It's always fun to fish. There are times, however, when fishing can be a bit stressful. "Hey," a friend of mine said, "I have a couple of Chinese dudes who want to catch a fish. You're a fisherman; this should be right in your pond." An excuse to fish instead of cut firewood sounded good to me. I said, "Sure, you bet."
The first thing to do was to go prospecting for fish. There are quite a few of lakes between Delta Junction and Paxson that have numbers of stocked fish. I picked a lake with rainbows and lake trout, loaded up the kids and wife, and off we went. The day was clear and calm. The temperature was a balmy minus 10.
I have a good portable fishing house and a propane bottle with a sunflower head that keeps things warm. I took a half-dozen of those short ice-fishing poles, jigs, small lures and some salmon roe for bait. I was ready. The warm winter plus a couple feet of snow on the ice made me cautious. I tested the lake first with an axe. The top few inches were milky overflow ice. The ice below that was clear and solid. I gave my assurance that the ice was adequate and the entire crew ventured out on the lake.
This was an unfamiliar body of water. I scouted the steep banks for an indication of structure that might continue on underwater. A rocky outcrop looked promising; a few steps past it, I drilled the first hole. There was 20 feet of water. I thought that too deep for December, but my 9-year-old immediately disputed that by landing a foot-long rainbow. The second and third holes were soon through the foot of decent ice. My wife landed a nice lake trout, and I got busy re-baiting hooks. There were lots of fish here. I thought this would be great spot for the guests.
The arrangements were made and a day later I was waiting at the pull-off for the tourists to arrive. A one-ton van pulled up with tinted windows. The door opened and out come a couple of women. Soon, there were nine of them standing by the van … and a guide. They were dressed like they were going to a supper club. They had little tiny house boots and gloves without fingers. One of the women sported a skirt and leggings. Oh, my.
I had anticipated something like this (I have fished with this friend before), and brought four pairs of Neos and some VB boots. I also had a half-dozen parkas and a second ice house in the truck. I spend an hour dressing this crew. The guide knew enough English to say "yes, yes." The rest had no words that I know. None of them appeared to have ever held a fishing pole.
The women laughed and conversed happily on their way to the fish house. I soon had all of them inside and lines down. It took a fairly elaborate pantomime to get these newbies to keep their lure near the bottom. The fish were hungry and the action was steady. There were lots of fish biting, but not many made it to the top of the ice. The intricacies of turning the crank on the fishing reel seem to be beyond these gals.
Somehow, a few fish were brought to the surface, including one 4-inch monster. The girl who landed that fish was overjoyed and indicated she wanted to know if she could eat it. Certainly, I gesture, she can keep it to eat if she likes. She immediately did just that. Eat it. Sushi.
Everyone was getting a bit cold, the tips of the fishing poles were icing up, and the sun had disappeared behind the mountain. It with time to go. My wife showed up at the pullout just in time to help get the crew geared down. There was much giggling and waving of hands. The guide clarifies: the women wanted to know how an old dude like me caught such a good-looking woman. "It is just like fishing," I told them; "you need a little luck."
Stocked fish are among the easiest fish to catch. Look at the Alaska Department of Fish and Game sportfish web page to see when lakes were stocked. Stocked rainbows like roe. Char prefer single eggs; personally I like yellow ones. Planted lake trout are best targeted with small chartreuse lures. I've had fair luck on florescent spoons as well. Twelve feet of water is a good starting point. Should you find good clear water, save egg shells, crush a goodly number and drop them down the hole. The white shells will let you see fish as they cross the hole. Good luck to you.
John Schandelmeier is a lifelong Alaskan who lives with his family near Paxson. He is a Bristol Bay commercial fisherman and two-time winner of the Yukon Quest International Sled Dog Race.