New Experience: Ice Fishing In Alaska

I grew up in California, and the only fishing I did as a kid was in a stocked lake, once. I remember the wiggly worms that we put on hooks and feeling that the carnage of piercing the wriggling body was just too much for me. Fast forward 30 years and I’m living in Alaska and exploring the fruits of the land with a new perspective.

Up to now, almost 12 years into living in this strangely wonderful place, the only fishing I’ve done is dipnetting on the Kenai. Dipnetting is available to Alaska residents only, and is a method of fishing that allows you to wade into a river with a large net and scoop out fish. Depending on the day and the run you can limit out in one day, supplying you freezer for an entire family.

When I first tried dipnetting, especially as I thought back to the fishing experience of my youth, I figured the process once they were pulled out of the river would leave me wishing to be elsewhere. But interestingly, as I allowed myself to experience it, learning from others and being part of the community, I was surprised by the feeling of gratitude as I pulled just what we needed out of the river and was fulfilled by managing the process from river to plate all on my own. Everytime we cook up a filet from the freezer or serve up canned salmon, I feel proud. Not to mention it feels great to feed my kids such healthy food.

I’ve longed to learn other forms of fishing, and I’ve always been intrigued and baffled by ice fishing. To tell the truth, I’m a bit of a chicken. The idea of walking on a layer of ice over a lake to then drill a hole to fish, not to mention that there are a number of other people and on some lakes heavy cars and trucks next to you being held up by this same three foot ice layer, freaks me out a bit.

Well this past weekend, I got my chance to try it out! A colleague of mine hosted an ice fishing derby out on Finger Lake in Wasilla, Alaska. I thought it would be a fantastic opportunity to experience something new and expose the kids to a unique way of enjoying the bounty of Alaska. So we piled into the van with the dog and took off to join the crew.

Walking out on the frozen lake was a slippery experience. As we ventured along the icy path we could see bubbles frozen in time, and my imagination was running wild about the watery landscape beneath. But, I powered on. We found our group, all smiling and grateful that the sun was shining. Our host gave us the lay of the land and we witnessed another member of the crew pull out a salmon within five minutes of arriving!

We were ready! The kids put a shrimp on a hook and lowered the line into the frigid hole. And we waited. I think the greatest part of fishing is the visiting with your friends part. Of course the shared excitement when you feel the tug on the line is a huge plus as well. Although we didn’t catch anything, others certainly did and much laughter was had. Oh, and you don’t have to worry about icing your catch, you can just lay it on the ice – just not too close to your fishing hole!

Oh, and one more thing. If you ever head out there to try it out, try not to freak out and ugly cry when you hear ice cracking, apparently that just happens and it’s nothing to worry about. Luckily I don’t think anyone was recording or photographing at the time of my delicate little panic attack, and as you can see I lived to tell the tale.

Fish on!