Fish This!

The competition for fish. AC

Yukon ramblings...


“Fishing is much more than fish. It is the great occasion when we may return to the fine simplicity of our forefathers.”
-Herbert Hoover

“These modern ingenious sciences and arts do not affect me as those more venerable arts of hunting and fishing.”
-Henry David Thoreau

“I go fishin’ for my nutrition.”
-An eighth grade fishing buddy.

Saturday June 17, 2006 2:00 p.m.
I’ve never done any field reporting when it comes to the writing of this column. Usually I sit in front of the computer, late at night, recalling events that eventually become the final product. Let’s face it; there are just too many fish out here waiting to be caught. Time would be better spent chasing angles to the fish than just sitting here scribbling on a notepad on this balmy 75 degree sun-filled afternoon overlooking the rippled surface of Windy Arm some 60 miles north of Skagway.
Yet here is a notebook and pen in my hands as I scribble out these words while a gentle fire crackles at my feet.
I’ve been here, in the Yukon, for two days now. And while mid-June fishing at my regular haunts is as close to a sure thing for catching nice trout that one will ever find, this weekend the fish seem to have made other plans.
A fellow I bumped into this morning at the Tagish bridge had it all figured out.
“The water is too cold,” he said in his heavy Canadian accent. “Late spring means late fish.”
Maybe he’s right, but while the locals seemed frustrated and perplexed I was just happy to out there.
For a while at least.
Two golden eagles were engaged in an aerobatics display a little more than a cast’s length from where I stood and I seemed to be the only person interested enough in their antics to break out the binoculars and take my eyes off the fishing rod.
Eventually, though, enough was enough. And the lure of this campsite, and a full cooler of beer, was just too much to resist.
Yesterday the fishing was equally quiet, and it led to a lazy afternoon nap, in my hammock, under the blazing Yukon sun.
At this moment, two brown bears are foraging in a clearing on the mountainside opposite the lake. Mountain goats are sprinkled along the ridges at the higher elevations.
Life is good.

The proper way to live. AC

This is the place I dreamed about as a kid when I thought of Alaska. Ironically, by living in Skagway I have to travel to Canada to find it. Skagway is my home, but the chaos that we now pass off as summer is a far cry from that town I first drove into over 10 years ago.
The dollar reigns supreme during the tourist season. Sometimes its shadow is cold and overbearing and its promises more than a little hollow.
By contrast, this land surrounding my camp is as uncompromising as it is untamable. The tattered remnants of abandoned mines and crumbling cabins of what once was called Conrad City is a testament to the futility of attempting to subjugate this terrain.
Whether you’re mining for gold, silver, or oil, to get at it you have to punch a hole in the earth. In this place, it just might punch back.
Some would attest that this is evidence that the earth itself is alive, a senescent body with a distaste for poking and prodding from its human inhabitants.
I’ve spent a lot of time out here since I arrived in Skagway in the spring of 1996, and to me this land is indifferent. No quarter asked and none given. If you want to experience it first-hand take a chance, roll the dice. Most days you will find it to be hospitable, but at any time on any particular day things could go horribly wrong and the arms that nurtured can turn to fists of fury.
There will be no apologies here. The snow will fall come winter and the ice will break in the spring, and sooner or later the fish will run again, with or without you.
It’s not much different than the mother bear with two cubs I saw near Carcross this morning. One sight of my truck and she was hustling her young into the woods, away from danger.
For now she is protective of her young, but soon they will come to know the harsher realities of life and they will be pushed away, into the wild, where they will fight for food and mates, weaving their way through RV’s and tour buses full of camera-toting tourists eager to capture something wild before they return to their 9 to 5 jobs back in Dallas, Indianapolis or Miami.
One cub might find success in the hands of fate, the other may come face-to-face with a bullet traveling at 2,161 feet per second, fired from a Ruger No. 1 .300 Winchester Magnum rifle from 300 yards away.
Life can be like that. And even here among the quivering aspen rustling in a gentle breeze, thoughts of Skagway and civilization plow into the back of my mind like that same high-speed bullet.
Wars in the Middle East, terrorist plots, nuclear-tipped trident missiles, housing bubbles, Congressional misconduct, lobbying scandals, secret government wire-taps, automobile accidents, stem-cells, cell phones, Enron, Halliburton, mega pixels, megabytes of RAM, iPods, Brad and Angelina, Brittney’s baby, hurricanes, forest fires, global warming, melting polar ice-caps, $4.00 a gallon gas, 9000 person cruise ship days, tanzanite jewelry, seawalls, sea walks, and ‘quality, discount’ anything.
All of the above falls into the simple categories of either a gyp or a hassle. And just like the majority of our gold-seeking brothers from 100-plus years ago who discovered that finding gold was a hassle and promises of fortunes in the wilds of the north were a gyp, we can grind down the wheels of our soul only so far before the whole apparatus comes to a screeching stop.
It’s then we make haste to the one place where all of it can be synthesized, crunched, compressed, compacted and placed neatly on the head of pin.
This breeze that’s now blowing on the aptly named Windy Arm of Tagish Lake will certainly lift those thoughts away, carried along to unknown places far away from this frontier. Out of sight and out of mind.
And so it goes here in the Yukon. I think it’s time to revisit the hammock.
And who knows, maybe tomorrow there will be fish.