the wind would be somewhat subdued.
The effort did not disappoint. With my back to the wind, which was minimally hampered by a large landmass where a rushing stream empties into deep holes, I was able to cast toward hungry trout that waited to feast on insects and minnows. I tied on a heavy spoon working under the assumption that the lure needed to sink quickly, before the wind could catch the line and prevent it from getting down to the bottom.
Fishing for trout in this particular spot requires a special retrieve of the lure. The lake trout hold deep and only bite when the spoon is slowly jigged just above the bottom. The technique requires some dexterity, which is difficult when random gusts of wind almost make you fall over sideways.
Casting was relatively easy but getting a feel for exactly where the bottom was located was almost impossible. Over the next hour, I battled the wind, repeatedly got my lure hung up on planet Earth, and tried not to stumble into the water. Meanwhile, I had yet to get so much as a bite.
A sudden break in the clouds cast sunlight onto the entire scene. A large trout surfaced about 20 feet away, its golden scales sparkling with possibilities. At that moment it occurred to me that I had been fighting the elements all morning, but perhaps there was a way we could work together.
Rufus watched intently as I switched to a thin, lightweight yellow spoon. After casting in the direction of the spot where the trout surfaced, I gave it some time to sink before letting the wind catch the slack of the line.
Visualizing the lure as a sort of underwater kite, I allowed the intermittently gusting wind to work the lure up and down while the current from the stream’s outflow kept it suspended. All I did was hold my fishing rod steady, feet firmly on the ground, while the water and wind did the work.
Thirty seconds later — wham! The bite was so strong the aggressive trout hooked itself. After getting a grip on it, I walked back to shore and set it in the grass. Two more trout were lying next to the first trout in under five minutes.
I sat on the stream’s edge and gutted my fish, tossing the unwanted bits into the rushing current. Rufus waited patiently to eat the fish hearts. In the tall grass, the wind wasn’t so strong, so I sat back and let the sunlight fall on my face while the sound of rushing water rinsed away the noise of the world.
A little bad weather is never a reason to give up.