Fish This!

Heading to the trout on Lower Lake Trail. AC

Do we fish? Plenty of them!

It’s not often a fisherman will give away the secret location to one of his favorite holes. This often presents a conundrum when he brags about a catch, shows off the photos or invites friends over to share in the feast. He may get asked, “Where did you catch that beauty?” Some anglers choose to seal their lips shut and even avert their eyes from the one asking the question, fearful that their countenance alone will give away the classified location. Others go so far as to give misinformation, secure that the response will send the one making the inquiry on a snipe hunt into the wilderness, only to wonder what they are doing wrong when the fish refuse to bite.
So it is with a little trepidation that this story finds its way onto paper.
Whether you’re an angler who fishes from boat, shore, or pier the entire focus of your life is the accumulation of “spots.” Not the ones that appear in your eyes from lack of sleep or overindulgence, but rather the places where the fish are. Spots are to an angler what the moon is to an astronaut or an outlet mall to a bargain shopper. It is the place where the action happens, and it is through a sometimes trying process of trial and error, and more error, that any good fisherman will acquire his own spots.
There is this unfortunate business in between fishing at these hard earned spots that one must travel. There is a bit of irony in the fact that to enjoy these hallowed locations of solitude one must often utilize large amounts of fossil fuels to power the vehicle of choice noisily over road and waterway to obtain that peace.
What if the awful segue of travel were eliminated and one could readily access one of his spots within mere walking distance of his house? This is the holy grail of the angler, as illusive as a thousand dollar bill or a funny Woody Allen comedy.
With that in mind, imagine a crisp spring morning where the chill against the skin of your face is like electricity. As you gaze down upon a watery oasis nestled in between towering mountains framed with trees you can already see fish popping up to its glassy surface, the water deep with reflections of sky and snow topped peaks. The perfect quiet is broken only by grouse hooting from all around and the distinctive calls from varied thrush somewhere to the north.
Once you reach the shore you change into your waders and enter the water with stealth, now focused on the ripples you make as you move, making sure they remain small and without sound. The fish are almost within casting range as the weight of the deeper water presses the waders against the skin of your legs.
“Click,” is the sound of the reel’s bail arm as it is engaged. Your arm pulls the rod back ready to cast. There is a swirl just a few feet away and you cast with confidence and finesse right into the center of its ripple. The line settles on the water as the lure sinks, forming a straight line in the water from where you stand to right where you know the fish is.
The line goes taut and you feel a pull at the tip of your rod, the hook is set and the calm of the water is broken with thrashing and jumping. Your free hand readies the net and scoops up a beautiful trout with spots of its own in various colors; blues, reds and yellows. Mere moments later it is calm once again and you’re casting toward another swirl.
Where is this spot, somewhere in Canada or maybe around Haines?
They wish!
This spot is right in Skagway’s back yard and bears the name of the twin peaks, which it sits directly under.
That’s right. It is Lower Dewey Lake and yes fellow Skagwegians, there are trout here.
There is no need to warm up the engine of your car or spend your life savings on fuel for your boat. All you need to get there is a little free time and the willingness to take a 20 minute uphill walk. Or 30 minutes, if you walk as slow as this lazy angler.
It may come as a surprise to some locals, even the old-timers, but this lake was stocked in the early 80s, and the brook trout that reside in this perfect setting have become wily natives of the north, successfully spawning on their own in the decades since.
After ice-out the “brookies” are plentiful in the northern portion of the lake, and while they can be caught readily from shore there is nothing like the excitement of standing in the water with the trout, which sometimes bump into your legs when the hatch is on. Flies, small spinners and tiny plugs work best on these fish, now hungry from the long winter.
As summer sets in, the brookies move around the lake, and on the hottest days the fishing is best near the island about halfway down the lake heading south from the trail. Spinners and flies work on these fish too, and a small spoon will reap rewards when nothing else will.
Late in September the trout move into the creeks that flow into the lake. Sight casting for them makes life easy, and all you need is a cured salmon egg on a small hook free-lined in the current.
No matter what time of year it is, the early morning hours are always the best.
There is another misconception about Lower Dewey. Some think there are only small fish here. It is true that some of the fish caught will be small, but 11 to 13 inch brookies are not uncommon and anyone who truly likes the taste of trout knows there is no better size for these tasty morsels. However, bigger fish dwell in the depths of Dewey.
A fisherman who can remain nameless sight cast to what looked like two trout swimming together at the mouth of the creek that empties into the north part of the lake back in 1998. The prey took the perfectly presented bait and by the weight of the pull it was apparent that this was one fish, and it was big.
After a five minute tussle on 4 pound line, this monster wrapped itself around a submerged log just far enough out of reach that the angler, who did not bring his waders that day, ended up with a pair of very wet pants. It was a 23 inch monster, an old denizen of the lake, and it made for some fine table fare. This is more than just legend, some of you Skagway folks saw this big bull trout, and you know who you are.
So why would an otherwise close-mouthed angler give away the secret location of one of his cherished spots? That 23-inch fish would have been the Alaska State record for brook trout. In fact, the slot for that bragging right remains empty to this day and all one needs to qualify is a “trophy” fish, which the State of Alaska recognizes as 19 inches.
So Skagway fishermen, put on your hiking boots because it’s only a matter of time before someone in our fair city becomes the undisputed brook trout king of Alaska, and I know at least one angler who is going to give you a run for your money.

First King for the Lady

Amber Napralla of Seattle holds up the first sport king salmon of the season, which she caught aboard the Choctaw Lady, captained by Mike Hardy, on May 14. The fish measured 30 inches. A 31-incher was also caught that morning on the same boat by Bob Phinney of San Rafael, Calif. Courtesy of A. Napralla