Fishing the historic beaches of Conrad. Andrew Cremata

Boondoggle


By ANDREW CREMATA

It’s time for the next Big Thing! Step right up and feast your eyes on what is sure to be the answer to all the questions that lie deep within your soul. You’ll have to use your imagination, but with a little bit of foresight you’ll surely be able to conjure up an image from the scene I am about to unveil. And there can be little doubt that it will be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, offering pleasures beyond measure, and the realization of your wildest dreams.

Upon the sheer mountainsides, where winter’s snow gathers in heaps, relics rust beneath deep holes where men chiseled through solid rock by candlelight over a hundred years ago. They toiled in search of fortunes, a promise of riches unimaginable in a place where the elements still rage in their most primal form. These promises were little more than idle words, as temporary as the snow that still melts in the spring from the ragged peaks those miner’s called home for less than a handful of years.

From here the melt-waters trickle into narrow streambeds that swell with the currents of winter’s work. They flow and gather into creeks that meander through dense stands of spruce and aspen, where cities once thrived as testimony to progress. Today, those waters still remain, but the din of human advancement has been replaced by chirping robins, buzzing bumblebees, and the crackling of dry leaves where a lone moose seeks to quench his thirst.

Along with the swelling waters of the creek come swollen promises, and while a hundred years ago those promises were gold, for us they are as green as the unfolding leaves of cottonwoods that thrive along their winding banks. The secular signs of the season are floating cities, tour buses, and a handbook of coupons grasped firmly in the hands of people who tirelessly seek an answer to a question they can’t put into words.

Some will find fulfillment. Others won’t.

Still, the guarantees have been made, and you can find them in the guidebooks, brochures, and television shows that market this frontier as an endless parade of grizzly bears feeding on salmon too thick to comprehend. It’s no wonder the questions we hear from tourists often make us chuckle - or groan.

With so many expectations there is bound to be some disappointment, and in a world where the majority seek integers to solve equations of faith, answers are the only thing that matters. For some though, the experience transcends the end result, and for a person born of this mindset a day spent fruitlessly casting into springtime waters will still bring untold rewards. Those swollen tributaries are a sign of the season, and it’s an undeniable truth that the places where they empty into the lake will often hold fish.

But not always.

Fishing doesn’t always equate to catching, but this is not an easy thing to explain to a visitor who shelled out $800 for a fishing trip with his family only to come up skunked. After all, he saw the program on A&E that showed lunker king salmon practically jumping on the hook.

Still, those of us who call Skagway our home know the difference, whether we ever pick up a fishing rod or not. The marvels of this land cannot be summarized in a 12-hour stopover, and even if the fish aren’t biting we know we’re going to get another shot.

Who can blame them for trying? This is one of the few places left where nature still holds sway over the swelling waters of modern civilization and all of the intricate complexities it entails. However, when it comes right down to the crux of the whole situation, there are few who would be willing to give up fast food, supermarkets, and shopping malls and replace them with snow, wind, and endless miles of mountains in every direction.

What makes us different? Maybe we came upon it naturally – some genetic mutation of the soul pulling us toward something sublime and maybe even strange. Or perhaps there is just a little of what is commonly called the “frontier spirit” in each and every one of us. That makes us different, but not unique.

I recently saw an archived photo taken in 1906 at the height of the mining stampede south of Carcross in what was called Conrad City. The photo was taken at one of my favorite fishing spots, and in it a man stands holding his fishing rig by a creek where I’ve stood many times before. I learned two things from this photo:people dressed better back then, and while the lure of any given place might be for profit there is always time to wet a line.
No expectations - just another chance to enjoy some quiet in between the chaos and confusion.

While fishing at this spot two years ago, a young moose came out of the woods oblivious to my presence. I remained motionless so as not to attract attention. He entered the water of the creek, and looked as though he was skipping with delight. He splashed and thrust his head back with every leap, as though completely without any care or concern. When he caught my stare he stopped, dead still, then turned back into the woods and disappeared. The only sound left was that of rushing water.

It’s moments like these that make the fishing seem almost secondary, but in all honesty if I’d had a big trout on the line, most likely I would never have noticed.

Now the flow of the creek will steady as we roll on into summer. The hardest part, the transition, is over. Soon the water level of the lakes will rise and new opportunities will lie in wait.

So will the fish.

Now is the time of year we find that we’ve gotten into a rhythm. And while it may seem impossible for someone from Down South to comprehend, we have found our place, and it didn’t take an advertisement to make us seek it out.

Andrew Cremata recently won his fourth Alaska Press Club award in five years for this outdoors column. It appears in the second issue of the month from April through September.