By Andrew Cremata
Spring arrived late in the Yukon Territory. On May 14, I drove from Skagway to Carcross and back. The temperature gauge in my car never exceeded 34 degrees. Thick slushy snowflakes fell from a dreary gray sky throughout the entire four hour trip.
The water in the Carcross Narrows was the lowest I’ve ever seen. After making a dozen futile casts, I gave up.
One week later, I made a second trip to the Yukon under a brilliant blue sky and radiant solar energy. Lake Tutshi was entirely frozen except for a narrow slice of liquid water extending 100 yards into the lake. The opening, formed by a creek’s outflow, made fishing somewhat possible. It only took ten minutes to figure out that there weren’t any fish but the sun’s warmth on my skin kept me casting long enough to lose two lures in shallow water.
On the drive from Lake Tutshi to Carcross, a healthy black bear ambled across the highway. A handful of mountain goats foraged on hidden vegetation just beyond a craggy mountain cliff above the Yukon welcome sign. Along the banks of Nares Lake, Canadian geese mingled with gulls and mergansers silhouetted against lazily flowing water sparkling with beads of sunlight.
I had little reason to believe there would be any fish in Carcross. Water levels were still precariously low and Lake Bennet was entirely shielded by a thick layer of white ice.
As I approached the narrows, a man on the walking bridge struggled to hoist a large grayling up and over the railing. Underwater, a large number of grayling were slowly swimming against the current, suspended about halfway between the bottom and surface.
After setting down my gear, I quickly tied on a small spinner and began casting toward the center of the narrows. Swallows darted about overhead, focused on random trajectories.Their high-pitched chirps and clicks echoed between the walking bridge and train trestle.
Meanwhile, humans were gathering. Some were fishing and others were observing. When I hooked and reeled in my first fish of the day, a tourist shouted out, “You got one!” He and his wife were teaching their two very young children how to handle their fishing poles and were part of a larger group of tourists that were angling from the bridge along with a small assortment of Carcross locals.
A very enthusiastic man from Alberta was flabbergasted by the sheer number of fish in the shallow water. He took out his smartphone and called his wife, who was presumably still in the car, and said, “You’ve got to come see this! There are dozens of fish out here!”
Then he called a buddy back home and said, “You wouldn’t believe this! There are hundreds of fish out here!”
I’ve seldom seen anyone more excited about catching a 14-inch fish than this particular man from Alberta. His enthusiasm was contagious and soon everyone angling along the shoreline and atop the bridge was hooting and hollering into the warm Yukon air whenever they reeled in a fish.
The whole scene was uplifting. It was as though a fishing support group had organically formed along the banks of the Carcross Narrows. Everyone was smiling and laughing and offering words of encouragement, almost as if they’d been isolated from meaningful human contact for an extended period of time.
Further down the beach, far away from the jolly atmosphere of the narrows, a man that looked like Santa Claus was enjoying well-earned time away from noisy elves and high-maintenance reindeer. He was using traditional fly fishing gear, his line arching and flowing with artistic precision as he expertly cast his offering toward rising grayling.
Santa’s five-weight fly rod suddenly bent over double. After a brief tussle, he slipped his vintage wooden fishing net into the water and magically pulled out a flopping fish. Then he released the grayling, set down his fly rod and grinned with satisfaction while running his thumbs up and down along the inside of his red suspenders.
For some reason, the man from Alberta, who sported a heavy Canadian accent, decided that I was a local fishing expert and asked me about the Yukon possession limit for grayling. Flattered, I explained that he was allowed to keep four grayling by law, as long as he threw back any grayling between 16 and 19 inches.
Confident he would eventually reach his legal limit of grayling, the man from Alberta asked me if anyone ever caught trout in the narrows. I assured him that lake trout were routinely caught from the bridge, and offered him some pointers on how to target lunker lakers.
“If a big one swims through, the grayling will quickly scatter in every direction,” I added.
Armed with this new piece of information, the man from Alberta made it a point to repeat it to every person that walked onto the bridge from that moment on. Sometimes more than once.
After managing to collect my own limit of grayling, I packed up my gear and began the short walk back to my car. As I passed a boy about eight years old, his fishing rod started twitching. The boy yelled, “DAD! I got one! I got one!”
It was likely the boy’s first fish because his dad coached him throughout the process of reeling in and landing the grayling. A group of tourists stopped to watch. As the boy’s grayling cleared the rail, one of them asked, “What kind of fish is that?”
Before the boy could answer, the man from Alberta excitedly said, “It’s a grayling! Look down in the water, there are thousands of them. And if a big trout swims up, the grayling will scatter in every direction!”
The pandemic may be over, but beware! The onset of spring means fishing fever is rapidly spreading in the Yukon. Mask not required.