Any fish that thought the hard shell forming over their watery abode would protect them from the plying lines and barbed hooks of anglers is apt to be disappointed.
After a November cold snap, most of the region's shallow water bodies froze over, kicking off the ice fishing season.
With more wintry weather in the forecast in the coming week, some of the area's deeper lakes should soon have enough ice for give anglers even more options.
"Right now this is early season," said Scott Miller, of Soldotna Trustworthy Hardware and Fishing. "A lot of the stocked lakes are very active."
Miller said that some of the smaller stocked lakes such as Johnson Lake in Kasilof, Longmere Lake in Sterling, Sport Lake in Soldotna and the Swanson River lakes are sure bets this time of year.
"You can get some great fishing in this time of year," he said.
Miller said stocked lakes might not have the biggest fish prowling under the ice, but they tend to be a little more exciting.
"Especially with kids they give a lot of action," he said. "Sport Lake is a great lake, there's tons of fish. They're small but it keeps them active."
He said small pieces of cocktail shrimp are irresistible to the hungry trout and landlocked salmon that inhabit some of these lakes.
Additionally, single eggs and small flash jigs are reliable.
Miller said to stay close to shore; fish are unlikely to be found in the middle of a lake.
As the winter progresses, deeper lakes will begin to freeze over.
Reports from officials at both the Department of Fish and Game and the wildlife troopers indicated that Hidden Lake off of Skilak Lake Loop Road had just formed a layer of skim ice.
Miller said the lake is particularly popular with lake trout anglers, but attracts the hard core.
"It's not an easy fishery out there at all, it's usually just the diehards that go out there. It's not real active," Miller said. "Sometimes you'll catch a couple, other times you can go for days with nothing."
He said, however, the fishing there tends to get better, along with the size of the fish being pulled through the ice, as the days get longer.
He said a lot of people will use bigger baits for the bigger fish such as herring, two- to three-inch spoons, airplane jigs or soft bait that imitates juvenile rainbow trout.
The region's biggest lakes, Skilak, Tustumena and Kenai, take longer to freeze and most won't be solid until sometime in January, depending on the weather.
With no shortage of lakes on the peninsula, anglers have a variety of options, from the nearby and accessible, to the far and remote.
Jason Pawluk, the Assistant Area Management Biologist for Fish and Game's Sport Fish Division in Soldotna, said the department stocks a number of remote lakes that see little attention during the winter months.
Long Lake and Meridian Lake are possible options for secluded day trips, but could require a lot of breaking trail.
Carter Lake, near Moose Pass, offer plenty of scenery and is accessible by snowmachine.
Wildlife Trooper Todd Mountain said that while sources may vary, there are some general ice thickness guidelines anglers should take note of before heading out onto a lake.
Mountain spends more than his fair share of time patrolling area lakes and said he's even found himself in trouble on thin ice.
Just to go out on foot, Mountain said he likes to see four to six inches of ice cover a lake. For an ATV or a snowmachine, he said he won't go out without at least a foot, and for a truck he needs at least two feet to feel comfortable.
If anglers are heading out onto an unfamiliar lake, or one where the ice has just formed, he said the best bet is to go out 20 feet and test the thickness. If conditions look safe continue out another 20 feet and perform another test.
"Drill a hole, if you've got six inches you've got to realize that a little further out it will get thinner," he said.
Equally important he explained, is to consider the weather. Warm, windy or rainy conditions could quickly affect ice thickness.
What goes on under the ice such as currents or animal activity can also reduce ice thickness.
A few winters ago Mountain said he was checking traps on a pond and stepped through thin ice near a beaver's air hole.
"I didn't recognize the change in ice color and the ice was only two inches thick and down I went," he said.
The surrounding ice was too thin to fully support his weight as he tried to scramble back up, and Mountain said he found himself struggling to get back on solid ground.
Fortunately he was traveling with a friend who used an eight- or nine-foot tree limb to reach out and pull him back up with.
Mountain said that traveling with a pair of emergency ice spikes as well as a friend are both smart ideas.
Additionally he said to bring extra clothes and consider bringing fire-making tools.
After falling through, if it's not too cold or too far, it might be OK to make a beeline for a vehicle or home.
"If it's colder, sometimes the best thing you can do is build a fire and dry your stuff out," he said.
Staying warm above the ice takes some advanced planning as well.
"Always be prepared, ice-fishing is a cold sport," Miller said. "As with any winter activity where you're not moving around, you need good boots."
He especially recommended waterproof boots since things can get sloppy when auguring through the ice.
Additionally he recommended a good pair of gloves as hands get wet handling fish.
One of the advantages of ice fishing is it's a sport that can be as cheap or as expensive as anglers want to make it.
"You can get out there pretty darn cheap," Miller said. "I've seen guys out there with dowels and line on the smaller lakes."
He said typical gear for novices includes a 24- to 28-inch medium action combo rod lined with six-pound test.
Of course anglers will also need an auger. For those looking to generate a little body heat and drill through the ice themselves, Miller recommended a six-inch diameter model. The smaller size moves less ice, which means less work he explained.
More expensive power augers are also available.
For those looking to be really comfortable, Miller said pop-up shelters are available for anywhere from $100 to $300. Paired with a portable propane heater, things can get cozy, he said.
For local ice thickness reports, anglers can call the Soldonta Wildlife Troopers at 262-4573 or the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge at 262-7021 for observational information from officers and rangers in the field.
Mountain said angler reports are also available on Alaska Outdoor Journal Web site, alaskaoutdoorjournal.com and the Alaska Outdoors Supersite, www.outdoorsdirectory.com.
Dante Petri can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
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