Fish This!

Fishing the fringes


There is a harmony
In autumn, and a lustre in its sky,
Which through the summer is not heard or seen,
As if it could not be, as if it had not been!
- Percy Bysshe Shelley

It looks like we’re going to make it. That much awaited final cruise ship is mere days away from making its appearance, and I’m sure more than a few of us have been counting them down since mid-August. Seasons of strangers can take their toll on the psyche, and relief from the daily pride-swallowing siege of repetitious questions and merciless monotony is something to be savored.
And it’s well deserved too. I can’t get away from the feeling that these fringe months of the season belong to us. It is the time for a desperate grab of what little warmth and sunshine remains before the dark curtain of winter closes in.
I don’t know if anyone is immune to the ugly effects of the tourism grind. I always feel pretty good about things until one certain interaction or event causes me to experience what I’ve heard called, “the breaking point.”
I hear the question, “What do you DO during the winter?” at least a dozen times a day and yet it has very little effect. I still haven’t found the answer that satisfies anyone asking the question, but I usually give it a try. No big deal.
But it was one week into August when a harmless looking woman strolled into the tour booth where I work as a representative and dropped the bomb that changed my positive outlook on things.
She asked, “Do you sell the tour where you take the elevator up the mountain to see the eagle in the cage?”
Reread that question. Now dwell on its absurdity.
I tossed it around in my head for what must have been a little too long for the one making the query as she repeated it in a more agitated tone.
I explained not only the lack of mountain elevators in the area, but also the inherent problems of keeping eagles in cages, to which her frustration with me grew exponentially until she stormed from the booth, hell-bent on a quest to find someone who actually knew what they were talking about.
I swear I heard Calliope music in my head.
Perhaps the night before, in the bar on the cruise ship, a hapless bartender who had reached his own breaking point by encountering this particular woman decided to handle his breakdown by spinning a ridiculous yarn.
“Well Miss, when you’re in From page 16
Skagway you’ve got to see the caged eagle,” he might have said. “But it’s no easy feat! You will have to take the scenic elevator up the mountain to do it, but by god, it’s the biggest thrill you can have in Alaska. Only a FOOL would miss it!”
Indeed. Only a fool.

A gratuitous photo of the author emerging from one of his favorite fishing holes with a fine lake trout. AC

From that day on my zeal for the end of the season has known no bounds, and I have made every effort to detach myself from anything and anyone related to tourists, cruise ships, the docks, and even Broadway itself.
Fortunately, the fringes offer fine fishing for those of us who managed to make it this far. They are free from the tireless questions that invade personal space during the middle of summer when one might typically seek reprieve on the water.
Of course the other fringe season is April and May, which has some incredible fishing for Dollys and brookies here in Skagway, as well as grayling and trout to the north. However, the fish this time of year are typically bigger, and if you know where to look, there are a lot more of them.
Coho salmon fishing can be spectacular in Skagway in late September and early October, and no one will dispute the thrill in fighting these delicious, hard-running predators. The silvers can be caught at the mouths of all our major river outlets, even the Skagway River, and the fishing can remain good as the fish move into the rivers when the water is clear and free from silt.
Big feeder kings are common catches too, and a late run this year has made the fishing especially good the last couple weeks. It is the only time of year that fishing for kings can be hot, and hardly another fishing boat seen at the popular local haunts like Glen’s Bite and Burro Creek.
For me, it’s hard to beat a drive to the north to fish for lake trout off rocky ledges along Fraser, Tutshi and Tagish Lakes. Nestled amongst the striking fall foliage that clings to the mountainsides, the stillness and tranquility that rests on these waters offer the perfect counterweight to seasonal imbalance. The fall air is brisk, but the sun clings to the skin like a blanket, a cleansing baptism of light and warmth that washes away the scars of summer.
Here you enter the water with waders on, and let the water lap around your abdomen while you cast, retrieve and fight the fish within their element. It is as far removed from anything secular that one might conceive, and when line peels from the reel and the drag sings it is the only music for miles around.
One need not drive at all when it comes to flounder fishing here in Skagway. Underneath the docks where the cruise ships tie up lie in wait some of the best eating fish in the entire world, and while they might be small, there are plenty of them. On quiet November mornings sea lions and otters enjoy the traffic-free waterways and swim, feed and play alongside those liberated moorings, and as fast as you can bait a hook Alaska’s other flatfish eagerly wait to strike.
Pan fried, stuffed or baked in the oven there are plenty to go around for family and friends. These are the friends we know during the winter, the ones who understand how grand the whole chaos-free experience can be. One could make the argument that these are the ones who live for the fringe. The ones who enjoy the delicate stability of the winter months; group isolation under the beaming Milky Way, simple pleasures on empty streets and the warm fire that awaits them at home.
So put this season on ice and let the north wind carry us into winter. We will hibernate and enjoy the peace and quiet, and maybe next year we will all have an honest and reasonable answer when that first tourist ambles off the cruise ship in May and asks, “What do you do during the winter?”