Fish This!

Reconnecting with the past


I made a ritual mid-April trip to Carcross to fish one of the few areas to our north where the ice has started to thaw. Some years, it’s a great place to find some early luck for trophy grayling, but this winter was harsh by modern standards. It’s possible the fish are not quite ready to enter the shallow waters, or maybe my timing was bit off.
I certainly cannot complain about the drive. The clear skies and warm sun that waited just over the pass were a welcome contradiction to the stark, yet softening, scene of winter's residue. My favorite fishing music provided a score to the setting, and drowned out the low pitched roar of rubber grinding on the highway.
The train trestle spanning the waterway in between Lake Bennett and Nares Lake frames Carcross with a crosshatch of wooden pylons and metal girders. Railroad ties provide a place to walk and scan the clear water for fish. Finding a place between the beams for an angle to cast presents the only challenge.
The old walking bridge has become a twisted and mangled victim of the vicious elements, age, and the occasional out-of-control fire set upon its planks. Closed off for the last couple years, brave or obsessed fishermen, including me, still test its structural integrity despite gaping holes revealing the swift water below and the total collapse of the east guardrail.
When the grayling get hungry, one can see them collecting insects from the surface as far as the eye can see. On these occasions it doesn’t matter where you cast, there is always a willing participant at the other end of the line. Lake trout travel between the lakes through this narrow passage and the big ones have an affinity for swimming in between the pilings when hooked.
On this particular April morning the only animals dancing in the current were a trio of trumpeter swans. Feeding on the vegetation at the bottom of the shallow water they intermittently tipped their back-ends straight up in the air. Graceful and elegant one minute, comic the next.
With the summer season traffic still weeks away, the silence is noticeable. Strangely, it is only perceived when there is a sound. When the swans got their fill and decided to take off, the sound of their wings slapping the water from over a quarter-mile away sounded like an echoing thunderclap. As they passed overhead their calls were reminiscent of a broken car horn on an old Chevy.
The warmth of the sun was having an effect on the trestle. The heat distended the frame, and every few minutes a pronounced thump would grab my attention as it sent a shock wave into the soles of my shoes.

UNDER THE BRIDGE – where trout and minds escape.

As I meandered along the edge peering into the water for any sign of fish, one of those "pops" occurred simultaneously with my step. That simple coincidence sent a surge of vivid memories into the present as real and tangible as the walking bridge, the train tracks, and the trumpeter swans.
It is as though the eyes are looking at one thing and the mind is focused on something else entirely. A scene from the past is suddenly painted, complete with detail and sentiment. A surging tide of emotion washes over the body as though passing through a wall of water, a baptism of perception.
It’s disconcerting in a way. It is as though any experience, even those with significance, can slip away unnoticed. Time passes. Then one day, without warning, a mundane event can unlock vaults of memories hidden deep in the recesses of the mind. Time has no meaning in this state of mind.
My thoughts took me back 20-years to an old fishing pier in southern Florida. We rarely caught fish at this place, but it was a sanctuary for joining with friends, family, and where my dad taught me to fish years before that. On this particular afternoon there was a picnic in the park adjacent to the pier and in between playing Frisbee and pick-up football we ate fried chicken, potato salad and drank copious amounts of iced soda.
I brought my fishing rods, of course, and sat fishing on the pier with my best childhood friend, while we sweltered under the sun and swam in the humidity. Some of the wooden planks on this pier had their own run-ins with inebriated pyromaniacs packing books of matches. Some of the boards less affected by stupidity would make a cracking sound when you took a step. It made you wonder how the horrible heat didn’t cause them to ignite without the aid of drunken fishermen.
Overheated anglers dressed in shorts, tank tops and flip-flops clung to their plastic fold-up chairs at various spots along the pier. Pelicans and cormorants hoping for handouts dropped an occasional present on sweating tourists, eliciting a curse at the oblivious birds. A radio blared out some classic rock in the distance, the muffled lyrics unintelligible. The sweet smell of the tide mixed with the stench of decay from leftover cut bait sticking to the hand rails. A couple of catfish carcasses added to the mix, but this was fishing, so aesthetics definitely didn't matter.
I remembered the bite coming on and my buddy and I catching silver trout one right after the other. Laughing with our full bellies and sipping on our now hot sodas, we repeatedly reeled in, put more bait on the hooks, and quickly cast back into the surf until the bite cooled off.
A stringer of fish makes everything right.
A great memory to be sure and one which would certainly be called upon in times of darkness for a needed lift. That is, until the days and months wore on, memory faded into recollections, and like that old walking bridge, crumbled into splinters that fell in the current, riding it to another coast.
So two decades pass, a board creaks, and just-like-that you are transported to another time and place with a very different reading on the thermometer. From this isolated shore of memory’s final destination the view is distinctive, and there is no one to look back. How and why does it happen?
The answer is as elusive as grayling in April.