By Andrew Cremata

Skagway is not known for its silver salmon fishing. In fact, most Skagway residents are surprised to find out there’s any coho run at all. Their lack of notoriety probably has something to do with their scarcity. Plus, they’re often challenging to catch. 

By Alaskan standards, Skagway’s run of coho is almost laughable. In Sitka, streams and creeks turn black with fish. In Skagway, the few silvers that manage to make it all the way to the northernmost point of the Lynn Canal are hidden in silty, muddy water. On rare occasions when coho are visible, they usually won’t bite.

Most Skagway residents are surprised to learn that every year there are coho in the Skagway River, Taiya River and Pullen Creek. They can be found in lazy shallow backwaters, deep pools and meandering back-currents where river branches converge. Often, silvers are accompanied by spawning Dolly Varden, eager to bite when coho action is slow. 

From year to year, Skagway’s rivers change in dynamic ways, which means that finding fish is always a challenge. Rain reduces visibility, which makes it impossible for silvers to see a lure more than one inch away. If Skagway gets a lot of rain during the fall, catching coho is impossible. 

Most anglers would dismiss Skagway as a fall fishing destination but I disagree with this assessment. Catching coho out of a more typical Alaskan fishing river or stream doesn’t take any particular skill. Simply show up with a fishing rod and a hook and cast out into the teeming mass of fish. 

Catching coho in Skagway involves patience, experimentation and hard work. A successful angler must be able to read the water as the flow of the river fluctuates from day to day. They must be able to cast with precision into tight spaces, under hanging foliage and within inches of the opposite shore. Hooking a fish often means fighting it out of strong current, and around fallen trees and other types of submerged debris. 

If you can catch a coho in Skagway, you can catch a coho anywhere. 

Don’t get me wrong, I love catching coho on every cast like every other fisherman on the planet, but when fish aren’t biting I have a trick up my sleeve…

I’ve fished for coho in Skagway, Alaska, which means I’ve worked endless miles of shoreline in bad weather searching for fish that may or may not be present. 

This year was especially challenging. Back to back atmospheric rivers and gale-force winds made fall coho fishing more of a survival experience. 

In late September, I stood beneath a cottonwood tree, using it as a wind block while casting toward an eddy covered with fallen leaves that floated in circles with the current. I heard something snap above my head and before I could look up, a thick branch hit me on the shoulder with enough force to cause pain. 

My dog, Rufus, ran out from under the tree and chose instead to stand in the rain. I chose to stay beneath the tree because the fish were biting and I prefer nursing bruises to wet clothes. At least one of us has his priorities straight.

That day also happened to be my birthday. I caught two large coho and posted a photo on social media. Over the next few days, no less than a dozen people asked me where I caught the two salmon. 

“Skagway,” I answered.

“Skagway?! I didn’t know there were silvers in Skagway. Where did you catch them?”

Leaning in, I whispered, “In one of the most guarded, secret fishing holes in Skagway.”

After glancing around to make sure nobody was listening, I whispered, ‘Pullen Pond.”

If you truly want to keep a fishing hole secret, it’s always best to be entirely honest about its location because nobody trusts a fisherman. 

There is a point during every fall when I know the last fish has been caught before winter sets in. Some years, the last fish is a lake trout in the Yukon. In other years, it’s a northern pike in British Columbia. This year my last fish was dime-bright 

October Skagway coho.

A few days later, the Pullen coho that managed to escape the pond were spawning upstream, adored in their brown and red spawning colors, dancing to unheard rhythms that predate man. 

I shared one of my fresh filets with friends leaving Skagway for the winter, maybe longer. Sure, the fish will return next spring but the river will most certainly be different. 

Cycles always renew but every summer lives and dies on its own.  

It’s fall in Skagway and fishing rods hang quietly in the shed. The last salmon takes its final breath. Salmon eggs lay quietly nestled in the gravel of Pullen Creek. 

Soon, our dreams of spring will all come true.