Outdoors/Adventure

Fall finally arrived — and with it, prime fishing and bird hunting conditions

Most of the big-game hunting seasons have closed, at least for the time being. Bird seasons are still open and the warm extended fall weather is making for pleasant hunting. The Interior lakes remain ice free. Fishing has been excellent.

The best thing about early October is the quiet. No tourist motor homes. No ATVs racing down the trail. No Jet Skis churning up the fishing hole. The swans overhead don’t seem like noise, rather the harbinger of late fall.

This fall has been wet. The past 10 days of dry weather have been our missing early September. Sharp frosts and days in the 40s, with no snow on the ground, have kept the game birds actively seeking the last of the berries. Late-flying geese and cranes are picking the last fallen grain from the fields.

Cranes are seldom seen in Delta Junction the first week in October. Several decent flocks were passing through the Delta barley project on Election Day. Wednesday and Thursday saw another 500-600 birds landing in the fields. There are also white-fronted geese scattered here and there.

The sharp-tail population seems at least fair. The birds seem overly spooky considering the lack of raptors in the area. My experience is a single-shot deal with the pump gun. You might get a couple shots off with an auto or a double.

Spruce hen are numerous on Delta trails, not so good around Paxson. Spruce chickens aren’t much of a challenge with a shotgun. Air rifles are an excellent choice with that species. Air rifles are quiet, rarely spooking a flock of birds. Spruce hens usually fly into the closest spruce tree and perch there. Care should be taken to leave a minimum of two birds from the group to insure winter survival.

Spruce hens are still feeding on lingonberries, thanks to the lack of snow. Once the first snow hits, these grouse are almost inedible. They switch food exclusively to spruce needles — and the birds taste just like them. You can make them marginally usable by marinating in milk, but you will have to be open-minded.

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The hares are changing to their winter coats, making them stand out in the still-brown willow thickets. The problem is there are almost no hares to be had in the Interior.

There may also be another few weeks of open-water fishing. Paxson, Summit and Tangle lakes are always excellent for lake trout in October until freeze-up. Spawning has finished. The fish are actively feeding in the shallows. Most of the weed beds, while not completely down, are at least more sparse. The October winds drive bait fish into the windward shore shallows. Strong winds stir up snails. Casting from shore, especially on gravelly points will be productive.

Anglers should use small spinners or spoons. It is hard to second-guess the favorite chartreuse spoon, but opting for a gold spinner such as a No. 2 Mepps wouldn’t be a bad choice. All lakes are a bit different; Swede Lake trout seem to prefer red/white spinners with a touch of yellow. A No. 5 Mepps with yellow beads on the shank is a great choice for that lake. Do not make the mistake of using a feathered hook.

Burbot may also be lurking in the shallows chasing sockeye smolt. Nothing beats a red/white Dardevle, unless you can trace down a Kamlooper spoon. Pay careful attention to the regulations as some waters have hook restrictions.

Stocked lakes are also a good choice. Rainbows and char, which were previously picky on the warm summer days, are now quite the opposite. Instead of bait fishing, try trolling. A No. 1 silver spinner fished 10-12 feet down will take rainbows. Go with a gold “0″ for land-locked silvers. A chartreuse Krocodile will catch char. The little silvers can be fished almost on the surface. Char need be targeted deeper and slower than rainbows. Lures should 100 feet behind a motorized boat. Your lure can be much closer if you work from a kayak or rowboat.

The soggy fall we were all whining about has been forgotten — oh the fickle outdoorsman. We all scramble for the woods to make one more memory before the first lasting snows. When the city folks bemoan the slippery roads and crash into each other, the rest of us only have the exorbitant fuel prices that limit our mobility. Ah — but when there is finally snow, there are skis and dogs to keep us mobile off the road system. Soon, soon; some of us find it hard to wait.

John Schandelmeier

Outdoor opinion columnist 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.

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