A wide range of trips throughout Southcentral Alaska.
Anchorage: 47°/66°/Partly cloudy
Fairbanks: 45°/75°/Mostly cloudy
Juneau: 48°/69°/Mostly cloudy
It's a rite of spring for many Anchorage skiers: a trip across Portage Lake to the glacier face. It can be a crowded place on a bluebird weekend, so photographer Marc Lester set out to experience it in a different way: He skied out all alone at night.
Bird Treatment and Learning Center invited the public to visit and learn about bald and golden eagles at its Save the Eagles event on Saturday, January 12, 2013.
Vapor rises and overflow freezes in this view of the Matanuska River on Wednesday. Take a photographic tour along the Glenn and Old Glenn highways in the Valley on a clear, cold day at the Focal Point photo blog.
A small plane is just one of the many ways to experience the beauty Alaska offers. These are recent photos from a flight along the Susitna River towards the Alaska Range.
The short drive along Turnagain Arm reveals a unique arena for many outdoor activities. The sunsets aren't bad either.
The cold temperatures of the past week have insured safe travel on all of the lakes in the Copper River Basin.
And good ice means good fishing.
Lake trout are the primary target for most anglers in this area. These trout can reach 20 pounds and better; the state record is 47 pounds. A fish more than 15 pounds is usually good for a story, especially if you try to get it through an eight-inch auger hole out of 20 feet of water.
Lake trout abundance in Alaska varies considerably from one water body to the next. Generally speaking, the smaller lakes have a greater quantity of fish, while Crosswind Lake, Paxson Lake and Swede Lake are generally known for big trout. Fielding, Summit and the Lake Louise system also produce plenty of larger fish.
Several of the small lakes along the Denali Highway have population estimates of nine fish per acre, while Paxson Lake produces just more one fish per acre. However, last winter a trout nearly 30 pounds was caught at Paxson, while you would be lucky to get a five-pound fish in the majority of the lesser systems.
Lake trout can be fished by a variety of means. Spoons, such as daredevils and Kamloops, work well. A relatively active red-and-white or chartreuse lure in 12 to 20 feet of water will usually get results.
A larger presentation, such as a halibut jig or light-colored buck-tail, generally will produce larger fish. To target these fish, work your rig slowly and fish water as shallow as six feet, especially later in the season. Bait, such as herring or whitefish, in conjunction with a lure, is also effective, but first, check the regulations for the lake you intend to fish -- many have bait and lure restrictions.
Anglers will have the greatest success between 11 a.m. and 2 p.m. during the winter months.
Good quality line is also a must. There is significant wear and tear if you have a big fish running with a lure in shallow water. That wear can be minimized somewhat by feathering the bottom edges of your auger hole to make it less abrasive. I prefer a disappearing mono-filament, such as Trilene, at about 20-pound test.
A portable ice fishing house is a plus. A good house will allow you to be out in the wind at minus 20 in relative comfort. A sunflower head on a small propane bottle will get your coat off and possibly even the kids in to fish with you.
An 18-inch square hole flared to be a couple of feet wide at the bottom will give a lot of visibility and allow for lighter tackle. I once had a trout more than 20 pounds come up into the hole after my jig. Of course, he got away.
Lake trout are a long-lived species. Some have been recorded at 50 years of age. Most don't spawn until they are more than 7 years old and even then some of the fish may be less than 18 inches in length. In some water bodies, sexual maturity may take 14 years.
Lake trout spawn in September or early October. The exact timing is triggered by water temperature. Their growth rate is still a matter of conjecture despite being studied near to death in water systems throughout Alaska and Canada. One fish tagged in Paxson Lake grew only a half-inch in nine years!
As a rule, a 20-inch fish will be about 10 years old, though some fish will never get much bigger, even if they live beyond 30.
Because of the slow recruitment, catch limits are relatively small. There is a one- or two-fish limit in the majority of roadside lakes. Catch and release is an effective conservation tool since many of the fish taken through the ice are caught in the upper jaw. They are relatively easy to turn back unharmed if not removed from the water.
Lake trout feed on other fish, water bugs and snails. Local knowledge will tell you that the snail-eaters stay small, have orange flesh and taste better. There are no real hard facts to substantiate this, but check stomach contents of those fish that have yellowish flesh and visible fat on the inside of the body cavity and you will find them full of whitefish or salmon smolt.
Lakers can be cooked in a number of ways -- broiled, baked or fried. Cut them in half-inch squares, boil them for three minutes, add cooked potatoes and celery, plus a bit of milk and you will have a delicious fish soup. Use paper bowls or plates and there aren't even dishes to wash -- and that gives you a shot at going fishing again soon.
John Schandelmeier of Paxson is a lifelong Alaskan and Bristol Bay commercial fisherman. A former champion of the Yukon Quest International Sled Dog Race, he has written on the outdoors for several newspapers and magazines.