Getting to the Point

When the fireweed was in mid-bloom I made a trek out to Yakutania Point with my fishing rig and a box of lures. The air was warm and the wind still, under a blanket of smoke from fires raging many miles north in the Yukon. Small puffs of whirling dust spun away from each footfall under the canopy of branches and leaves along the trail.
I could feel the muscles in my eyelids flex when I emerged from the shadow of the woods. The smoke-filtered light dulled the shadows and turned the sun into a blood red disk, motionless and small in the broad, whitened sky. A seagull cried from the edge of the granite jetty that was scarred and smoothed by glacial force. This is The Point, and it’s a nice place to fish.

There was a time I used to fish here often. Many years ago, when a tank full of gas for driving to trout holes in the Yukon was not in the budget. The Point was the perfect place for casting into the silt laden lime green water with a buddy, always hoping for a nice salmon. Usually we were lucky to catch a Dolly or two.
By evening a crowd would gather. A fire would be lit. Any and all fish would be wrapped in aluminum foil with onions and potatoes, and set into the fire. There was music, laughter, and full bellies. Intrepid youth on no particular mission other than what the moment offered.

There was one night in September, thirteen years ago, when eight of us sat on that same rock outcropping staring up into the darkening sky. Behind breaks in the clouds was an eerie green glow. Someone said the northern lights would probably be visible if the clouds happened to clear. Moments later they did.
The green glow quickly gave way to fiery tendrils that filled the sky. Beams of light shot down upon us and undulated in rhythmic waves of color.

No one made a sound. It seemed as though you could reach out and touch those curtains of light. Orange, yellow, and red pulses shone from the faces of my friends, eyes heavenward, smiling.

There were some good days fishing The Point. There was an occasional bright king to test your skill. All the while fighting it you hoped a boater cruised by who could offer a net. On other occasions the Dollies were in good numbers. Catching, not fishing. Ultimately it didn’t matter either way.

Then as years passed there were other places to fish, different places to go, and adequate gas money. Those friends all moved away, and different seasons saw different faces. A fire ban was put into effect at The Point, and the fire pit was filled in. It still sits there like a scar of memory - a testament to the fact that all is change and even the best of things are destined to end.

Fishing is still allowed, however, and it was the motivating factor for stretching the legs and taking advantage of this summer’s well deserved heat.

To the chagrin of the seagull, I worked my out to the very end and sat upon a curved space on the smooth granite: The perfect natural fishing chair. The tide was high and the water almost completely still. I cast for an hour, changing the lure a few times to see if it would prompt a bite. I was slowly becoming mesmerized watching the helicopters across the Skagway River takeoff and land. I could feel a bead of sweat on my back reach critical mass and start its slow decent down my spine.

Then came the hit.

Optimistic I had a big king on the other end of the line I set the hook a few times to make sure it was solid. Line started coming off the drag in short bursts so I knew it wasn’t a Dolly, but it was also too small to be a king.
I fought the fish for a few minutes. It was a good fighter and stayed deep. When it got close I could see the bright scales shimmering under the surface. I thought it was a shaker king, but when the fight went out of it and it came to the surface on its side I could see it was a six-pound ocean-bright pink.

While many disagree, a bright pink salmon is fine table fare. Smoked or cooked. The meat is light red and when it’s prepared it has the same color and consistency as a king. I like them better. The filets are smaller and easier to deal with. I have served pinks to some unknowing Alaskan salmon snobs, and they have always praised the fine quality of the king or coho they thought they were eating. However, this does not mean you will have the same culinary experience by heading over to Pullen Pond in August and filling your cooler.

I bring a small swing gaff with me now when I head out to the rocky shores to fish, just in case there are no passing boaters with nets. Unfortunately, I had practiced using my gaff on gravel and this had a marked effect on the sharpness of the point. This necessitated pulling the fish out of the water by sliding the gaff under the gill and lifting him out.

All was going well until the fish flipped up sideways and cleared the point of the gaff. The weight of the fish falling back into the water caused my line to snap. The fish hung there in the water motionless for a moment, with the lure still in its mouth. I tried to get the gaff back around the gill, but the dull point missed him entirely and he swam away with a flash, along with my $5.00 lure.

A couple of years ago, tourists began asking me the whereabouts of “Seal Rock.” For weeks I repeatedly got the question and always gave the same answer, “I have no idea.” It turns out that a popular travel magazine published an article about a certain Skagway location where a short hike through the woods leads to a rocky jetty. The article said you could hike there for “Your own private seal show.” I eventually got to read the article and learned that “Seal Rock” was none other than Yakutania Point.

Who knows, maybe even the name of The Point will change over time, just like everything else. In the meantime, it’s a pretty good place to fish, hang out, or even take a nap. Just beware of all the seals.