Finding an edge


I was standing at the edge of the water. The six pound trout was in the shallows, and all that was left was to drag it on shore. Margaret and I had been fishing for a total of 10 minutes, and since it was her first time plying the fertile waters of the Yukon for fall lakers, I was offering advice on the methodology of hooking and fighting the prized fish.
The trout was only a couple of feet away when it decided to go into a death roll. The hook came free and the tension in the rod suddenly went limp. Without thinking I dove headlong into the shallows and threw that trout some four feet onto the shore. I was laying prone in a few inches of water, my elbow sending messages of pain to my brainstem.

As I picked myself up, Margaret, who had witnessed this graceless and pathetic display of desperation said, “Wow. I didn’t know fishing was so physical.”

Neither did I. Still, I did know that trout are often lost at the edge between water and land - that point between two worlds. Trout know what crossing that edge means, and generations of them have been using the death roll as a last-ditch effort toward remaining on their own side. Oftentimes, it works.

Someday I might do what smarter anglers do and buy myself a net. It just seems a lot like cheating and, besides, I need a little more exercise in my life. There is a thrill when engaging a fish on that edge. It is challenging and unknowable. It’s arguably the most difficult part of the whole fishing experience – the part for which there is no way to plan.

It’s human nature to mark time with edges, sharpened and honed by days, weeks, months, and seasons. The summer tourist season is over. The first day of autumn is here. We know this because our schedules and calendars tell us so. All of which had little to do with the natural rhythms of the world we live in.

On the drive to the Yukon, the hillsides slowly changed into their fiery fall color. Around one bend was a hint of what was to come, and around the next was the promise. Green leaves becoming yellow, then golden and magnificent in the light, quivering in the wind. A death roll of sorts, the last dance before the edge of termination dust descends those slopes and signals the shift of autumn to winter.

This seasonal transition lacks a defined beginning and end. It is a gradation or progression that is never the same from one year to the next.

The trout have a sense of it, as do the salmon that have been teeming in Skagway’s waters this summer.

Instinctively knowing the ever-changing nature of the world around them is necessary for their survival. And what good would a calendar be for a fish, anyway?

The pink salmon run has extended well into September. Their sweet, rotting stench is still a presence in the air, one which we normally associate with the waning days of August.

Our trees are a little greener than normal, the air a little warmer – albeit no less windy. King salmon fishing is still hot. Big feeders have been attacking massive bait balls, and even whales are still partaking daily in the feast just beyond our shores.

When I cleaned my lake trout it was a female and full of eggs. However, they were not quite ripe. There will probably be a few more weeks before they spawn and head out into the deeper confines of the lake.

What does all this mean? One thing is certain – Skagway has had some amazing fishing this year. Arguably some of the best in Southeast. This too, is unusual.

There are all kinds of other things we might deduce from this lingering summer. We might praise or blame global climate change, solar flares, algae blooms, volcanic eruptions, or Bigfoot and the Loch Ness Monster. I’m sure we all have made or heard predictions about the length and severity of the upcoming winter based on these atypical summer events - Indian summer or harsh, terrible winter - maybe both.

None of which makes any difference. Why waste time seeking the effect in the cause? After all, there are still plenty of fish to catch.

A few days ago I was testing the waters in Pullen to see if maybe the silvers had started making their way upstream. I caught a few ridiculously fat Dollies before hooking a fish that made the rod seem grossly undersized. Line peeled out momentarily and the fish leaped high from the water, its reddened undersides a giveaway as to its make and model.

This was a nice coho, easily hitting the 15 pound mark. Unknown to me, the line had become wrapped a round protruding bolt on the salmon holding pen, and the jump of the fish was all that was needed for the line to snap. The fish hit the water in a splash that was soon erased by the strong flow of the creek.

No big deal, I went home and cooked some trout.

Besides, there will be other silvers, other fish, somewhere along some edge of shoreline, this year, next year, the year after that. Years we will seek to define and understand when they’re done; delineate the days, hours, and minutes until they are all neatly tucked away. Transitioning from one to the next; growing, changing, learning, and forgetting, by accident or by choice. Finding nuance, shades, and tones where once there was only a boundary, until there’s only one frontier left to cross.

The thought has occurred to me that after the passing of enough of these years I will not be physically able to lunge heedlessly toward clever trout. When that day comes I figure I’ll buy myself that net. After all, there’s nothing wrong with having an edge.