Holley Drake with a bright pink salmon. Andrew Cremata

Sediment versus Sentiment


By ANDREW CREMATA

I’d been eyeballing a new fishing spot since the winter months. In many ways, the area has been slowly developing. I say that because just a few short years ago the spot didn’t exist at all. It’s also possible that in another handful of years the spot will once again cease to exist.

Like you, I get up every morning and take stock of my surroundings. At first glance the mountains and ice that surround us seem constant – unchangeable. You can even look at old photos from the Gold Rush and identify the shapes and forms that are undeniably Skagway.

It’s something we take for granted, but if we awoke to a changed landscape on a daily basis it would be challenging to navigate the course of our daily lives.

And yet our landscape is changing, oftentimes quickly. Wherever water flows the land is being sculpted and shifted into fresh designs and figures. Indeed, Skagway’s entire landscape was carved from the movement of water in one form or another and the story is far from being completed.

This new fishing spot held promise because it offered access to deep water at low tide – the kind of water that would be appealing to cruising salmon. Its creation was made possible by a combination of glacial rebound and sediment carried along via river currents. It is essentially a natural fishing pier, only accessible when the tide is at its lowest.

I finally fished this spot over a three-day period during mid-July. Conditions were perfect, the sun was shining, and I could see fish swirling on the surface as we approached. When you assess the viability of a potential fishing spot for six months, there is a fair amount of anticipation that builds. There is also doubt.

Still, there can be no success without risk of failure, and it was in this mindset that I made that first cast into the mint green waters of the Taiya Inlet. I twitched the rod thrice, felt a tap, and set the hook with resolve.

My fishing buddy was still setting up his rig when he asked, “You have one already?”

Because the spot is only accessible during the lowest part of the tide, we had a limited amount of time to make our efforts count. We were able to catch a limit of dime-bright pink salmon, many of which made leaps from the water and determined runs on light gear.

Whales were surfacing all over the inlet. The sound of their breath carried along the surface of the still water, and when it reached our ears the sound was like a thunderous rockslide.

There are occasions that you become acutely aware of the fact you are having a uniquely Alaskan experience, and that kind of self-realization is something that can’t be measured.

In Skagway, just as everywhere else, change is inevitable. While discovering a new fishing hole is cause for celebration, losing one is equally tragic. Those same forces that create can also destroy, and facing the reality that one of your favorite fishing spots has become merely a scenic viewpoint can be difficult.

I discovered one of my favorite Skagway fishing holes in the late 90s. I’m fairly certain that few people even know about this spot, unless I’ve taken them there personally. Much like my new fishing hole, it’s only accessible during lower tides, and it’s only viable for a few days when the pinks first begin to run. When it’s hot it holds beautiful pink salmon suitable for pan or smoker. Lush forest borders this spot and I’ve seen as many as 30 eagles perched overhead at one time.

Occasionally one would take to flight, swoop down to snatch a fish from the water, and then fly away into the distance while being pursued by squawking crows. People who have been to this spot often mention having their own Alaskan experience, even if they’ve lived in Skagway for a number of years.

In this spot there were a series of deep holes where pinks could find relief from a swift current. You could work your way from one hole to the next, targeting fish that were reliably nestled behind boulders or lying in still backwaters.
Last summer I noticed that something had changed. Many of the holes had been filled in with silt and sand, leaving only a couple of shallow places and a handful of fish. While I managed to catch a couple of fish, it was difficult. I should have realized it then, but I stubbornly told myself that it would improve the following year.

I made my way back out to the spot last week. The first thing I noticed was there were no eagles perched in the trees. With that realization I already knew what to expect, but I had to see if those instincts were sound.

The holes that once held salmon were mostly filled in. I spotted one salmon lazily moving upstream, but it had no intention of stopping for a quick bite.

After a half hour spent futilely patrolling the shoreline I got hung up on the bottom and lost a lure. That was the official signal that it was time to walk back to the car and drive away.

Sometimes you’re left with no other choice than to let something you cherish become a thing of the past.

With every loss, something new is created. Every pebble in the river is constantly being reshaped, worn smooth in the currents of time, until it is nothing more than sand upon the beach.

Such are the places where fish travel and men wander in their pursuit.

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.