By Andrew Cremata

The hit was unmistakable. My fishing buddy’s rod bent hard. His fishing lure was near the surface, so I stood up and peered out over the calm clear water, hoping to glimpse whatever inhaled the seven-inch-long diving plug. Thirty feet away, I saw a massive lake trout twisting and turning only inches from the surface, attempting to figure out the nature of its predicament. 

Even though we were only a stone’s throw from shore, windless weather made it possible for me to cut the engine without worrying about drifting into the beach. The substantial weight of the fish immediately began pulling the boat.

“You’ve got a monster,” I said.

My focus quickly turned toward reeling in my lure to prevent it from becoming twisted in my buddy’s line. There was no sound other than rods clacking and reel gears turning.

While reeling in my lure, my mind registered the sound of splashing water. Fully focused on the steps necessary for landing the trophy trout tethered to the end of my buddy’s fishing line, my brain decided the splashing sound was a waterfall.

Waterfalls don’t suddenly appear out of nowhere, I thought to myself. 

My head instinctively lifted toward the sound of the splashing water. 

At first, I thought I saw a moose because it was big, brown, and running at top speed in shallow water only 100 feet away. Then my eyes fully focused, but it was hard to believe what they were telling me.

“Holy mackerel! It’s a giant grizzly bear!”

The fierce bruin ran at full speed in shallow water for reasons that are entirely unexplainable to anyone other than the bear. Whether it was chasing invisible prey, simply enjoying a rare hot windless day, or angry at the two Alaskans catching Canadian fish was unclear.

I shouted at my buddy, “Are you seeing this?”

“Ummm, I’m kind of busy at the moment.”

I’d almost forgotten. The bizarre sight of the speedy brown bear made me lose focus on the task at hand. By the time I glanced back down toward the fish, it was quickly approaching the boat. I grabbed the net but the trout was already well on its way to the bottom of the lake, nearly 100 feet below. My buddy held on for dear life as 25-pound monofilament line peeled from his reel in long bursts. 

A few minutes later, I scooped up the thirty-plus-pound trout into the net. It was too big to keep which wasn’t a big deal because we already had two healthy lakers sitting on ice in the cooler. 

After a smooth release, we fished for another hour without a bite. It was already past noon, but the wind remained calm, an unusual occurrence in the Yukon. We reeled in our gear and headed south toward a spot that looked promising on the map – a large river outflow with a steep underwater dropoff.  

Normally, I’d carefully consider making a forty-minute afternoon southerly run on an exposed Yukon lake but the surface was so calm, it created a perfect reflection of the landscape. 

Forty-five minutes later, we were trolling along the steep ledge within sight of the river mouth. My electronic sonar marked dozens of fish from the top to the bottom of the water column. Optimistic it wouldn’t take long to get a bite, I held onto my fishing rod rather than place it in the holder.

My optimism faded after glancing over my shoulder toward the southern horizon. As dark clouds rolled over the mountain peaks, whitecaps began to form, quickly advancing toward my fourteen-foot skiff. 

Every fishing adventure eventually leads to a question – when is it time to call it quits?

It’s not always easy to end a great day on the water, especially when the fish are biting and there’s still room in the cooler. 

Still, there are plenty of reasons to cut bait and hang the rods in their holders and a gathering storm is arguably the number-one reason.

Without hesitating, I looked at my buddy and said, “Reel ‘em up. It’s time to go.”

The lake was already getting choppy but we managed to stay out in front of the worst weather. By the time we reached the dock about forty minutes later, the dark ominous clouds were nearly overhead. After pulling the boat onto the trailer and packing up the gear, we hopped into my vehicle just before the wind cranked up to thirty miles per hour and the clouds unleashed a deluge that would have caused Noah to raise an eyebrow.  

While I could have fished until sundown on this particular day, there have been days when I’ve packed it in for no other reason than it felt like the right time. The reality of any endeavor is that there will always be successes and failures. Some goals will be completed while others are left unmet. 

The lure of unfinished business is a bad reason to keep fishing, especially when the dark clouds of instinct swiftly gather on the horizon.

Later that afternoon, I was back home in Skagway. After filleting the fish, I took a walk with my wife and dogs and enjoyed some local warmth and sunshine while dark Yukon storm clouds drifted on unseen trajectories far to the north. 

Sometimes, preserving the perfect day requires knowing when to end it.