Reel Times Newsletter
It’s Time to Get Out and Go Ice Fishing
It’s cold, ice has formed on many lakes across the state, and that means it’s time to dust of the ice fishing gear and head out for some time on the hard water.
Ice fishing is a great way to spend time with friends and family. If you’ve never gone ice fishing, there are a few things you’ll want to keep in mind. First, preparedness is key. Ice fishing gear is a bit different than what you’d use for open-water fishing. You’ll want to be sure you have the correct gear before heading out. Personal safety and comfort should also be on the top of your check list before drilling holes in the ice.
Are you an avid ice angler? If so, please consider taking someone ice fishing who has never been before. And share your fishing stories on social media using #wefishak.
It’s not too early to buy your 2021 fishing license. A fishing license makes a great gift for the holidays. Buy one for yourself, of give the gift of fishing to someone you know. Licenses can be purchased online at www.adfg.alaska.gov/Store.
If you’re active on social media, tag your photos and fishing stories using #wefishak. And be sure to check us out on Instagram @wefishak. You can also follow us on Facebook at ADF&G - wefishak. We also have a YouTube channel where there is a growing collection of fishing-related videos.
While you’re out there targeting the catch of the day, be sure to practice social distancing from any fellow anglers you may encounter and follow the Governor’s heath mandates, which can be found here.
If you have a comment or story ideas for Reel Times, we encourage you to send them our way. You can send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.
We’ll see you on the water.
Division of Sport Fish
Alaska Department of Fish and Game
Get out and go ice fishing for Arctic char
Our staff at the William Jack Hernandez Sport Fish Hatchery have been busy lately stocking fish in lakes throughout Southcentral Alaska. While staff have stocked species such as rainbow trout and catchable (7-14”) chinook salmon, you might be interested in knowing where some of the broodstock (>18” Arctic char have been stocked.
A broodstock fish, or “brooder” is an adult fish that the hatchery keeps for spawning, or in hatchery terms, an “egg take”. These fish provide the eggs or milt used to produce the next generation of that species of fish. After an egg take, surplus broodstock are often leftover, and those fish make their way to select lakes in Southcentral Alaska to provide additional angling opportunity. Both Arctic char and rainbow trout surplus broodstock are stocked out after egg take events. In this case, we’re looking specifically at Arctic char broodstock.
The majority of the surplus Arctic char broodstock are three to four year-old fish. These fish are larger in size, on average measuring 22 inches and make for a fun and formidable fish to target through the ice.
Anglers can target these fish in lakes using small lead-head jigs tipped with a small piece of bait such as shrimp or cured salmon roe. It’s often best to thread a rubber body such as a Mister Twister or tube onto the shank of the hook. Pink, orange or white jig bodies work well for Arctic char. Check local regulations for the use of bait on the area you plan to fish.
The following lakes were recently stocked with Arctic char brooders:
- Island Lake (on the Kenai Peninsula): Received 50 Arctic char brooders on October 28.
- Campbell Point Lake (in Anchorage): Received 97 Arctic char brooders on October 28.
- Also received 89 catchable-sized brood.
- Sand Lake (in Anchorage): Received 97 Arctic char brooders on October 28.
- Also received 178 catchable-sized brood. These fish on average measure a little more than 11 inches.
- Finger Lake (Mat-Su Valley): Received 97 Arctic char brooders on October 29.
- Seventeenmile Lake (Mat-Su Valley): Received 97 Arctic char brooders on October 29.
- Also received 89 catchable-sized brood. These fish on average measure a little more than 11 inches.
Fish stocking efforts for other species will continue throughout the winter months. For those of you hoping for more broodstock, keep watch for rainbow trout broodstock in the winter months! Otherwise, you’ll have to wait again until next fall.
For a complete list of stocked lakes in Alaska, visit our stocked lakes page.
If you have questions about ice fishing, please contact your local Alaska Department of Fish and Game office.
Be sure to follow ADF&G – Ship Creek Fisheries Center on Facebook for stocking updates and other fishing information.
Go online to buy a sport fishing license
Giving the gift of a fishing license is a gift that literally keeps on giving all year long. Sport fishing licenses are valid for a calendar year – January 1 through December 31. Sport fishing licenses are a practical gift for an angler of any skill level.
Residents of Alaska who are 18 years of age or older, and non-residents who are 16 years of age or older need a valid sport fishing license to fish in fresh or saltwater of Alaska. Anyone targeting king salmon, with the exception of king salmon stocked in lakes, will need a king salmon stamp in addition to their sport fishing license.
An annual resident sport fishing license is $29.
An annual resident king salmon stamp is $10.
Non-resident sport fishing licenses:
Non-resident annual king salmon stamps:
A non-resident military sport fishing license is available to active duty members of military service and their dependent(s) who have been permanently stationed in Alaska for less than 12 months for the price of $29. A non-resident military annual king stamp is available for $30. The same stipulations as mentioned before apply.
For more on residency requirements, please visit: https://www.adfg.alaska.gov/index.cfm?adfg=license.residency.
It is extremely easy to go online and purchase licenses, king salmon stamps, and an array of other items for the 2020 season in one fell swoop. If your entire family has made the nice list, simply click ‘Select Another Customer,’ to add more than one person at a time to make the process quick and painless. If you plan to purchase a sport fishing license for someone else, be sure to have their necessary information in order to complete the transaction (Name, address, driver’s license number, date of birth, etc.). Then, print off these great gifts and slide them into a Christmas card for someone special or make it a surprise that’s hidden in the tippy toe of their stocking.
Beat the crowds. ADF&G wants you and your family’s holiday season to be enjoyable, relaxing and stress free. Give the gift that brings joy all year long.
To purchase a sport fishing license or king stamp, visit the online store at www.adfg.alaska.gov/Store/.
Get out and fish. Together.
Fall fishing for rainbow trout on the Susitna River
By Sam Ivey, Area Management Biologist
Fall is all about putting up food in preparation for the winter months to come. It is part of an annual cycle that seems unstoppable. Like other animals, we are on the go, taking advantage of what activities and resources are available to us at the moment. As we move through autumn, we pick berries and harvest our gardens. With a fishing rod in hand, we are topping off the freezer with a few last coho salmon and then transitioning to a rifle and the desire to put up moose and caribou. Other animals are doing the same, just in different ways. Bears don’t have a freezer, so they gorge on salmon until they become one. Rainbow trout are feeding on salmon eggs and decaying salmon carcasses, getting ready to spend six months out of twelve under thick ice, relying on their fat reserves to carry them through winter until they can properly spawn the next spring. Every circumstance is unique, but we are all a part of it in our own way.
If you attain the goal of many Alaskans, at some point during fall, you’re feeling all set for winter. It’s all too easy to begin leaning toward the mindset of the bear — hibernating on the recliner is starting to sound good. But we’re not done yet. Drink some coffee or hoist a Red Bull because coho salmon season wasn’t the end of it and there is more fishing to be done following moose season. This is now about fun. Rainbow trout, these fish are not going anywhere. They are resident species, meaning they stick around in our local freshwaters year-round.
The Susitna drainage has headwaters in both the Talkeetna and Alaska mountain ranges, encompassing 30,000 square miles and a network of major glacial and minor clear water river systems that interconnect and eventually drain by one channel into Cook Inlet. Much of the area is only accessible by boat or airplane, but the Parks Highway does traverse the drainage south to north, cutting across numerous clear water tributaries along its east side. Rainbow trout are abundant in every single one of these tributaries- Willow, Little Willow, Kashwitna, Sheep, Goose, Montana, Talkeetna, to name some major ones. There are a few others further to the north, such as Troublesome, Byers, Honolulu, East Fork Chulitna, and while these aren’t as popular, they are worth checking out and some are considered to be secret spots as far as fishing goes.
What is notable about fall time rainbow trout fishing? It is good. And there are a couple of reasons. First, as already mentioned, rainbows have spent some time getting ready for winter. Think of them as fat and happy, but also hungry. These are vibrant fish with fat reserves that make them more girthy than earlier in the year. Second, they are seemingly in higher abundance because they have become more concentrated. Where earlier in the summer, they were spread throughout streams, now they are balled up in the lower reaches or in confluence areas.
Susitna rainbow trout are potamodromous, meaning they make timely seasonal migrations within the river system, but never leave freshwater. Their migration follows the glacial discharge cycle of the Susitna River and the annual salmon runs. There is plenty of research out there describing annual migrations between stream and lake habitats, but not so much on annual movements within streams alone. Research was conducted by ADF&G in the 1980s on tributaries of the upper Susitna and more recently, the early 2000s on select streams (Willow, Kashwitna, Montana, Talkeetna) lower down in the drainage, implanting radio transmitters in rainbow and tracking their seasonal movements and documenting habitat usage. A graduate student followed up on this work in 2013-2014, highlighting summertime movements specifically on Willow Creek1. This research shows rainbow trout making migrations in the spring and fall between upland summering tributaries and the Susitna mainstem where the winter months are spent. The spring migration is set in motion by an increase in stream discharges around mid-May; rainbows ascend the tributaries to spawn and then stay put to recover and rear, feeding on salmon eggs and later, salmon flesh.
The fall migration occurs more gradually as discharges decrease. Trout begin to drop out as tributary water levels drop out, and that may vary slightly year to year depending on how cold or wet the fall is. But in general, they transition into the lower reaches of tributaries during September, gradually moving into confluence areas over the next month and eventually into waters of the Susitna suitable for holding during the winter months, most often just downstream of the stream exited. The Susitna is low, but discharges are still greater than in the tributaries.
All this should spark another appetite for anglers and hopefully it outweighs the early alarm clock chime and the urge to hit snooze and sleep just a bit longer. It’s time to experience fall in all its splendor. Blue skies, golden leaves, cold breezes that make you zip your shirt up to the neck and put on a hat, and most important, pull on warm heavy socks. Well, don’t overthink it, just add another layer of underclothes and go. This is it. Pick up a fly rod and migrate to the mouth of Willow Creek, Sheep Creek Slough, or Montana Creek. You’ll be fishing more in the Susitna than in the tributary.
Susitna Landing at the mouth of the Kashwitna River or lower Talkeetna River right out of town, can be fantastic fishing in later September and for much of October. It should be mentioned that all of the rainbows tagged in the early 2000s study (rainbows larger than 16 inches) exited the smaller tributaries, Willow and Montana creeks, while roughly a quarter remained in the lower reaches of Kashwitna River and about half remained in lower Talkeetna River throughout the winter, the rest fully exited those systems. The Kashwitna and Talkeetna rivers are larger rivers with greater discharges than the other two study tributaries. They are semi glacial during the summer months but clear up considerably during fall time. You can fish their lower reaches right up to the point of too much slush ice getting in the way. Even though rainbow trout are the main attraction, Dolly Varden will also be prevalent, as well as Arctic grayling. Imagine the opportunity to catch fish that not long ago were higher up in the drainages and out of reach.
Like people, rainbows like to eat high on the hog with salmon eggs and decaying salmon flesh being on top of their menu. Choosing a variety of egg and flesh flies is a good way to go and most of these, like the cotton candy fly, are easy enough to tie up yourself. RJ wooly buggers should be in your fly box, especially if grayling are at hand; the silver or gold beaded heads of these or similar flies seem to attract grayling. Beads that mimic salmon eggs work well and come in a variety of sizes and shades of red/pink (these are like live or dead eggs drifting down the river). Don’t forget about the infamous egg-sucking leach that can be white, purple, or black bodied, and don’t be afraid to wing out the often-overlooked sculpin imitation. Size six is the most common hook size for all these flies and appropriate for the size of fish you’ll likely encounter. 18 inch fish are common, with the rest ranging from about 10 inches to 29 inches in length from nose to tip of tail. Be leery of someone who touts catching one over 30 inches. They may be out there, but out of the 1,156 fish caught between 2003-2004 alone in those four study tributaries, the largest was 28.5 inches long, which was caught behind some pre-spawning coho salmon pooled up in lower Montana Creek, just down from the Helena Road access point during mid-September (see photo).
While this article has focused entirely on highway accessible fishing spots, the adventuresome angler not keen on winterizing the boat so quickly should consider making a trip up to Lake Creek, which drains into the Yentna fork of the Susitna drainage. Lake Creek, like a few other Yentna tributaries, supports a world class rainbow trout fishery. It just so happens that Lake Creek is a little more accessible, but only by jet boat, and only by folks willing to boat a cold 50 miles to the confluence.
Fall fishing for rainbows and other resident species starts in early September and continues until the rivers are flowing ice. This is a time to get out and enjoy the progression of the changing season, while witnessing one of the many natural transition’s animals are making in preparation for winter. You are doing the same, preparing not just the freezer, but the mind as well.
1 Kevin M. Fraley, Jeffrey A. Falke, Richard Yanusz & Sam Ivey (2016). Seasonal Movements and Habitat Use of Potamodromous Rainbow Trout Across a Complex Alaska Riverscape, Transactions of the American Fisheries Society, 145:5, 1077-1092, DOI: 10.1080/0028487.2016.1202320.
Reel Adventure – Earrings made out of fly tying materials
Do you tie flies? Consider making a set of earrings as a gift (or for yourself) using some basic fly tying materials. You can watch a video tutorial on this process here.
Field to Plate – Recipe of the Month
Pumpkin Alfredo with Seared Alaska Scallops
Enjoy this pumpkin alfredo with seared Alaska scallops recipe from our friends at the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute: https://www.wildalaskaseafood.com/recipesdb/?recipeId=ODEw.
If you have any questions about the Reel Times newsletter, please contact Ryan Ragan at email@example.com
Reel Times Articles List
- It’s Time to Get Out and Go Ice Fishing (2020-11-10)
- A fish the color of fall (2020-10-07)
- September – Fall fishing at its finest (2020-09-04)
- Silver linings – Fall fishing for coho salmon (2020-08-10)
- Hook it and Cook it – How to make the most of your catch (2020-07-06)
- Go online, then go outdoors (2020-06-05)