FAIRBANKS (AP) -- Consider it a mission of mercy.
With winter's grip tightening on the Alaska Interior, the state Department of Fish and Game is looking for a few good ice fishermen to go out and kill some fish before they die.
It's called ''winter kill'' and it happens every year in some of the more than 100 stocked lakes around the region. Fish that are planted in the lakes in the spring run out of oxygen in the winter and die off.
''All the plant material decomposes and there's no oxygen,'' said Cal Skaugstad, a sport fish biologist in charge of Fish and Game's stocking program in the Interior.
There are about a half-dozen lakes and ponds that go anoxic in the winter, Skaugstad said. The die-offs usually occur sometime between January and March, meaning the fish in potentially anoxic lakes have just a month or two left to live.
This year, Fish and Game stocked more than 750,000 fish in Interior lakes and ponds, ranging in size from fingerlings (3-to-4 inches) to catchables (8-to-10 inches). That number included 500,000 rainbow trout and 200,000 silver salmon.
The winter die-offs are a waste of perfectly good fish that anglers have paid to have stocked with their tax dollars. Skaugstad would rather see the fish end in frying pans rather than at the bottom of a pond or lake.
''We put the fish out there for people to harvest,'' he said.
Ken Alt visited Little Lost Lake recently and wasn't disappointed with what he found. The small lake is located next to Quartz Lake, about 80 miles west of Fairbanks.
After catching only one rainbow trout in two days of fishing at Quartz Lake, Alt and two companions pulled in 11 rainbows ranging from 14- to 16 inches in 90 minutes of fishing at Little Lost Lake.
''They're beautiful and in good shape,'' said Alt, president of the Interior chapter of Trout Unlimited. ''If you want to catch rainbows, that's the place to go.''
Fish and Game put 1,000 catchable-size rainbow trout in Little Lost Lake in May and nobody knows how many are left, though Alt and his partners didn't have any trouble finding fish.
''I fished there this fall and had fantastic fishing in the open water,'' Alt said.
Little Lost Lake is super productive, Skaugstad said. ''It's only nine- or 10 feet deep, the water's warm and there's all kind of food. It's perfect for rainbow trout.''
Surprisingly, one reason there are more fish in some of the stocked lakes than in previous years is that more anglers are releasing the fish they catch rather than taking them home. That despite liberal bag limits of 10 fish per day per angler.
According to Fish and Game studies, anglers keep only one out of every three fish they catch in a stocked lake.
''That's great but that's not what I intended when I put them in there,'' Skaugstad said. ''It's causing problems for me because now I'm overstocking some lakes. It's neat they're doing it but I've got to adapt.''
The fact that people are releasing fish in stocked lakes doesn't surprise Alt.
''The philosophy of killing everything you catch is changing,'' he said. ''More people are going out for the experience and that's more important than bringing home a whole lot of fish.''
(Distributed by The Associated Press)
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