Driskoll Heath eyes a hole in the ice while fishing on Sport Lake in Soldotna last winter. Cold weather and freshly stocked lakes are making the winter pastime possible again.
Clarion File Photo
After several weeks of freezing weather but virtually no snow, recreationists eager to wax skis, strap on snowshoes and drag out the sleds welcomed the modest two- to three-inch snow fall that blanketed the western Kenai Peninsula last week.
This week, however, blistering winds blew trails and hillsides almost bare and littered the ground with branches, frustrating snow enthusiasts. But not all winter recreation requires snow for outdoor fun to begin. Once temperatures drop and lakes freeze the season is more than ready for ice fishing.
“This is actually the best time of year, right after it freezes up because oxygen levels are still high and the fish are still active,” said Patti Berkhahn, a fisheries biologist with the Alaska Department of Fish and Game.
Although fishermen can ice fish any time of the winter as long as there is ice thick enough to stand on, fishermen typically catch more fish in a shorter period of time in early winter than they do in the middle of winter, she said.
And thanks to a couple of weeks of cold weather, Berkhahn said most lakes are likely solid enough for fishing, but cautioned fishermen to always test the ice they fish on by drilling as they progress away from shore.
To determine whether ice is thick enough to walk on, fishermen should look for a minimum of five inches of clear ice, and fishermen driving onto ice should look for at least 12 inches.
Coho and chinook salmon are particularly good biters in the winter and can be caught using lures or bait, as can rainbow trout and Dolly Varden.
For a list of stocked lakes on the Kenai Peninsula or anywhere else in Alaska, fishermen can visit www.sf.adfg.state.ak.us and click on “Stocking Information.”
Fishermen headed to the Kenai area early this winter may want to cast their attention toward Island Lake in northern Kenai. On Tuesday, Fish and Game stocked Island Lake in Nikiski with about 500 arctic char between two and four years of age.
“There were some real good-sized ones,” Berkhahn said.
Patience and warm clothes help keep ice fishing fun.
Clarion File Photos
Berkhahn hesitated to guess how big the fish were, but said some were at least 24 inches.
To catch char, Fish and Game recommends using bait or jigging bright lures just above the lake’s bottom. Bait is more likely to catch small char and lures larger char.
For the beginner looking to hook whatever will bite, a size 10 hook with a single egg or popcorn shrimp with quarter-ounce split shot secured 12 inches from the hook will lure a wide variety of pan-sized fish on smaller lakes, said Scott Miller, a manager at Trustworthy Hardware in Soldotna
“That works great for that, and that’s as simple as it gets,” he said. “Shrimp and the single egg seems to work really well.”
Generally the larger the lakes and the fish you are targeting the larger the hooks and gear you will want to use, he said.
If you don’t have any gear, you can get a pole setup for as little as $5, and a hand-held auger for as little as $36. If you don’t want to buy an auger you can buy a spud bar instead. Spud bars run anywhere from $12 to $20 and can be used to reopen holes that have been drilled and then left by other fishermen, or to make a hole in thinner ice.
Fishermen will also want to bring a tool to skim the slush that may form in the hole while fishing, such as a large slotted kitchen spoon.
On smaller lakes at this time of year, fishermen will generally want to make their holes close to shore in six to eight feet of water and within 10 to 20 yards of shore.
Fishermen looking for larger fish in larger lakes, such as Hidden Lake, may want to fish in deeper water ranging anywhere from 60 to 80 feet.
For beginning fishermen and kids, smaller stocked lakes are a good place to start.
“(It’s) great fun for kids to get out on the smaller lakes. It’s a lot of action with the stocked lakes, the rainbows and the silvers,” Miller said.
As you work to improve your techniques, your best source for fishing tips may be just a couple of ice holes away.
“When you get out to the lakes, talk to the guys that are fishing,” he said. “They’re usually full of knowledge.”
Patrice Kohl can be reached at email@example.com.
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