The author isn’t the only one who likes trout. Andrew Cremata
By ANDREW CREMATA
We sat around the campfire roasting hot dogs on hand-carved sticks and sipping cold beer from cans tucked neatly into koozies. A light breeze caused the water on Tagish Lake to ripple, and the only sound was that of rustling leaves overhead – rustling leaves, and the pack of dogs we had carried in tow that had been barking nonstop since we arrived.
Angus the bulldog was barking at the tiny waves that lapped gently onto the shore, agitated at their relentless persistence. Momo the Chihuahua was barking at a particularly hostile tree trunk that refused to acknowledge his own aggression. My dog, Rufus, was barking at a boat that was about three miles away, making sure that we were aware of its existence. In fact, there wasn’t anything the dogs didn’t bark at during that otherwise peaceful afternoon and evening in Conrad.
Fortunately, we were able to tune them out and enjoy our weekend interlude. Still, one member of our entourage seemed worried, and could occasionally be seen looking over her shoulder. Eventually she revealed that the threat of a bear coming into camp made her very nervous because she had a natural fear of the animal.
I assured her, “I’ve been camping at this very spot in the Yukon for over 16 years, and not once have I ever seen a bear in camp.”
“Besides,” I added, “If a bear ever does come into the camp, these dogs will alert us to its presence immediately.”
She still seemed uncertain, but these two apparent facts seemed to calm her nerves. We eventually retired to our tents, feeling safe enough that sleep came readily.
The following morning I got up early and was able to catch two nice lake trout at a spot about a ten-minute drive away from the campsite. To my delight, when I drove back into camp I immediately noticed that breakfast was being prepared. Less delightful were the dogs barking wildly as they assembled to greet my car’s approach. When they saw it was only me, they went about their business exploring the area.
I took the trout out of the car, laid them on the ground, and then started to collect the things I needed to clean them. Angus took a particular interest in the fish and decided to sit beside them while making a strange guttural sound, obviously on guard.
In those few moments the campsite was entirely noise-free. For the first time all weekend not one dog was barking, and all I could hear was the sound of bacon grease popping in the skillet. I grabbed my filet knife from one of the camp containers and was walking back toward the fish when I caught a glimpse of something out of the corner of my eye.
It didn’t register at first. In fact, there was a split second that I felt sure I was looking at another dog. When it stood up on its hind legs and sniffed the air it became apparent that I was a mere 30 feet away from a massive cinnamon bear that stood all of eight feet tall, but looked more like 15.
I announced the bear’s presence and everyone hustled into their respective vehicles for safety. I grabbed my fish, of course, and was able to get them into the car. Meanwhile, all three dogs were completely oblivious to the fast approaching carnivore and frolicked playfully as we yelled for them to “COME!”
As we sat there trying to discourage that bear from eating our bacon while attempting to lure the dogs back to the cars with promises of treats, two thoughts crossed my mind.
One - I had only ever seen one bear in 16 years of camping at Conrad.
And two – our dogs are utterly useless.
Two months later I was fishing with Rufus under a blue sky and yellow leaves. Our day was short because we caught our limit of trout and grayling before noon. Still, there was no reason to head home, so I decided to take him on a hike through Wolf Camp near the Tutshi Rapids. We worked our way to the end of the road, but Rufus kept going. I followed and realized that there was a well-hidden primitive trail just beyond a stand of young pine.
We worked our way through meadows of tall grass parallel to the edge of the river. Occasionally the path would cut into the woods for a few hundred feet before turning back toward the water’s edge. I scanned for signs of grayling or trout, and occasionally was rewarded with a small ripple or flashing dorsal fin.
We came to a point where the trail made a steep ascent through tall evergreens. There were large mushrooms scattered about with caps that resembled a hawk’s wing. Rufus was in the lead and would occasionally turn back and meet my eyes to make sure I was following. As we climbed I began to notice a rumbling noise, growing louder as we advanced.
When we reached the top of the ascent, the trail turned sharply and we found ourselves on a massive exposed rock where water raged amongst huge boulders as it descended a steep slope. The sound was immense. Rufus was thirsty, so I cupped water in my hand for him to drink lest he get too close to the edge and find himself swept away.
I laid down on the rock and enjoyed the sun on my face. Rufus jumped onto my chest and we dozed off under that bright fall sky in a place I had previously not known.
I guess those dogs are good for something after all.
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.