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A January day in Alaska brings random thoughts on politics, fishing and snowmachines

  • Author: John Schandelmeier
    | Opinion
  • Updated: January 23
  • Published January 23

There is no rhyme or reason to my thinking on this day. Maybe because I was up till midnight last night messing with a nice load of fire-killed spruce.

I am far from political, but maybe Joe Biden will shut down the Pebble mine process. I will also bet the folks from Arctic Village are happy with Biden as he will quickly close ANWR back down.

One has to scratch our heads and wonder what Gov. Mike Dunleavy is thinking with his court challenge of the Army Corps of Engineers’ rejection of the Pebble permit. Thought he was pro-fish?

The subject of fish, sockeye salmon in particular, can be contentious if one is in Cook Inlet. Sport fishermen, personal-use fishermen, subsistence users and commercial guys all want a slice of the not-so-big pie. The salmon forecast has yet to be released for the Inlet. We also know that the feds have still not finalized their plans for the portion of Cook Inlet they manage. Commercial fishermen could again get the short straw.

The Copper River salmon forecast has not been released either. Let’s hope that run comes in better than last season. Neither commercial nor personal-use fishermen had much success.

In contrast, sport fishing, at least in the Paxson area, has been excellent. Some of the good fishing has come about because of good-ole coronavirus. No one comes fishing these days. I can count the fishing holes this winter on my right hand — the one with some missing fingers.

People are afraid that someone might drill a hole within six feet of them, or what? There were very few summer tourists in Alaska, thus limiting fishermen on Paxson and Summit Lakes. The feds helped the lake trout population in Paxson Lake by shutting down state moose and caribou hunts on federal lands, thus limiting the number of incidental fishermen on the lake. I could count the number of September boats on the Paxson on my left hand, the good hand.

Should you decide to brave the unseasonable warm January weather, come prepared for nice days, unreasonably good snow and almost no overflow on area lakes.

Ice depth on most Denali area lakes is less than two feet. Temperatures have been ranging from minus-20 to 30 above, though there have been only a couple of days below zero thus far in January. If one elects to ride to Tangle Lakes or into Swede Lake, expect slightly lower temperatures.

Hunters need to be aware that the state Nelchina caribou season is now closed, with the harvest quota achieved. Federal users still have until the end of March.

The caribou in Unit 13 have moved some distance from the Denali area although they are still staying mostly within the unit. This season’s Forty Mile caribou herd was easily available along the Steese Highway. Quite a number of subsistence hunters from the Delta Junction area took advantage of the two-caribou limit.

Should you decide to come to fish, a shotgun could be a bonus. There are spruce grouse around (mostly inedible unless you love the taste of spruce needles) and a few sharptails are hanging along the higher ridges. There are not enough sharptails to actually target the species, but you could get lucky.

Ptarmigan season closes in 13B and 13E on Feb. 15. There are scattered flocks.

Daylight is increasing rapidly. We have gained well over an hour since Christmas. That fact, coupled with the pleasant weather, should be a boon to snowmobiles.

I will grant that we could use a little more snow for playing in the mountains, but if you are more of an expedition guy than a high-marker, you will be overjoyed. I have an old standard-track 340 Arctic Cat Puma that can go about anywhere this season. The last time I could say that was probably the year after it was built.

I have gone from politics to fish to snowmobiles and stayed away from opinions on all, though most anyone can find disagreement on any of those three subjects. The best advice is to strap on a pair of snowshoes, walk to the nearest clearing and view the night sky. Give thanks for the wonderfully benign winter we are experiencing, then gather the family and get outdoors this coming week, before she drops to 40 below.

John Schandelmeier is a lifelong Alaskan who lives near Paxson with his family. He is a Bristol Bay commercial fisherman and two-time winner of the Yukon Quest.