Ask an avid ice angler just what the appeal is of sitting out in the middle of a frozen lake waiting for a nibble, and the first answer you generally get is an "I don't know."
But then, there's a pause for a moment of reflection, and therein lies one of the great appeals of the sport.
"I'm not sure -- people ask me why you stand out on a lake and stare at a hole all day," responded Funny River resident John Jedlicki when that question was posed to him while watching his hole in the ice on Mackey Lake earlier this month.
"There's time to ponder things, and there's the enjoyment of catching a fish."
"I've got nothing better to do, so I might as well catch dinner," added Jeremy Mohs, a friend of Jedlicki's.
Jedlicki and Mohs, also of Funny River, had ventured out onto Mackey Lake to try their luck for Northern pike, a species not native to the Kenai Peninsula, but introduced into Mackey Lake.
"I heard there was Northern in here," Jedlicki said. "I'm from Minnesota, and that's the fish to catch there."
Neither Jedlicki nor Mohs was having any luck, not even a nibble, but both said that ice fishing on the peninsula, particularly for rainbow trout on the lakes stocked by the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, can be a productive and enjoyable pastime.
Jedlicki said he usually chases rainbows on Aurora Lake, located about 14 miles up Funny River Road.
"I usually go a couple of times a week," Jedlicki said. "Usually, you can be pretty productive, and catch a meal or two each time you go out."
Of course, any anglers wishing to venture out onto the ice should exercise extreme caution after the balmy weather of the past few weeks. The peninsula's lakes did have a good chance to freeze up during November and December's subzero spells, but some lakes, particularly those with water moving through them, like Skilak Lake, or lakes with spring action beneath them, could have been affected by the warm temperatures.
Kenai Peninsula Wildlife Refuge Officer Mimi Thomas reported Wednesday that she had been out on Watson Lake and Peterson Lake recently. A couple of anglers on Watson Lake said there had been several parties fishing there last weekend, while an angler on Peterson Lake said the ice there was still about 2 feet thick.
Anglers should be cautious of overflow, as well as streams along the shoreline where ice might not be as thick.
Larry Marsh, the assistant area management biologist with Fish and Game in Soldotna, recommended trying the peninsula's stocked lakes when starting out.
"One advantage is that there's fish in stocked lakes, and most are very accessible, so it's easy to take along the kids and get them involved," Marsh said. "Some of the more remote lakes, like along the Swanson River, have good populations of trout, but they present a stiffer logistical challenge when you've got to take a snowmachine or skis and a sled."
A list of the peninsula's 28 stocked lakes is available at the Fish and Game office on Kalifornsky Beach Road in Soldotna, or on the Fish and Game's World Wide Web site at www.state.ak.us/local/akpages/FISH.GAME/adfghome.htm.
Marsh said that Johnson Lake in Kasilof is popular, as is Longmere Lake in Soldotna and Hidden Lake in the Skilak area on the refuge.
The limit for rainbows caught in lakes and ponds is five per day and five in possession, though only one can be 20 inches or longer.
Legal tackle includes bait and treble hooks; Marsh said many anglers favor salmon eggs or shrimp, while Jedlicki said he prefers the smallest lure he can find, preferably one that glows in the dark. Jedlicki said he tries different colors based on how bright or dark the day is.
Marsh said that some anglers insist late afternoon is the best time to fish, while others prefer morning hours.
Marsh said he is skeptical about light penetration theories in light of thick ice and snow covering most of the peninsula's lakes. Instead, Marsh suggested, anglers should take available daylight into consideration when working out the logistics of a trip -- if you've got decent flashlights or headlamps, you can get set up before the sun rises and linger on the lake until after it goes down.
Jedlicki said the fishing for rainbows has been great this year, and added that he normally has whatever lake he's fishing on to himself -- a far cry from the combat fishing conditions found on the peninsula during the summer.
The last step for Jedlicki and Mohs is the frying pan. Jedlicki said he likes to fry some bacon, season his catch with cajun-style spices, then fry it up in the bacon drippings.
"Then it's ready to go," Jedlicki said.
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