A cut-throat trout on the line. Andrew Cremata
Nothing to enjoy
By ANDREW CREMATA
My first boat was a 14-foot aluminum V-hull with no motor. It wasn’t suitable for open water, but it didn’t leak. It came with two wooden oars and only cost a couple of hundred dollars. I lived in an older apartment complex in Tampa featuring a series of canals that crisscrossed among the various two-story buildings and townhomes constructed with dark red brick. Why the canals had been built I couldn’t say, but if you navigated their length it was only a few hundred yards to the wide-open expanse of the bay and all of its fishing possibilities.
I kept my small boat tied up in the canal less than a hundred feet from the large sliding glass window that served as the back door of my apartment. I could grab my cast net, tackle box and fishing rod and carry it all to the boat in one load. I liked to head out at first light, before the heat of the sun had a chance to mix with the humidity.
The only sound on those still mornings came from the gurgling of the oars passing through the dark salt water of the canal, punctuated by the occasional splash of a displaced mullet. Various boats were tied up on rickety docks that lined the concrete sea wall, but as the bay approached these gave way to natural shorelines thick with mangroves and palmetto.
Where the canal ended, a channel was cut into the sandy seafloor that delineated a path through the shallows. It was relatively deep and marked by old wooden pylons coated with sweet smelling creosote, crooked and crusted with barnacles. The channel ran alongside a sandy beach where blue heron foraged for killfish in the shallows, and armies of red fiddler crabs moving in unison made the strand appear as though it were alive. Between the channel and the deeper waters of the bay was a large expanse of grass flats mottled green and blue in the pink morning light. There were baitfish at the edge of these flats, and a few throws of the cast net usually resulted in plenty of bait for a morning of fishing.
It was in those moments, before the noise of the day set in, when it seemed like the city was held hostage in thick binders - far away, but still on the edge of consciousness. This was when the fish would bite without apprehension, and there were many occasions when I would fill the bottom of the boat with redfish, whiting, or sugar trout.
This little canal inlet was my own corner of the world. In the handful of years I fished it, I never once saw another boat within a half mile. On one occasion I watched a 14-foot shark patrol the flats at low tide, the entirety of its back out of the water when it surged at schools of fish. There was another time when I was surrounded by whistling dolphins. They circled the boat for a few minutes before moving on to dig beneath the sea grass with their pointed noses in search of hidden fare.
There were days when the water would erupt in a conflagration of salt and foam – hundreds of crevalle jacks bearing down on massive schools of panicking greenbacks, scattering away from their predatory pursuit. I would cast at the lead fish and invariably spend the next 20 minutes fighting a fast, lemon-yellow colored jack to the side of the boat where it would grunt with displeasure before being released.
The benefits of simplicity are many. Back in those days I craved quiet. The noise of life in the city was permeating, and it crept into every still moment and stole it away before it could be enjoyed. I often felt a restless seething that took shape and festered throughout the day with the sound of every car horn or passing jet. It was constricting, and the tension would build until it couldn’t be contained any longer. If not managed carefully, that anxiousness would erupt in unpleasant and unexpected ways.
Those mornings on the water provided respite, but I would often dream of faraway lands to the north where background noise was a novelty and fences were impossible to build. My dreams of Alaska started young, and they grew as life became more complicated and difficult to navigate.
There is a myth among many who live Down South that those of us who moved to Alaska were running away from something. They wonder how we could give up so many conveniences or be separated from those with whom we grew up. They are confounded by the fact we don’t have a movie theater or a fast food joint or a mall. They ask us questions like, “What do you do for fun?” or simply, “What do you DO?”
If you happen to be a person who asks such questions then it’s likely you’ve never spent a quiet morning in a small, oar-powered boat away from the calamity of commotion that is life in the city. You will probably never appreciate the sound of the tall grass rustling in the breeze on the Dyea Flats in August. You would never notice the distant sound of a whale’s breathing while sitting at The Point on a windless November morning. And you would surely fail to realize that true quiet is a treasure that cannot be measured with ruler or coin.
The truth is that people who find their way here are often intrepid seekers that are running toward something, rather than away. While it’s true that many run here to make money during the summer, my Skagway home is more than a commodity, and the things I love most about it cannot be bought or sold.
With the summer season fast approaching, there will soon be a need to replace the hectic grind of the daily tourist turnstiles with quiet that breeds clarity of thought. Fortunately, you can find solace nearby without much effort and enjoy a few deep breaths of solitude as you gear up to face another workweek.
As for me, I like to keep things simple. I keep a fishing rod and a tackle box handy for emergencies, and I never forget to stop for a moment, sit completely still, and enjoy the sound of nothing.
Fish This! recently won yet another first place Alaska Press Club award for best outdoors column (we've lost count, it has won something like 6 of the last 7 years!). Want to read more? You can go diving into our summer archives, or you can wait for the book of Andrew's columns, coming later this summer from Lynn Canal Publishing. Watch for announcements on the website.