A perfect day
By ANDREW J. CREMATA
Youll have to excuse me for being a little self-indulgent. You see, I have a fishing story to tell. Sure, we all have a few good ones that we share from time to time. My personal favorites deal with those little mishaps that are not at all funny when they happen, but always get laughs when you tell it. An errant hook embedded in a most painful place. An unplanned plunge into the water while using the boat side facilities. These, however, are not the stories of the perfect day.
My day didnt start out so perfect. I had the van loaded for the trip up to Tagish. Included therein was my new fishing outfit. A Daiwa Team Series reel on a Zebco Gatorback rod loaded with 8-pound test line. Brand new, never cast once. I jumped in the van ready to roll when I realized I had no keys.
Now days off are a prized commodity for all of us this time of year and every minute counts. If youve ever spent 30 of those minutes looking for your keys you can sympathize with my frustration. Sure I could blame my wife, but deep down I knew the truth.
I am an idiot.
Once this simple fact dawned on me the keys magically appeared. They were strategically misplaced behind the sofa cushion.
Its best to just let something like that go. Dont dwell on it. Just drive.
Once youre over the pass its amazing how quickly all your worries seem to disappear. The drive past Lake Tutshi is my favorite part of the trip. The water was still. The sapphire blue water reflected a perfect mirror image of the emerald mountainside. Its difficult to keep your eyes on the road. Its easy to let the mind wander and imagine the worlds that exist in these remote places so grandiose in scale that for moment it seems like you can reach out and touch them.
Get a grip. There are fish to be caught.
I threw in a John Lee Hooker tape to get myself grounded, turned right at Carcross and finished the drive to the bridge.
To my surprise there were quite a few people on the bridge. I wanted Tuesdays off because I thought I might have the bridge to myself. No such luck. My favorite spot was open however, and I headed straight for it.
I set down my gear and took a look around. There was a stiff breeze from the north and the air was chilly. I had on a heavy coat but was already getting cold. Ill give it a half hour and see what happens, I thought to myself. If nothing happens Ill try another spot.
I attached a 20 length of 30 pound test leader to my line and put on my biggest lure. A #8 Flashing Spoon with a 10/0 single hook. If youve never seen one, this is a monster of a lure, silver and flashy, and it always draws the stares. The preferred method is fishing with a dead ciscoe, a freshwater herring about 5 long. This lure is more than twice that size. And its appearance invariably draws the comment, What do you use that for?
The answer was soon to come.
I opened the bail arm for the first time, watched the lure splash on the surface, and disappear with a flash as the current swept it down river. I waited for it to sink to the bottom, clicked the bail closed, and reeled down toward the water.
I lifted up the rod and reeled down slow until the lure was far enough off the bottom to make the tip of the rod twitch. This lets you know that the lure is doing its thing. I lifted once more so I could sit back on the catwalk a little out of the wind.
My mind asked the question, How could this possibly be a bite, this quick? Thank God for coffee because somehow my reflexes kicked in and I had set the hook without finishing the thought.
The line came off the drag slowly at first but steadily sped up until that new drag started to hum. The rod bent firmly to the water and I overheard one of my fellow anglers say, Does he really have a fish? Already!
The words made me wonder myself.
I was starting to gain a little ground though. The reel holds 240 yards of 8-pound test and I was only out about 50. I would have him landed in no time.
I think the fish first realized HE was hooked at about this point. (He must not have had his coffee.) Line started going out again. This time faster and with more resolve. Then faster still. 100 yards of line out, 100 more in what seemed like the blink of an eye. He was slowing down but the Spool was starting to show. I was down to the last 20 yards, and starting to worry. I decided to take a chance and put some pressure on him.
I bent the rod double and as the pressure increased the line whistled in the wind at a quickly rising pitch, like the crescendo of an opera. In the movies these notes cause glass to break. This thought was passing through my head making me wonder if the line could handle the pressure.
I was lucky. The fish turned, and I gained ground slowly but steadily in the hopes I could make up enough line that when he decided to run again I would be sitting pretty.
Run again he did. Three more times in fact. Each with equal determination. I was almost an hour into the fight and had to break off a conversation with a gentleman named Roger from Florida. We had been swapping Florida fishing stories for about a half hour, and as the fish was getting close I asked him if he had a net. A BIG one. He said he did and started off to his car to retrieve it.
About 20 feet away from the bridge the fish finally broke water. I made my way off the bridge and down to the shoreline to land the fish. Roger was coming with the net. The fish and I met eyes, which swept him into a frenzied roll.
When he stopped and lay still for a moment I looked over at Roger and saw the net. Not good. A 35-inch fish does not fit comfortably in a 24 net. Its like trying to fit Kareem-Abdul-Jabbar into a Yugo. I decided to bring him a little closer and pull him out by hand.
Just then he rolled again and the line above the leader got caught in his teeth and snapped with a deadly thud. The rod went limp and the big fish sat almost lifeless weaving his head from side to side.
Time for a swim.
I threw the rod down and jumped into the water. I put one hand around the lure, the other under his gill and pulled him to shore.
I gave Roger my camera and he snapped a photo of the 22-pound Lake Trout. I asked him to take one more but the battery went dead. I had gotten lucky again. After all, every fishing story needs a little backup or someone might get the misconception that fisherman like to embellish the truth. But remember what Jimmy Buffett said, Truth is stranger than fishin.
Yes, it truly is the big one!
As I was putting the fish on ice, Roger was informing his wife that they would be camping there for the night and doing a little fishing. She looked thrilled.
I gave him my lure for all his help and packed the fish on ice. The new rod and reel had been broken in nicely with a few dents and scrapes from tossing it to the ground. Youve got to love battle scars.
I gathered my things from the bridge and headed for home. Yukon guidelines suggest you keep the first fish you catch from the bridge and then quit fishing. This is to protect fish populations in a vulnerable environment. My arm was sore anyway, and my mouth was watering thinking about blackened trout for supper.
When I arrived back in Skagway I went to my friend Daniels house to show off the fish. Daniel is not a fisherman and was supposed to leave with me that morning but couldnt make it due to extenuating circumstances. When I told him the story he said, Andrew, you had the perfect day.