Fishing for Dollies under the Taiya River bridge this spring. Andrew Cremata

Fish This!
Fish Withdrawal

"I dream in fish-colored hues. Brilliant copper grayling shades and mottled lake trout iceberg blues. Their shining iridescent scales, a million glistening crescent moons." -Despondent Fisherman Prose

Winter in Skagway is not a good time for a fisherman raised in the swamps of South Florida. Growing up, my winters were spent wading the brackish mangroves of Tampa Bay, free lining for snook and redfish. When the water temperature dropped below 70, the waves felt like needles poking at the flesh of my tropically acclimated legs. That didn’t mean the fishing had to stop; I could simply dress in a coat and long johns and find my way to the nearest pier or bridge.
Here in Southeast Alaska, the water never reaches temperatures even close to 70 degrees. Wading is a summer endeavor and even then it is only done with the appropriately named waders. Through many winter months salt water ice will cling to your fishing line as you reel it from the water, filling the eyelets of the rod with something resembling a snow-cone and quickly causing the fishing reel to seize. That is when it’s time to hang up the gear and pursue a new hobby for a few months. It is amidst this northern state of limbo that the dreams begin.
While it may be true that recurring dreams can be the sign of some horrible psychosis or delirious dementia, one could argue that any real fisherman is already prime fodder for the therapists couch. Nevertheless, winter’s onset hails its own special neurosis.
It begins with a nervous twitch in the muscles of the casting arm. At first it is more of an abnormal curiosity.
“Look honey! My arm, its doing it again,” you might say to the wife. She may even feign interest the first couple of times.
It soon becomes unceasing, spasms of withdrawal from weeks without a hit (at the end of your line.) Two weeks later you’re becoming self-conscious about the whole thing, hoping no one will see it, cutting conversations short when it acts up so the problem remains concealed.
This leads to what unqualified pop psychologists call “acting out.” It stems from a sense of despondency and chronic symptoms include grabbing the fishing rods and heading out to the harbor in 20 degree temperatures with 30 knot facing winds and attempting to cast into the heart of winter’s beast.
For the onlooker, this is prime-time comedy. You can hurl your lure into the wind, and it will have the good sense to stop in midair and come right back at you. When it misses your cranium by mere inches it may seem as though it is venting its own aggression against your dubious judgment, but that’s all in your head. You may curse at the lure, or the wind, or even yourself and you might even think you hear a response, but this too is all in your head.
Days become weeks, with moments of cherished sanity becoming more and more scarce. The eyes take on a red glaze, and the skin becomes white and pasty from lack of ultraviolet radiation and omega-3 fats.
Watching fishing shows on ESPN is a final act of desperation. A normal man can never know the senseless misery and degeneracy of a fisherman clinging to his couch, seeking vicarious gratification from a watching a beer-bellied host with an unintelligible accent getting paid to catch bass in Brazil or Bermuda.
This same sofa can become a raft where the mind is set adrift on tides of unconsciousness. It is no method of meditation, but rather a mazy motion of lazy notions, half-thoughts and hazy recollections. It is a blending of the past and the present, a slideshow of ideas, memories, and the occasional glimpse into the future.
This is no new age extra sensory pseudo-science, it is fate’s acknowledgment of the inevitable, the promise of two paths crossing.
In this dream there appears a mysterious unknown from the murky depths, which grows larger as it approaches. When it is in plain view its features are easily discernable, and its purpose seems clearly defined. Its eyes are striking and stare back with an eerie resolve; its fins sway rhythmically as it swims.
Sometimes there are moments like snapshots that interrupt the image of this menacing presence that are more temporal in nature. Things like line being stripped from a fishing reel, the sound of a drag, and that feeling from the hit so sorely lacking from the winter months.
Can these dreams be dismissed as mere subconscious hopes, or is there a day in the not-too-distant future where two paths will cross and wishful thinking becomes dynamic fact?
While it is true a fisherman can be a bit superstitious, methodical and calculating, there can be little doubt in the significance of these dreams. One may think the mind can no more wander into the deep blue sea than it can predict the weather, but then who can really know another man’s mind? Especially a mind left free to wander in a Skagway angler’s winter abyss.
Now, nature’s slumber is over and spring is here, with it comes the promise of more than just dreams and quiet desperation. May in Skagway brings the promise of life, and some of that life comes complete with fins, gills and scales.
Soon the fish will be hungry.
Out there, somewhere in the waters of the largest ocean on the planet Earth, one of these animals is swimming at top speed toward its Skagway destination. Its eyes are fixed, and some primordial genetic symphony conducts every muscle in its body, keeping it on course and on time.
Soon, it will come face to face with one of Skagway’s two legged creatures who, when faced with this awkward combination of sleeping fantasy and waking reality will be left to wonder: Was it really all just a dream?


Graduates of the Elks Youth Wrestling Camp hit the mats May 13 for the parents and community. The action was intense among the elementary and junior high kids under the direction of coaches Josh Coughran, Ryan Ackerman, Michelle Harris and other volunteers. Jeff Brady