All posts by Chris Cocoles

Headed To California? Fish For Big Bucks At Lake Isabella Derby

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Sorry to slip in a California-ish story on the blog, but if you’re going to be in California at the end of the month, check out the  Lake Isabella Fishing Derby, which is put on by our friends at the Kern River Valley Chamber of Commerce. The folks there provided us with this press release with some information on the trout derby at the Kern County Lake near Bakersfield. and scheduled for March 28-30.

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Despite the drought and a lower lake level, the Kern River Valley Chamber of Commerce and ReelChase are happy to announce that there will be a fishing derby this coming year. The 2015 Isabella Lake Fishing Derby will be held on March 28, 29 and 30!
According to the Chamber’s Fishing Derby Committee, some adjustments to the profile of the derby have been made, but they are confident that everyone who enters will have a great time. One of the changes this year, are a number of guaranteed winnings. According to the committee, the Chamber is looking forward to having the opportunity to give away some very good prize money. As always, Lake Isabella will have some of the largest trout in the area for the Derby and whether yours is a moneymaker or not, it will still prove to be a good diner size trout for you to enjoy.
This year’s big money prize trout will be worth a guaranteed $18,500! There will be 10 Longest Trout awards starting with the highest at $5,000 and descending to a $500 10th Longest Fish! The prizes will be structured in the following order; (1st Longest Trout) $5,000, (2nd) $4,000, (3rd) $3,000, (4th) $2,000, (5th) $1,000, (6th) $900, (7th) $800, (8th) $700, (9th) $600, & (10th) $500. That $5,000 catch will be worth $10,000 if it is caught by an angler wearing n official 2015 Derby T-shirt!

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Measuring will be taking place during Derby hours at Derby Headquarters only, which will be at the Lake Isabella Moose Lodge located at 6732 Lake Isabella Blvd. Along with these prizes, there will be a possibility for anglers to win in the always popular, Bobber Bowl Sweepstakes. Several, huge one pound plus trout with an official 2015 Derby tag will be worth up to $100 each, generously sponsored by local merchants, organizations and individuals.
Also this year, any registered fisherman will be able to win a Vacation Voucher worth $6,000 if they have the winning ticket! Tickets for the Voucher are only $20 each or six for $100.
More prizes and drawings that will be available at Derby Headquarters during the three-day event will be announced as March approaches. This year the entry fees will be $30 per individual and $65 per family. The Derby will start at 7 a.m. on Saturday, Mar. 28 and continue until 4 p.m. on Monday March 30, and the winners will be announced shortly after that the close of the derby.
Thank you in advance to all of the anglers from across California and beyond who will be coming out to the Kern River Valley for the derby. We welcome you and your families, and warmly invite you to have a great family weekend. Updates on the Isabella Lake Fishing Derby news to follow in the coming months before March! We’d also like to thank all of our sponsors for their support! This derby would not be possible without your continued generosity.
For additional information or to join the rest of us in registering call (760) 379-5236, e-mail us at office@kernrivervalley.com or friend us on the Lake Isabella Fishing Derby Facebook page for the latest posts.
GOOD LUCK!!!!!!!!!

Seattle Wild Salmon Advocates To Host Rally

Photo by Brian Lull
Photo by Brian Lull

 

We’ve dived into the wild salmon versus farmed salmon debate among restaurants and grocery stores in previous Alaska Sporting Journals. It’s a critical issue in terms of long-term effects on the Pacific fishery and it’s very important and dear to the hearts of many Alaskans who have worked hard to preserve wild salmon and question the potential impact of salmon farms that have popped out throughout nearby British Columbia, Canada.

This weekend in Seattle, a rally will bring together pro-wild salmon supporters to send their message. Here are the details:

 A broad coalition of progressive groups, concerned Costco customers, and fishermen will demonstrate this Saturday at the Seattle Costco to challenge the grocery chain to publicly commit to not sell GMO salmon. Due to a campaign by Friends of the Earth and local, regional and national allies, more than 60 retailers, including Target, Whole Foods, Trader Joe’s, Safeway and Kroger, representing more than 9,000 grocery stores across the country, have made commitments to not sell this genetically modified fish. As one of the largest retailers of salmon and seafood in the U.S., and headquartered in the Northwest region home to Pacific wild salmon, Costco’s stance on GMO salmon will factor heavily in national retail decisions.

Nearly two million people — including scientists, fishermen, business owners and consumers — have written to the FDA in opposition to the approval of genetically engineered salmon due to the risks GMO salmon pose to human health, environment and wild salmon. Despite this outcry, the FDA is still considering GMO salmon’s approval. If approved, this would be the first genetically engineered animal allowed by regulators to enter the U.S. food supply, and it will likely not be labeled.

What: A rally and petition delivery of more than 50,000 petition signatures demanding that Costco commit to not selling GMO Salmon.
Where: In front of the Seattle Costco (Sodo neighborhood), 4401 4th Ave S, Seattle, WA
When: 2-4 p.m., Saturday, March 7
Who: Representatives of Alaskan Native American Tribe, UFCW Local 21; fishermen; members of the Washington environmental community; and Seattle residents will speak at the rally.
Visuals will include people holding banners, and salmon art and boxes of petitions.
Background on GMO salmon and market rejection of the GMO salmon is available at www.gefreeseafood.org

For more information, contact Danielle Friedman, organizing director at the Community Alliance for Global Justice, and Dana Perls, food and technology campaigner for Friends of the Earth.

Danielle Friedman, (206) 910-7877danielle@seattleglobaljustice.org
Dana Perls, (925) 705-1074dperls@foe.org 

Alaska BOG: No Drones For Commercial Salmon Fishing

Photo by Nicolas Halftermeyer/Wikimedia

Photo by Nicolas Halftermeyer/Wikimedia

The controvesy over drones has already affected hunting in Alaska. Now you can include commercial salmon fishing.

Here’s the Alaska Dispatch:

The Alaska Board of Game, which sets wildlife regulations, a year ago approved regulations blocking hunters from using remote-control aircraft to locate big game, and the Board of Fisheries has now moved to prohibit commercial fishermen from using drones to spot schooling salmon.

The latest action came Sunday at the Fish Board meeting in Sitka. Board members shot down the use of drones for economic reasons.

 “I’m for keeping pilots employed and not using unmanned aircraft for fish spotting,” the station reported him saying.

Board chairman Tom Kluberton agreed, according to KCAW, saying he tends “to look very hard at existing patterns of areas and fisheries, and I do like — whenever possible — to promote economic stability. We’ve had aircraft in this region for a long time. There are folks who stake their livelihoods and contribute to local economies flying their aircraft. I feel it’s just an unnecessary move” to allow drones.

 

Lost Blind Dog Reunites With Owner

 

(ASSOCIATED PRESS PHOTO)

I’m a sucker for inspiring stories about dogs, and this is a remarkable one out of the Fairbanks area:

 

A blind dog who wandered away from her Ester, Alaska, home during a cold snap has been reunited with her owner.

The 11-year-old Labrador retriever named Madera ventured away from home on Feb. 6, when the temperature dipped to 40 degrees below zero.

Her owner, Ed Davis, said he didn’t expect to find her alive. “My best hope was to walk those trails and look for a track that might be hers,” he said. “My best hope was to find a frozen dog.”

A man riding a bike accompanied by a bell-wearing dog located Madera in the woods last week, about a half-mile from the Davis’ home, Fairbanks Daily News-Miner reported. Madera let out a whine when she heard the dog’s bell.

 

SMALL GAME, BIG FUN

HUNTING FOR HARE, BIRDS A GREAT FAMILY OPTION By Paul

D. Atkins As we pushed our way through the waist-deep snow, the big snowshoe hare just sat there and waited. His “white” camouflage blended perfectly with the snow, but not quite good enough to keep my 8-year-old son, Eli, and I from pushing forward. With each step I figured he would bolt; he didn’t so we decided to keep moving towards him. I slowly raised the BowTech bow and settled the pin.

In most states, hunting small game usually takes a back seat to hunting big game, especially in Alaska. With moose, caribou and sheep practically around every corner, most people forget that the state also harbors some of the finest small game pursuits in the country.

As hunters we all live for the fall, and rightly so. Bears, sheep and goats are constantly on our minds, and we absolutely cannot wait until the season opens. Like most people who chase animals either with a bow, rifle or shotgun, it becomes a total obsession that drives us not only throughout the year, but also throughout our lives. Some of that year can feel empty though, but there are solutions.

ABUNDANT GAME  In the unforgiving Arctic, winter can be a long time going. It starts pretty much after the seasons for big game are over and extends all the way through late April when the bears have decided enough is enough and exit their dens. During this time, usually starting in March, life for a hunter can really start to heat up, literally. Bright, sunny days with 14 hours of daylight combined with good snow, frozen ground and a good cabin or tent to hang out in can be as grand as any moose camp, especially if a group is involved.

The author and son Eli, 8, revel in the harvest of small game in Alaska. Taking your kids on a small game hunt is an ideal way to introduce them to not only the outdoors, but also conversation, shooting and so many aspects of the hunting life. (PAUL D. ATKINS)

The author and son Eli, 8, revel in the harvest of small game in Alaska. Taking your kids on a small game hunt is an ideal way to introduce them to not only the outdoors, but also conversation, shooting and so many aspects of the hunting life. (PAUL D. ATKINS)

It’s during this time that small game in Alaska run abundant: everything from ptarmigan to the big snowshoe hare and a list of predators a mile long that roam the frozen tundra. The opportunities are endless, and being able to get out and chase these critters with your family is priceless.

Ptarmigan and Arctic hare, for example, are formidable targets with a bow. Their white fur and plumage are perfect camouflage against what Mother Nature has left us, and getting to them can be a very tough challenge. For the most part you will miss more than you will hit, but it provides some of the greatest times a family outing can provide.

FAMILY AFFAIR Last spring, my family and I loaded up our snow machines and went north, crossing 13 miles of frozen ocean. The trail was good, and within the hour we pulled into camp along a winding creek that was pretty much frozen solid. The bright sunshine was a blessing and the break from windy conditions provided by the tall spruce made things quite comfortable.

Crossing the frozen Arctic Ocean via snow machine is safe given the sea is frozen solid with anywhere from 6 to 8 feet of ice. (PAUL D. ATKINS)

Crossing the frozen Arctic Ocean via snow machine is safe given the sea is frozen solid with anywhere from 6 to 8 feet of ice. (PAUL D. ATKINS)

After unloading our gear, guns, bows, arrows, and packs, we set up our tent. There’s always something special about taking your kids outdoors; I can think of nothing better than a day spent hunting small game. I wish all parents would do more of this.

After a quick warming up in our Arctic Oven and downing some hot chocolate, we began our hunt along the narrow creek, carefully eyeing the banks and adjacent willow flats for any kind of movement.

It was great fun. The first rabbit we saw was a bust, but we didn’t have to go far when suddenly something white flashed in the willows. We trudged through the alder in snow that was up to my waist and Eli’s shoulders and we quickly climbed the bank. I told Eli to try and walk on top of the willows and keep above of the snow; it worked somewhat, but the snowshoes I left at home would have been a blessing.

We could see the big rabbit in front of us when it finally came to a stop. We weren’t in range and had to get closer.

I figured like the first rabbit, he would break and run but did not. It has been my experience that snowshoe hares will actually stop and hope that the snow will camouflage them and blind their enemies to their presence.

A rabbit’s den in winter; snowshoe hare tend to run in cycles in the Arctic. For a couple of years they will be abundant, then taper off for several years. Years when numbers are high hunters will see a huge increase in predators, such as lynx, fox and wolverine, which can also be hunted. (PAUL D. ATKINS)

A rabbit’s den in winter; snowshoe hare tend to run in cycles in the Arctic. For a couple of years they will be abundant, then taper off for several years. Years when numbers are high hunters will see a huge increase in predators, such as lynx, fox and wolverine, which can also be hunted. (PAUL D. ATKINS)

 

This rabbit, however, made the mistake of stopping on a small snow pile. With Eli right on my heels, I got the bow up and drew, placing my 20-yard pin on his head. It was awesome; we had our first rabbit and I don’t know who was more excited – Eli or me.

After gathering our kill we walked on down the creek, only to take another big rabbit not too far from where we took the first one. It was a great time, with not only hunting but also being able to identify the many tracks that lined the creek. Everything from lynx to moose to wolf were there, and the ability to share those with my son was priceless. I have hunted all over the world, taking hundreds of big game animals, but this was by far the best experience of my life.

We continued down the frozen creek, only to spot a third rabbit in the willows. Like most of my rabbit hunts I only wanted to take three or four, enough for a good meal, and with any luck this would be our third. (Rabbit, if cooked right, is some of the finest meat available to man, rivaling venison in my opinion.)

The third rabbit ran into a hole beneath some overgrown willows. I pointed him out to Eli and we slowly began our stalk. Eli was excited when I handed him the .22 and told him that this one was his. Thinking he was safe the rabbit stayed in place only to have Eli bear down on him and squeeze the trigger. The rabbit didn’t move. I was so proud of my son, and even more when he trudged on ahead to claim his trophy. He reached in,  grabbed the big snowshoe by his hind legs and exclaimed this was the greatest day of his life. I quietly said it was mine too.

In addition to rabbits, ptarmigan provide good winter hunting for Alaskans. (PAUL D. ATKINS)

In addition to rabbits, ptarmigan provide good winter hunting for Alaskans. (PAUL D. ATKINS)

 

YEAR-ROUND FUN As far as small game goes, the Alaska Department of Fish and Game list three species of small game in the regulation manual: grouse (spruce, sooty, ruffed and sharp-tail), rabbits (snowshoe and Arctic hare) and ptarmigan (willow, rock and white-tail). All can be found in different parts of the state and can be hunted at different times throughout the year, depending on the unit you choose to hunt. Some units are closed to certain species; others are open all year. Bag limits are pretty liberal, but most have a possession limit. Check the ADFG website (adfg.alaska.gov) for more information.

Personally, I like to hunt in winter. The snow pack in and around willow thickets are a prime location for the bird hunter while the alder-choked riverbanks provide excellent cover for the big snowshoe hare. Hunting small game this season can be very challenging. All are camouflaged in their winter apparel and can be tough to locate, but with a little practice you will quickly pick up on an eye here or an eye there, or a slight shifting in the snow.

Shotgunning for ptarmigan is also a very popular sport in the Arctic. Like snowshoe hare, they can be found about anywhere, and being able to pick out the white bird is tough, but provides some great excitement. I use a 12-gauge shotgun with No. 4 steel shot. Getting in close and flushing the covey is a rush and you usually get your limit pretty quickly.

For small game, the author replaces broadheads with rubber blunts or judo points. (PAUL D. ATKINS)

For small game, the author replaces broadheads with rubber blunts or judo points. (PAUL D. ATKINS)

 

If you plan to bowhunt any of the small-game species, there are many options, from traditional archery to compounds and they will all work as long as you don’t mind losing a few arrows. Less heavy bows work best, as it doesn’t take much knockdown power to kill a rabbit or a ptarmigan. I set my bow as low as possible and use arrows tipped with rubber blunts; they fly great and prove to be a killing combination.

Chasing Alaska’s small game can be big fun, no matter your weapon of choice. All are great eating and don’t require much in terms of expense. Whether you pursue ptarmigan, grouse or the big snowshoe hare, they all provide that much needed break after a cold, dark winter and will fill the freezer with something besides moose and caribou. ASJ

Editor’s note: Paul Atkins is an outdoor writer and a contributing writer for Alaska Sporting Journal. He has written hundreds of articles on hunting big game throughout North America and Africa. Paul lives in Kotzebue, Alaska.

SOME GOOD FORTUNE AT ‘HARD LUCK’

HARDING LAKE’S ICE FISHING CHALLENGES

By Dennis Musgraves 

Grabbing the pull-cord handle and giving it a couple quick rearward yanks, I fired up the power ice auger.

I made a quick adjustment on the choke lever, which allowed the rough idling engine to keep running, warming up in the cold, crisp morning air. To prevent it from dying while I cut into the thick ice, I took extra time to make sure the machine reached a good operating temperature. I patiently waited for a familiar purring kitten sound, which indicated when it would be time to squeeze the throttle and put more holes in the lake.

 

The sun sets on Harding Lake, a  deep fishery near Fairbanks that has a reputation for skunking ice fishermen. (DENNIS MUSGRAVES)

The sun sets on Harding Lake, a
deep fishery near Fairbanks that has a reputation for skunking ice fishermen. (DENNIS MUSGRAVES)

HITTING THE ICE  

Fellow Alaskan Salmon Slayer member Chris Cox and I had already been ice fishing for lake trout for more than an hour on Harding Lake. I had become restless from the lack of activity on the Vexilar sonar monitor we were using to spy fish swimming 100 feet below us. Marking only a couple uninterested fish during the first stint of the day was not unusual while fishing for elusive “cheetahs,” but I had decided it was time to try a different location. Putting in some fresh ice holes a short distance away would give us a change in depth, and maybe a responsive fish.

I left Chris to watch the display on the fishfinder. I wanted him to continue jigging at our initial location, while I set off to drill the new holes. I intended on shifting about 100 yards, prepping the position and returning  to move all the equipment with Chris. The auger’s sharp blades worked quickly, evidenced by an accumulating pile of shaved ice on the surface. We would be fishing again very soon, boosted by a renewed promise for success.

Harding Lake regulars refer to it as “Hard Luck” due to the challenges of not just fishing it but getting to it through huge snow drifts at entry points. (DENNIS MUSGRAVES)

Harding Lake regulars refer to it as “Hard Luck” due to the challenges of not just fishing it but getting to it through huge snow drifts at entry points. (DENNIS MUSGRAVES)

But just as I was about to punch through the remaining inches of a third ice hole, I heard what sounded like someone crying out in the distance. Actually, maybe it was more like I felt someone crying out in the distance, since the noisy machine deafened my hearing abilities.

The faint noise sounded panicky, so I let off the auger’s accelerator. As the motor hushed to an idle, I began to hear the distant yelling more clearly. It led me to look over my shoulder.

Somewhat shocked, I realized it was Chris. He was screaming at the top of his lungs, trying to get my attention, frantically holding a rod in each hand. Both sticks were doubled over and flexing wildly.

It appeared he had his hands full, literally.

At some point while I had been drilling out the new holes, Chris hooked up. Judging by the twerking rods it seemed to be a good-sized fish (or maybe two?) and I probably should have stayed with him.

 

BAD LUCK CHARM?

My friends and I have affectionately nicknamed Harding Lake, “Hard Luck.” It’s a fitting name since winter fishing is normally brutally slow and challenging. Even for the most avid ice angler, a bit of good luck is required when vertically targeting fish at this large lake.

But even with that reputation, it’s no secret what attracts me to Harding:
gigantic fish.

Finding fish at Harding Lake is made more difficult when you consider the small size of an ice fishing hole, and the lake’s 2½-mile width and 2,500 acres. (DENNIS MUSGRAVES)

Finding fish at Harding Lake is made more difficult when you consider the small size of an ice fishing hole, and the lake’s 2½-mile width and 2,500 acres. (DENNIS MUSGRAVES)

About 15 years ago, when I first moved to the Tanana Valley, I heard legendary stories and saw numerous pictures of enormous lake trout and Arctic char caught out of the lake. Pics posted on local sporting goods stores’ brag boards, tacked up to neighborhood gas station windows, and published in the outdoor section of the Fairbanks newspaper left me in awe. All of the angling evidence had me intrigued and excited about catching my own fins of glory one day at Harding.

The photos made it look easy, but I soon found out just how difficult the reality of hauling a lunker onto the surface would actually be. Hard Luck almost broke me – I went several winters without even a nibble. My relentless efforts, however, would eventually pay off. My theory was, if I didn’t go, I certainly would not catch anything – that was a guarantee.

Investing in a quality sonar device and filling my funnel full eventually allowed me to finally catch my first fish there. Harding has now become one of my main staples during the winter fishing season.

 

A DEEP LAKE     

Located only about 45 miles from Fairbanks, Harding Lake is reached by the Richardson Highway. The lake is large, deep, spans 2½ miles across and reaches depths of 145 feet. You can access the lake at two different locations: following the signs from milepost 321.5 to the Alaska State Park Recreational Area boat launch, or continuing to travel a little further down the highway for the lake perimeter road turnoff, which leads to a lakeside residential community boat launch.

The author reels in what he hopes is a trophy lake trout or Arctic char. Anglers will be aided in finding fish with sonar with the lake at such deep levels; in some spots Harding Lake is 145 feet deep. (DENNIS MUSGRAVES)

The author reels in what he hopes is a trophy lake trout or Arctic char. Anglers will be aided in finding fish with sonar with the lake at such deep levels; in some spots Harding Lake is 145 feet deep. (DENNIS MUSGRAVES)

Arctic char and lake trout are the fish I search for here during the winter. Expect the majority of both to be around 20 to 25 inches long, with some running from 28 to 36 inches. There are also burbot and northern pike present in the lake, but note that fishing for the latter is not permitted per Alaska Department of Fish & Game regulations.

Equipment plays a vital role in success at Harding. Vertically fishing in a 10-inch hole on 2,500 acres in 130 feet of water can be random, at best, if you’re actually trying to catch something. It is more like the proverbial fishing a needle in a haystack.

In order to compensate for the dynamics that Hard Luck presents, I prefer to use a Vexilar-brand electronic fishfinder. With it, fishing becomes more like stalking. I use the electronics to locate depths I want to fish in an area of the lake that’s usually between 100 and 130 feet deep. The finder will not only determine the depth, but also detect and display objects in the water column. When fish move under the transducer – at any depth – a mark turns up on the display.

The idea is to move your lure to the depth of the marked fish to entice a strike. Electronics will not guarantee you catch fish, but having a fishfinder will greatly enhance your ability to determine which depth to bring the lure up or down to.

Having the proper rod, reel, line and lure selection are other factors that you need to take into account to avoid failure at Hard Luck. I use a custom 32-inch medium/heavy-action rod designed for ice fishing for bigger catches. The  rod’s spine and the action of the tip allow you to fish lures of up to 1 ounce. It also gives you the ability to set hooks at deeper depths and handle the pressure of a large fish.

I use a low-profile baitcasting reel, strung with 20-pound braided line. I add a heavy-duty swivel at the end of the line with a 3-foot leader of 15-pound-test fluorocarbon. Off the leader, I tie on large spoons, plastic tubes on jig heads and, occasionally, herring.

 

CHALLENGES ABOUND 

You won’t see a hard-sided hut city on this lake, and there are no rental shanties from the state either. That and very slow action makes most fishermen drive right by Harding to waters down the road. The lake is also very difficult to access most of the season because of large snow drifts at the entry points. Expect to either walk or snow machine out on the lake most of the winter.

Once you get on the lake there’s no guarantee you will hook up. I have a habit of rolling more doughnuts fishing Harding than you can find at a bakery. Avoiding the skunk takes patience, persistence and, of course, a little good luck at Hard Luck. Once in a while, when the stars align correctly and Lady Luck lends her hand, anglers are able to catch a mammoth fish from the dark depths.

Investing in good equipment and spending hours on the lake will definitely give you an edge on dialing in and catching a beast, but it won’t be easy. I have managed to catch my share of trophy lake trout and Arctic char from the lake by using good equipment, making numerous outings and, of course, having some good old-fashioned luck.

The one constant is an inconsistent catch rate. The fish present an ever-changing pattern of here one day, gone the next. But that’s what makes pulling a 3-foot-long laker out of a 10-inch circle in the ice so rewarding: it’s simply not done every day.

 

FIGHTING A BIG FISH  

Watching Chris battle the large fish and listening to his whooping and hollering, I knew he might want some help surfacing the trophy-sized fish. Without hesitating, I killed the engine on the auger and quickly made my way towards him. Chris had flown north from his home in Anchorage to specifically spend the weekend fishing with me at Hard Luck. (It seemed like I had just picked him up at the Fairbanks International Airport and here he was catching a big fish less than three hours later – man, some guys have all the luck!)

I was a little breathless and excited when I finally reached Chris. As I stood next to him and surveyed the situation through the ice hole, it appeared to be a mess – jigging two rods in such close proximity had left fishing line  tangled under the ice. The laker had hit Chris’s jig like the proverbial freight train, taking off and pulling line off the reel, and then getting wrapped in the other line a short distance away. I reacted quickly by cutting the line on the fishing rod without a fish to eliminate further confusion.

With only one rod in play now, Chris gained control and slowly brought the fish toward the surface. I peered into the ice hole, trying to get a glimpse of what he had hooked. Then I saw it. In the clear water, the color and patterns were unmistakable. Chris was surfacing a beautiful lake trout that appeared to be at least 10 pounds.

He guided its head carefully up through the hole, lifted the big fish from the water and cradled the trout’s underbelly with one hand. He quickly cast his rod aside with his other hand and grasped around the peduncle of the trout’s tail, which was now totally out of the water.

Chris Cox was one of the lucky ones at the lake they call Hard Luck, landing a 30-inch laker before releasing it back into the icy water. (DENNIS MUSGRAVES)

Chris Cox was one of the lucky ones at the lake they call Hard Luck, landing a 30-inch laker before releasing it back into the icy water. (DENNIS MUSGRAVES)

Chris beamed from ear to ear with his accomplishment.

“Take the picture!”

I immediately obliged, and after a few quick snaps, we took a length measurement. The laker taped out at just over 30 inches, a little bigger than most fish we pull from Hard Luck.

“Not too shabby,” I told Chris.

Although not the stuff of 20-pound-class folklore, the fish was a very respectable lake trout, a fish any Harding angler would be proud to catch.

Chris did not want to harvest the beautiful old lake trout.

“Let’s get him back in,” he said.

He submerged the trout’s head back into the water, allowing it time to regain strength from the battle. That would hopefully allow the fish to swim off with a strong kick. Chris held the tail just out of the water as the fish revived, gathering strength. It did not take long for the fish to feel reinvigorated, and Chris let go. We both watched as the big fish kicked downward, disappearing into the deep.

Reflectively, I could not help thinking how easy this catch had seemed for Chris. Fewer than two hours had passed between his arrival at the airport and the hookset. For sure, this was not normal at Harding, but there was no hard luck for Chris.

NO EASY FEAT 

The next nine hours on the ice was far less exciting. We moved several times, jumping back and forth between different holes, feverishly jigging our lures, yet nothing we did induced another fish to bite. As the sunlight faded on the horizon, we packed up the sled for the last time.

There is nothing strange about a one-fish day at Harding. Indeed, I was happy for my friend’s angling success, despite finding myself fishless, dejected, and wondering what else I could have done on the day to hook into my own trophy. My feelings slipped out as I left the ice-covered surface.

“Hard Luck, I hate you.”

But I’m relentless, and I will be back. There be beasts in Harding.  ASJ

 

Editor’s note: Author Dennis Musgraves is one of the Alaskan Salmon Slayers, who fish throughout the state. Check them out on Facebook and at alaskansalmonslayers.com. 

THE DARK NIGHT RISES

CURING CABIN FEVER IN THE ALASKA BUSH

By Paul D. Atkins

Peering through the light of my headlamp was tough in the pitch black, but even more so with a sheet of falling snow hitting my face.

Lew, my fishing partner, was nowhere to be seen, but I could hear him cranking on the old red-and-white ice auger somewhere in the distance. “It won’t start?” I yelled. “No, it won’t,” he replied, even though it had started fine before we left the house. Every pull of the cord produced little, but he kept at it to no avail – it just wouldn’t fire, for some reason.

No worries though; we had plenty of time. Heck, it was only 4:30 by my watch, just another dark afternoon in the far north of Alaska.

 

An auger comes in handy when an opportunity to do some ice fishing arises, though as the author discovered, sometimes it just doesn’t work. When it does, catching a few fish from a frozen pond is quite a winter pastime. (PAUL D. ATKINS)

An auger comes in handy when an opportunity to do some ice fishing arises, though as the author discovered, sometimes it just doesn’t work. When it does, catching a few fish from a frozen pond is quite a winter pastime. (PAUL D. ATKINS)

LIFE IN THE Arctic during the months of December and January can be depressingly long, cold and boring at times. Without a movie theater, a mall or even so much as an Applebee’s, things can become quite monotonous, and the thrill of town life isn’t anywhere to be found.

For most people, it usually amounts to this: work all day, come home, eat dinner, and then watch SportsCenter on ESPN. Ordering from your favorite takeout restaurant is about as exciting as it gets, but only if one of the two is open. If the Northern Lights are out, mark that down as a huge bonus.

It’s no wonder cabin fever is widespread in these parts, with little to no daylight and days of ice fog so dense that you can’t see across the road, plus the fact that outside temperatures have plummeted their way through the basement. For some of us, the urge to dress up in our best cold-weather gear and head outdoors is a chore, but if you don’t, you will go crazy, and the worst case of cabin fever can set in and put you in a bad mood.

But if you’ve lived here as long as I have, you find ways to keep yourself occupied and not let the dark and cold get you down. Christmas is the greatest of the holidays and many celebrations take place, but most people have a hard time once the darkness sets in.

Throughout the late summer and fall leading up to the winter solstice in December, we lose about eight minutes a day of sunlight. This usually results in about an hour of visible daylight, which really doesn’t amount to daylight, just an eerie hour of dusk. The sun never breaks the horizon and, if you don’t notice it, it will pass you by. It can be tough for some.

 

THERE ARE MANY activities that can break this fever and depressing time. Getting outside, either on foot or a snow machine, is the key to staying sane. As for me and many others who call the far north home, these times are actually some of the most rewarding to be in the Arctic.

Most rural bush Alaskans go about it in different ways, and each seems to live by a certain ritual each year. For some, it is a time to hook up the SnoGo and venture off into the wilderness in search of firewood. Ever a staple for most, people having plenty of wood to fill the stove makes people happy and is a key to staying warm; plus it cuts down on the always-increasing high fuel bills.

Looking for a winter workout and not willing to go for a run in the bitter Alaskan cold? Chopping wood for your stove is one way to burn calories and keep your cabin warm. (PAUL D. ATKINS)

Looking for a winter workout and not willing to go for a run in the bitter Alaskan cold? Chopping wood for your stove is one way to burn calories and keep your cabin warm. (PAUL D. ATKINS)

Most of the time it is a family affair, and everyone eagerly waits to hear the roar of a chainsaw. The key is to start early, which means leaving in the dark and returning in the dark that same afternoon, with hopefully a sled full of dead spruce.

Many of us also try and find things that we are passionate about and can do indoors as well as out. Indoor shooting is one of them. Many years ago, I started an indoor archery league. Each week a group of us would meet at the school and shoot targets, either for fun or to conduct leagues with scoring systems and prizes at the end of each tournament.

This does many things for the psyche – it gives us something to do during the dark days. By bringing together like-minded individuals to shoot bows and talk about our passion, it also lets us hone our shooting skills, which will be important again come spring and fall when we are out hunting and gathering.

In addition, if you’re lucky enough and can time everything correctly, you can make it outside for that single hour of light and shoot your bow; maybe you can even fire off a few rounds from your favorite rifle, both high priorities in the far north. Others pursue the famous gigantic sheefish that lay just underneath the frozen ocean. This can break any fever, and if they’re biting, can provide endless fun and an endless bounty for the freezer.

There is something truly special about venturing out on the ice, drilling holes and catching or hooking fish in the cold darkness. If you have an ice hut or shack complete with heat, chairs and maybe a thermos of hot coffee, it can be as grand as any adventure taken in the daylight.

For some, photography is an avenue of hope during the dark days. Bundling up and braving the outdoors is an adventure in itself, but to grab your camera and capture some of what the Arctic has to offer can be breathtaking. Many search for and follow the aurora borealis, hoping to capture the elusive light through the camera lens. Some nights the show is unbelievable, while others not so much. Being able to get out and exercise, plus fill your lungs with that cold night air, can be invigorating.

 

The author heads back as daylight begins to disappear over the Alaskan Arctic. There are ways to keep busy during this cold time of year, when sunlight is not part of the equation. (PAUL D. ATKINS)

The author heads back as daylight begins to disappear over the Alaskan Arctic. There are ways to keep busy during this cold time of year, when sunlight is not part of the equation. (PAUL D. ATKINS)

CABIN FEVER IS a disease only if you let it be. Many people in the Lower 48 cannot fathom living in the dark, or the cold for that matter. It is definitely how you perceive it. There are many things to do, and most can be as adventurous as any other time in Alaska. The Last Frontier is just that, but for some it is the only place to be throughout the entire year.

We never did get that auger to start. Maybe it made too many runs to the ice during the peak months of April and May when it seemed like endless daylight. Or perhaps it was the beating it took in the back of the sled while driving a snow machine down a gravel road when the snow and ice had vanished from the warm days. Who knows?

All I know is that it was good to be on the ice watching the amazing stars – even if it was only 6 p.m. ASJ

Coast Guard Licensing Rule Could Affect Bristol Bay Guides

Photo courtesy of Eli Huffman/Jakes Nushagak Camp
Photo courtesy of Eli Huffman/Jakes Nushagak Camp

Our sales manager, Brian Lull, brought this item to my attention. Lull spends time every summer in Bristol Bay helping out the guides at Jake’s Nushagak Salmon Camp, so the following report is near and dear to his heart:

Here’s Dillingham radio station KDLG (audio is available on the website):

 USCG moving guides to full OUVP (“six pack”) licenses on Western Alaska rivers. Lodge owners say change is not feasible for their industry now.

The U.S. Coast Guard is in the process of implementing new regulations that sport fishing lodges in Bristol Bay say will harm their business this year. …

What the Coast Guard is proposing are modifications to the licenses used by guides, and the requirements to get those licenses. In the past, Hodson’s guides could operate on a “limited” OUVP, or Operator of Uninspected Passenger Vessel. The change, however, will now restrict a person with that license to guiding on only three waterways, and the operator must have 90 days experience on each of those waterways.

“Which in our business is impossible. You take Kulik Lake, I mean how do you get a boat up there, and what are you going to camp for 90 days just to get a license to operate that river?”

Nor, he says, is operating on only three waterways feasible for a sportfishing guide in Bristol Bay.

“For me, because we fly out and fish so many different waterways, it makes the guide unemployable. Because I can’t use them anywhere except a very limited area.”

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The Bristol Bay folks whose livelihood is the fishing industry are already fighting battles up there. Hang in there, everyone!

No Early Kenai King Fishing (Again)

Photo by Earl Foytack

Photo by Earl Foytack

The embattled Kenai River’s king salmon fishery has endured some difficult times in recent years. Now for a second straight year, parts of the Kenai will be shut down for early-run Chinook fishing.

Here’s the Peninsula Clarion with more:

The river will be closed to king fishing downstream of Slikok Creek through June 30 to protect early run king salmon.

Managers have also closed the river to king fishing upstream of Slikok Creek through July 31 to protect spawning early run kings, said Fish and Game Sport Fish Division Area Management Biologist Robert Begich.

While the king salmon management actions are largely similar to the 2014 preseason actions, anglers will have an opportunity to harvest Kasilof River king salmon during the early run.

Anglers will be allowed to keep a naturally produced or hatchery fish on Saturdays during May and June, Begich said, but the fishery will be restricted to a single-hook and no bait.

“Based on what we’ve seen at the weir, at the assessment site on Crooked Creek the last few years … they’re not producing well enough to do three days of harvest,” he said. “We feel that we can allow some harvest down there and still meet the needs for achieving escapement and then also a brood stock program for stocking.”

 

 

Shasta Lake’s Rising Water Level Good News For Houseboaters

SCANNERMAKER: NIKON; SCANNER: E990; SOFTWARE: E990v1.0; DATE: 2001:08:21 13:01:23; DESCRIPTION:           ; Ignored Tags: $9000, $9004, $927C, $9286, $A000, $A001, $A300, $A301

Release and photos courtesy of houseboats.com

Thanks to just two major storms this winter season, Shasta Lake has risen nearly 100’ since its low point at the beginning of December 2014. Though California remains in a drought, this bounty of water makes it time to look at the positives and get back to enjoying the wonders of majestic Shasta Lake this season. Nature is beckoning you, with over 270 miles of shoreline to explore, fish, hunt and hike.

You may well know that Shasta Lake contains an abundant variety of fish species. These species include: brown trout, rainbow trout, Chinook salmon, largemouth bass, spotted bass, smallmouth bass, black crappie, bluegill, carp, Sacramento sucker, Sacramento squawfish, riffle sculpin, black fish, hardhead minnow, white sturgeon, channel squawfish, threadfin shad, white catfish, brown bullhead, golden shiner and green sunfish. For those that don’t own a boat to visit the many coves and nooks for the best fishing, rental boats are available from Jones Valley Resort in the Pit River Arm of Shasta. Fishing vacations are a popular activity on the lake as well, with a plethora of houseboat models in a variety of price ranges available from Jones Valley Resort (houseboats.com) and others.

JV-58751

 

For the novice fishers, and even the experienced pros who want to use their precious non-working hours efficiently, professional fishing guides are available to take you out on Shasta Lake. A few include:
Sac River Guide (sacriverguide.com)
Mike’s Fishing Guide Service (http://www.mikesfishingguideservice.com/)

Shasta Lake is unparalleled in California for its size and beauty. Known as the ‘houseboat capital of the world’, the lake is widely popular during the boating season that roughly starts annually with Memorial Day weekend and ends with Labor Day weekend. But for the true lake lover, special timeframes to visit are in the spring while the wildflowers are blooming and wildlife awakening, and in early fall when both the water and days remain warm and the lake is a calm oasis.

SCENIC46

 

Sources for more information on Shasta Lake are:
Shasta Cascade Wonderland Association (http://www.shastacascade.com/)
vsitredding.com
houseboats.com
Shasta Lake Chamber of Commerce (http://www.shastalakechamber.org/)
Shasta Lake Business Owners (http://www.shastalake.org/)
shastalake.com