Henry Anderson is a self-described ice-time regular.
When most of the fair weather fly fishermen are home, feet by the fire, dreaming of the catch, Anderson is out plucking rainbow trout and Dolly Varden from the Kenai River despite frosty fingers, chapped lips or any other chill-induced ailments.
“It is a very big challenge when it is 15 degrees outside and you are up there fishing breaking ice out of your guides all day long trying to find that one beautiful fish of the day that makes it all worth it,” said Anderson, who clocked 154 days fishing last year.
While most of those brave enough to fish in the winter flock for the Kenai’s stocked lakes to drill holes, sip booze and wait for the big one, year-round fishermen like Anderson know that spawning silver salmon means hungry rainbows, Dollies and steelhead.
Winter fly fishing, as unusual as it might sound, isn’t so hard, Anderson contends. Fishermen need not invest in all new clothing, but a few beefier additions are wise. He suggested wearing fingerless glove-mitten combinations with several layers of winter clothing when heading out. He said warm waders are most important — anglers would be wise to invest in a good, thick pair. Fishermen can also consider adding ice cleats for boots or using a wading staff (an old ski pole will work, he said.)
Where to fish depends on the angler’s experience in the wilderness. Anderson suggested two locations for winter fishing that stay mostly clear of ice — the middle river near the confluence of the Killey River and the upper river near the Cooper Landing bridge.
“The middle river at this time of year is not what I would consider a novice fishing area partly because the access is quite difficult,” he said.
There are winter trails created by snowmachines that head down to the Killey River, but it is easy for novice fishermen to get lost in the area. But for those who can make it down, the fishing can be very good either from the shore or a boat. Anderson said he and a few other fishermen caught 15 to 20 fish during a recent day drift down the river on 10 and 12 mm egg-imitation beads.
“They are available, the access is tough, but they are there,” he said.
Those without prior winter fly experience can try walking up or downstream from the Cooper Landing bridge. Anderson said beads are productive there during the afternoons, but leeches and muddler minnows are a better option for the mid-sized fish in the area.
“It is a very safe place to be as far as you don’t have to wade deep, the fish are right there, and you don’t have to cast half way across the river to find them either,” he said.
Paul Tornow, co-owner of Alaska’s Angling Addiction, suggested fishing 8 mm bead patterns that mimic fresh eggs or dark row near coho spawning beds or a dead egg pattern colored milky apricot swirl in addition to sculpin and leech patterns.
Tornow said the winter also offers another opportunity for anglers — to learn the underwater structure of the river as shelves, boulders and other structures are exposed.
“You really get in touch with the river and what it really looks like and what is doing underneath that huge body of water in the summer time,” he said.
But both fishermen agreed wintertime fly fishing is good for another thing.
“It is quiet,” Tornow said. “It is like you can hear yourself thinking out there.”
Said Anderson, “The solitude of it is the biggest thing. I enjoy fishing with my friends, there’s no doubt about it, but I also really enjoy just going out on my own.”
Ice fishing on Kenai Peninsula heats up
Tornow said ice fishing on many of the Kenai Peninsula’s lakes has been good. Many lakes have solid ice pack despite weeks of warmer weather, he said.
“We had that cold weather early on in November and December, like 30 below and we didn’t have any snow, so when it froze, it froze real hard,” he said. “So on some lakes we’ve got 20 inches of ice still, so that’s not going any where for a while.”
Tornow suggested using shrimp, cured row or other scented baits fished about six to eight inches off the bottom jigged occasionally.
“Shrimp is a real good one, a real stable one and that seems to be one that works the best for us,” he said.
Anglers can try many of the area’s popular lakes — Hidden, Island, Skilak, Kenai, Sport, Kelly, Peterson, Johnson, Longmere or any of the lakes in the Swanson River system.
Tornow said the appeal of ice fishing is much different than winter fly fishing.
“I think the appeal is just watching those flags go,” he said. “Boom that flag flips up and you’ve got a fish on and you don’t know what it is.”
On the other end of Tornow’s line dipped into Skilak Lake in early January was a 30-inch rainbow trout.
“I got him up into the hole once and then my buddy missed him and he slipped back down, went on another couple of runs,” he said, adding he did a lot of screaming and hollering when they finally landed the hog. “It was the biggest one I’ve ever pulled through the hole. I couldn’t believe it.”
Trustworthy ice fishing tourney set
Trustworthy Hardware and Fishing will be hosting its annual ice fishing tournament for youth and adults this February. Scott Miller with Trustworthy said anglers can come in to the Soldotna store and sign up for the free tournament now.
“We have a division and significant prizes for each species of fish on the Peninsula and they just have to fish through a hole in the ice — freshwater — anywhere on the Peninsula,” Miller said. “They can bring the fish into the store to be weighed and have pictures taken.”
Miller said the store has weekly prizes and goodie bags for youth in the minnow division in addition to larger prizes such as augers, tents, gift cards and others.
“It is about $15,000 worth of prizes,” he said.