The weather was perfect for fishing. I was at work, answering questions from curious tourists.
“What kind of tree is that? The one with the red berries?”
“Mountain ash,” I answered. It was the third time I’d heard the question in less than thirty minutes.
“Can you eat those berries?”
“You can, but I don’t recommend it.”
As a tour salesperson in Skagway, I answer a lot of questions on a variety of topics. While tourists could seek out an expert or professional with an impressive educational background to answer their most pressing questions, they instead turn the friendly tour salesman.
I take this responsibility seriously, so I’ve taken it upon myself to become well versed in a variety of disciplines, including botany, zoology, meteorology, cryptozoology, physics, astrophysics, geology, psychology, mycology, parapsychology, Gold Rush history, astronomy, astrology, zymology, and fishing.
Interestingly, I sometimes get questions about tours. This, however, was not one of those days.
As warm sunlight burned away a thick layer of fog, the Skagway valley lit up like newly panned gold. My mind drifted to thoughts of late summer lake trout on a lonely Yukon lakeshore.
It was just after 9:00 am that I unexpectedly got the rest of the day off work.
After hurrying home, I wasted no time packing my car with fishing gear. It was such a beautiful day, I figured someone in town would eagerly jump at a chance to go fishing. After all, the measure of any real angler is their willingness to drop everything at a moment’s notice when a buddy offers an unexpected angling opportunity.
My wife was busy and declined. I texted a couple of fellow angling enthusiasts but they were either working or had other plans. Then I got a random Sunday morning message from someone curious about a recent local government ordinance and I knew it was time to seek out a quiet Yukon lake devoid of cell service.
Fortunately, I have one fishing buddy that never fails to join me when I ask if he wants to go fishing. This most reliable buddy is my dog, Rufus.
For almost eleven years, Rufus has jumped at every opportunity to walk endless miles of shoreline in search of trout, salmon, pike, and grayling. Throughout that time, Rufus has always had my back. The little twelve-pound mutt has protected me from bears, caribou, moose, lynx, porcupine, and a variety of other varmints and critters. In return, I provide treats.
We were safely out of cell service range by 10:15 and walking toward one of my favorite fishing holes only fifteen minutes later. Rufus followed closely at my heels as we wound our way along an overgrown path lined with ripe blueberries and currants.
To reach the fish, it’s necessary to wade across a shallow expanse of the lake. Rufus loves fishing but he doesn’t particularly like swimming. When he was a tiny puppy, he followed me to a fishing spot that required walking along a wooden plank spanning a deep slough. After walking across the slough, I realized that Rufus was still on the other side, unsure of how to cross over the plank.
For a moment, the little gears in Rufus’ head were working at full steam. He backed away from the slough and wiggled his butt before launching himself full-speed over the five-food wide channel. His body fully extended, Rufus literally flew through the air and made it about 12-inches across before plopping in the cold water.
He managed to swim across the remainder of the slough but since that day, he tries his best to avoid water deep enough to require swimming.
As I stepped into the lake, Rufus waited patiently on the shore, confidently assured that I would offer my buddy an assist. When I extended my arm, he jumped right into my hand and we slowly made our way to a rocky jetty where swift rapids flow into the lake.
I set Rufus and my gear down and hopped along teetering rocks until well positioned for casting. Sometimes Rufus waits patiently on the shore while I fish, but on this particular day, he hopped precariously from rock to rock so he could join me on the jetty.
My first cast resulted in an immediate hookup. The bend in my rod assured me it was a large trout. After reeling in the fish, I managed to get a hand around it and hoist it from the water. The trout was unhappy about this turn of events and began to thrash wildly in my hand. To prevent from dropping the fish and potentially losing it, I clutched it against my waders and turned to walk back toward shore.
Rufus was fully aware of my predicament, so he also quickly turned and hopped from rock to rock, just beyond my footfalls. One of the rocks he chose was covered in slippery mint-green algae. His back feet slipped and he fell into the swift current of the rapids, his front paws clutching the rock to prevent being swept away.
I will never forget the look on Rufus’ face because it wasn’t one of panic or worry. He simply looked up at me, fully confident that I was at his side and ready to ensure his safety. I reached down and plucked him from the rapids with my free hand and carried him back to shore.
We caught a lot of fish. On the drive home, Rufus tapped my arm with his paw, which is a signal to extend my forearm so that he can comfortably nap in my lap with his head resting on my hand.
The best fishing buddies are always willing to lend a hand.