Fishing the sunset south of Homer. Andrew Cremata

Milestones


By ANDREW CREMATA

Only five months ago I was standing by a lake mostly covered with ice. I was the only person out there – a lone figure on a snowy bank desperate to clear the cobwebs from the eyelets of my fishing rod. It was surprisingly warm that day, especially considering the entire landscape was blanketed in the thinning white glaze of winter.

Just last week I returned to the same spot. The sky was identical, crisp and blue, but the backdrop had shifted into a parade of fiery gold hues and rich amber tones. The snow was all but melted and I was chest-deep in clear, slowly moving water. Big grayling were swimming around my legs and jumping all around me. It was calm and sunny and warm enough to wear short sleeves so the sun’s rays would have access to grateful bare skin. 

Being an optimistic angler, I knew the magic number was six. Yukon fishing regulations allow for the catching and keeping of four grayling and two lake trout. This is a particularly difficult goal to accomplish at any time of year, but the lure of feasting on grayling and trout for a few days is enough to motivate the effort. When you add the unseasonably warm September weather it’s easy to justify shrugging off all responsibility and making the 45-minute jaunt to what is possibly the best place on the entire planet.

The grayling came easy, and there were even a couple of trophy sized fish in the mix. I changed my rig for trout and waded back out into the water. On the second cast what felt like a freight train hit the lure and put a deep bend in the rod. It was an energetic trout that put both light line and angler to the test as I maneuvered over the slippery rocks back toward shore. It was a 25-inch beauty with a hint of orange color on the tips of its fins that seemed to mimic to bright foliage adorning the surrounding mountains.

I went back out and worked my lure for another ten minutes. I have a habit when fishing for trout of occasionally stopping the lure during the retrieve, and it’s during this pause when most trout I have caught choose to bite. As I reeled in, I saw my lure appear over a steep ledge further out where the water gets really deep. Behind it appeared a silent torpedo. The trout was only a few inches behind the lure and he was definitely interested.

When the lure was only 6 feet away I stopped reeling. In that moment the lure ceased its rhythmic swimming-mimic motion and simply started to fall toward the bottom. The trout sped up the action of its tail and surged forward, inhaling the lure in one massive gulp. I set the hook, and as the fish turned I quickly realized I had very little distance to work with. As I slipped and stumbled over the algae-covered rocks, the lake trout ran to the surface and began to thrash violently. I was able to keep tension during the melee, but when the fish swam at me and around my feet, I could swear I saw the lure dangling free of its mouth.

I switched my rod to my other hand to keep from being wrapped up in the monofilament. The laker finally took some line and I soon had the advantage, but was curious as to how the trout was still attached. Upon landing the fish it became apparent. When the trout surfaced it had gone into a roll, simultaneously throwing the hook and becoming tangled in the line. Fortunately for me, there is more than one way to catch a trout.

So that was it. It took two hours to limit out with six fish, and that includes the time it took to clean them. When you consider all the factors in play, it’s hard to imagine any day ever being any better than that one.

That perfect September day does not stand alone. In many ways it is a milestone. It was a culmination of all the days I’ve spent on that shore, whether covered in ice or bathed in sunlight. I have fished that spot for over a decade and learned, with a great deal of trial and error, what works and what doesn’t. And while the end result might be a limit of fish, the real prize has been the opportunity to become a part of that special place and partake in the many gifts it’s been willing to give.

There have been other milestones this year, like turning 40. Everyone says it’s a “big” number, and I suppose it is. A 40-pound trout would be downright huge, but when it comes to age I can’t help but look in the mirror and see the same person who has always been there.

One milestone I can get excited about is the tenth year of this fishing column. It was April of 2001 when the first Fish This! appeared in The Skagway News. I am grateful for the opportunity to share my fishing stories, and grateful to all who have so graciously expressed kind words over the years. And while it could be said that I’ve written too many fishing stories, I have no plans to stop any time soon.

That first article in 2001 focused on arctic grayling. Since then I have fished all over the state. I’ve pulled hundred-pound halibut from deep water near Kodiak and tangled with massive silvers in unnamed Southeast streams. I caught a trophy rockfish in Homer and lost a gigantic king salmon in Pelican.

Throughout the journey my favorite spot has remained the same, and no matter where I’ve been my thoughts always drift back to that shoreline and that stream and that lake and all of those fish that live within it.

Ten years ago, the idea for that first fishing story came after heading up to my favorite spot for the afternoon. The purpose for the trip had been simply to drown out the noise of summer in the soothing murmur of a rushing stream and head home in the evening with a few fresh fish fillets.

Obviously nothing has changed, and for that I am thankful.

This was the final column of the 2010 season. See more Fish This! columns in the second issue of each month from April through September.