In Anchorage, Fish and Game gets help stocking Cheney Lake with 1,500 rainbow trout

Cheney Lake

Sixty-one-year-old Beth Tiongson was all smiles Wednesday night as she stood next to Cheney Lake holding a plastic bowl filled with murky water and two squirming rainbow trout. She paused while a relative took her picture and then stepped closer to the lake and stooped down.

“Ready?” she said. “Goodbye!”

With that, she tipped the bowl into the lake and released the fish into the water.

Tiongson, who is visiting from the Philippines, was among hundreds of people who came to Cheney Lake on Wednesday night to help the Alaska Department of Fish and Game stock the East Anchorage lake with 1,500 rainbows.

Cheney Lake

Long lines formed at two trucks towing tanks filled with fish from the William Jack Hernandez Sport Fish Hatchery at Ship Creek. Fish and Game workers scooped fish from the tanks into plastic bowls, which were passed out to kids and grownups waiting in line.

One or two fish at a time, the lake filled with trout.

At most Anchorage-area lakes, “fish in” comes before “fish on.” If you catch a fish at one of them, odds are good it came from the Ship Creek hatchery.

Cheney Lake

Fish and Game will release 121,000 rainbows, 46,000 landlocked salmon, 4,800 arctic char and 2,500 arctic grayling into Anchorage-area lakes this summer, according to Molly McCarthy-Cunfer, the supervisor of the Ship Creek Fisheries Center.

McCarthy-Cunfer helped organize Wednesday’s stocking at Cheney Lake, where a big crowd gathered to watch and help. Little kids giggled and squealed as they carried bowls to the water. Many paused to stroke their fish before setting them free.

“It feels, like, slimy,” said 6-year-old K.J. Peter.

Cheney Lake

Nine-year-old Hazel Henderson proudly announced that she had released three fish. She was among seven children accompanied by Liz Luber, who lives near the lake and brought four of her kids plus three others from the neighborhood.

“It’s just awesome for them to have a chance to be awed by nature and see it up close,” Luber said.

The two trucks at Cheney Lake are part of a fleet of six that spends the summer stocking Southcentral Alaska lakes. The trucks often draw crowds, but nothing like the scene Wednesday night, where cars filled the parking lot at the lake and a church parking lot across the street.

Fish and Game frequently gets calls from people who want to watch a lake get stocked, McCarthy-Cunfer said, but the schedule is too inexact to predict when a truck may arrive at a specific lake.

“Today we stocked in Soldotna, Talkeetna, Mile 180 on the Parks Highway — we’re going all over the place,” she said. "It’s hard to say ‘We’ll be here at 11 o’clock.' "

That’s why Fish and Game planned and publicized two evening stocking events this week. The other is scheduled for 5:30 p.m. Thursday at Finger Lake in the Valley.

Cheney Lake

“People are always calling us to see when we stock the lakes," McCarthy-Cunfer said. "We’re having this event to meet that demand, to let people come and watch and help us.”

The rainbows released into Cheney Lake are 18 months old and range in size from 7 to 14 inches. Fish and Game has heard reports of 20-inch rainbows being taken from Anchorage lakes, McCarthy-Cunfer said.

Cheney Lake has been stocked three times since April and will be stocked at least one more time, she said; over the course of the summer, 14,500 rainbows and 4,000 salmon will be released into the lake. According to Fish and Game’s statewide harvest survey, Cheney Lake is one of the most popular fishing lakes in town — others include Jewel Lake, Mirror Lake and Otter, Clunie and Sixmile lakes on JBER.

Cheney Lake

After about an hour Wednesday night, the crowd thinned. Everyone who wanted to release a fish got their chance, yet more fish were swimming in the tanks, so Fish and Game workers released them through a pipe that pumped water and fish into the lake. Oohs and aahs came from children as they watched fish shoot through the pipe.

How long the fish will survive is anyone’s guess. An hour after the trucks had left, about three dozen anglers stood on the shore while jumping fish broke the surface of the water.

Cheney Lake

Hatchery manager Gary George said it sometimes takes a day or two for newly released fish to bite, something fisherman Robert Piekarski and his 12-year-old son Brigham were learning.

“They didn’t bite at all, not for us," Brigham said.