Reflection in the Six Mile River of dawn breaking in the sky above the Tagish Bridge in the Yukon. Andrew Cremata

The Chase is On!


“Fish don’t sleep in.” – Classic angling witticism

This is the time of year when the morning is reborn. There is a span of weeks during June and July where the twilight of evening and morning coalesce without any clear delineation. In this absence of night, seeing a star or the moon is a novelty. When fireweed blazes a trail into August, daylight finds its end and the songbirds grow silent in the darkness.

These new mornings are special. There is stillness as the light seeps into the sky and air, then falls through clouds onto the contours and crevices of earth. This light is also reflected by bodies of water, and this is what matters most when you’re fighting off a yawn and setting up your fishing gear.

On one of the first real mornings this summer, dawn’s blush lit up the Six Mile River with a luminescent silver glow. There was no wind, and the depth of the river kept the flow of its current concealed. Still, there was electricity vibrating along the surface, making the water appear as though it were pulsating in some rapid and peculiar way.

I’ve only ever seen this once before, in the Skagway River about ten years ago. On that occasion the weird water was also a phenomenon of the morning hour, but after watching it for some time I relegated the oddity to my own faulty perception. Seeing it again made me pause once more, and I found myself standing there mesmerized until my arms started to ache from awkwardly holding my fishing pole.

To the east the sky was just starting to brighten. Venus seemed to be chasing Castor and Pollux, but it was unclear if she was advancing or falling behind. The bridge swallows were quietly murmuring in their sleep as I stepped onto the catwalk. I was chasing something too, and in August I’m never too sure if falling behind isn’t inevitable.

While trout were the quarry, my pursuit was more for time. Living this far north makes one acutely aware of the seasons and how quickly they pass, especially when it comes to the blink we know as summer. When summer arrives late, as it did this year, every moment that remains is a fleeting wisp of opportunity that cannot be ignored.

At this point of the season, fishing has less to do with catching and more to do with catching up. Summer’s sun will soon be a memory and there is little doubt we all realize this fact consciously, or somewhere in the back of our minds. With so little time left to enjoy these gaps between work and responsibility, it’s a good idea to fill them with something that brings us peace.

For an hour my bait lay somewhere near the bottom of the river while I waited for a passing fish, or rising sun, to shake away the morning chill. I was still mesmerized by the unusual shimmering of the river, wondering if it had any effect on trout and their habits. A couple of hundred feet further up the bridge I heard a splash, and I made the decision to change my position.

In these parts, one of the best things about fishing at 5 a.m. is that the rest of the world seems to be asleep. This includes human and animal alike, but in just a few short hours the bridge would undoubtedly be teeming with life.
At least a dozen anglers would be trying their luck in various states of sobriety and inebriation, many testing the limits of acceptable public discourse. The bridge swallows would start taking flight en masse, swirling through the morning air to feed on the hatching insects. Preoccupied with the feast, the magpies would begin creeping in between the pilings, raiding the swallow’s nests to steal their babies.

Seagulls and eagles would watch the ensuing melee from the telephone poles hanging over the bridge, waiting for a fish to be caught and cleaned so they could wage their own war over the guts. The beavers and otters would cruise the shoreline for some undetermined purpose, dodging the boats full of weekend warriors pouring off of the boat ramp in the rising heat of the day.

All of which I was trying to avoid. I’ve engaged in that dance before and while the entertainment value is stellar, all of that commotion seems to have an effect on the trout’s willingness to cooperate.

My arms were cocked and ready to cast. The sun was painting the undersides of the clouds, mere minutes from making an appearance, and only Venus was still visible in the ambient light. I tossed my bait out toward the area from which the splashing had emanated. My line was pulled taut by the current for about a minute before the rod suddenly jerked violently, almost slipping from my grip.

I can’t say for sure if it had anything to do with the strange water, but that trout hit like a passing freight train. My instinct said to pull back just as hard, but this would have almost certainly resulted in the hook and bait being pulled from the fish’s mouth before he had a chance to really take it. I calmly fed it line, watching about 30 yards empty from the spool in just a couple of seconds.

When I set the hook, I did it without hesitation. The rod bent over and I started working my way off of the bridge to land the fish. It pulled hard for a minute or so, but when I was about halfway down the catwalk the trout took off on a fast and lengthy run that forced me to quicken my pace.

By the time I made it off of the bridge and onto the shore, I had an honest fight on my hands. Some trout fight better than others, and this one definitely qualified as one of the best with which I’ve ever tangled. It broke the surface on multiple occasions, made three sustained runs, and refused to let me land it on two separate attempts. I was certain I was going to lose the trout more than once during the struggle, but somehow managed to get a hand around it on the third try.

Big trout aren’t easy to come by, especially hard fighting ones with a variety of defensive weapons in their arsenal. Fortunately, there are rewards for fighting off a sound sleep to brave the newborn morning.

After landing the trout I noticed that the sun had just breached the horizon. I knew that darkness was only a step behind and gaining more ground every day. Skagway summers burn hot and bright, and before you know it they’re gone.

During the winter there will be plenty of mornings to sleep in. Now is the time to give chase to what little time is left.