Tagish Bridge, Yukon
Sometimes when Mitch Dupont stumbles down the stairs early in the morning to fire up the stove in the kitchen of Six Mile River Resort, on the upriver side of Yukon’s Tagish Bridge, she doesn’t know whether to say “buenas dias,” “guten morgen” or “good morning” to start her working day.
That’s because she and husband Doug split their fishing year between the Tagish Narrows, a super highway for fish travelling in the headwater lakes of the Yukon River system, specifically between Marsh and Tagish, with winter saltwater fishing in Panama.
“It’s not a 50/50 thing,” Mitch said while fussing with the coffee machine. “We’re here in the Yukon from April to September, and in Panama for the three months of winter from New Year’s to the end of March when our winter clients, many of them Germans but also Americans and Canadians, feel the need to escape winter.”
The three months in between are for riding twin Harleys, relaxing and being normal parents.
“All we really do in Panama,” Doug chips in with his first jolt of ultra-strong caffeine, “is stay warm and break even. Some of our guests who are descended from chimpanzees don’t even care about fishing. They book a month, then just sit in their chairs sunbathing or go sight-seeing on the canal or in Panama City. But the savvy ones want to catch something big from the deep Pacific, and I know just where to find them.”
That’s where “Panayukana” derives and their websites: panayukana.com and sixmileriverresort.com.
“We work our buns off in the Tagish summers with fish guiding, RV sites, five cozy cabins, off-sales, the bar and Mitch’s gourmet restaurant, which is the real reason we’re here,” said Doug.
“She’s always been a master chef and this is her ninth restaurant, so we’ve built the rest of the business around that the last six years, even though it doesn’t make any money.”
“How could it?” Mitch interrupts. “Successful restaurants are supposed to be in high-volume urban locations, and mine is in the Yukon boondocks where people are catching their suppers every day with a fishing pole. But it’s not losing money, and we’re getting a reputation. We have Alaskans coming here now just for our halibut and chips. I’m really proud of that.” Hers is the anti-fast food restaurant with a highway sign advertising “slow food.”
“You have to have good food and relaxing drinks to back up the rest of the business,” Doug adds. “The off-sales pay the help but the backbone of the business is the rental units, RV hookups and fishing charters especially when the kids are out of school. Kids and fishing were made for each other.”
Check out this poem a little four-year-old girl wrote for her grandpa this season and gave to Doug:
“Oh! How I wish
To catch a nice fish,
A big one from Tagish
To put on my dish!”
– Ruby, age 4
To say Six Mile River is funky is to understate the obvious. Doug is an avid collector of licence plates, antique outboard motors, farm tractors, vintage trucks, thermometers, antique signs, grinders, stoves and pet peeves, which he is not shy to discuss.
Number one is people in boats who don’t slow down to go under the bridge where many people, some of them children, are patiently fishing. “Look at that clown!” he exclaims, “He’s waking my boat!”
He also passionately believes people who fish are descendants of a superior species of space aliens who also built the pyramids and feels Darwin’s theory of evolution is “hogwash. The closest species to humans according to DNA is chimpanzees. Have you ever heard of a monkey catching a fish? Or even eating one? We have to be the result of a superior intellect, which came from outer space thousands of years ago, then left us here for some reason to fend for ourselves in the midst of all these banana peelers.”
Doug is such a fishmeister he can sit on his deck with an iced white wine, study the water and tell you what kind of fish are currently running by the resort and roughly how many are in the school. He also watches the many birds flying above the river, because he knows which birds follow which fish. And his favourite time to go fishing in the Yukon summer twilight is midnight, because the big ones, which are usually deep, come up closer to the surface as the daylight diminishes to darkness.
He thinks it’s totally normal human behavior to jump in the boat at 11:30 p.m. and try to checkmate a hungry fish looking for a midnight snack. It makes him feel like the alpha fisherman to play chess with fish when sub-humans, the descendants of chimpanzees, are having a banana in bed and grooming their mates before falling asleep.
Although he had a twinkle in his eye while he was explaining his fishermen from space theory, he never broke character and had me wondering if he really believes it, or if he’s just really good at sounding like he really believes it. Most likely he was just entertaining a paying customer who was contributing more to his Panama fund with each passing round because Mitch’s margaritas are better than Jimmy Buffet’s.
However, when he started telling me about his personal close encounters with UFOs while fishing at night, I had no choice, as a thoughtful, pragmatic realist, but to nod sympathetically and write it off as just another fish story.
You’ll hear many more if you’re lucky enough, or smart enough, to book a charter with Six Mile River/Panayukana or simply hang out in Mitch’s ninth dream restaurant and talk about anything just for the halibut.
Doug Sack was the first sports editor of the Yukon News and later a longtime sports editor of the Whistler Question and a columnist and features writer for Ski Canada magazine. He is currently semi-retired in Whitehorse.