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Welcome to King Salmondeaux Lodge

Welcome to King Salmondeaux Lodge

 Alaska Fishing and lodging at King Salmondeaux Lodge in Soldotna Alaska, where Southern & Alaskan hospitality meet.  King Salmondeaux Lodge is committed to providing you the most memorable fishing Alaska trip of your life.

?King Salmondeaux Lodge is a fisherman’s dream come true. Located at mile 26.5 of the world famous Kenai river, and featuring over 700 feet of prime river frontage, this is the place where world records are set.  The lodge currently consists of 5 beautiful riverside cabins, four roadside cabins & introducing 2 new deluxe cabins in 2017! The deluxe & the riverside cabins are on the banks of the beautiful glacier fed Kenai River and the road side cabins are 100 yards from the riverside cabins.

Once you arrive, you won’t want to leave this hidden gem.  We are far enough from town that you feel like you are in your own private paradise… but yet close enough to run in for supplies or make easy day trips to Homer, Cooper Landing or Seward.  Even better, let us customize your trip for you with excursions & meal plans.

King Salmondeaux Lodge
33126 Johnsons Drive, Soldotna, AK. 99669

The Last Alaskans Returns On Discovery Wednesday

 

 

 

 

Discovery Channel

The above video is a sneak preview for Wednesday’s season premiere of Discovery Channel’s hit show, The Last Alaskans. We’ve written a couple profiles from this show, on Heimo Korth and Tyler Selden. It’s really good stuff. Here’s Discovery with more on the new season: 

Returning for a third season with more grit and heart than ever before, THE LAST ALASKANS continues to raise the bar forAlaskan life depicted on television.  Showcasing authentic, intimate stories and cinematic visuals of different families struggling to survive inAlaska’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, THE LAST ALASKANS returns to the untouched wilderness  when it premieres Wednesday, March 22, at 9 PM ET/PT on the Discovery Channel.

In 1980, the US government banned new human occupation in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, a protected area home to thousands of native animals and pristine terrain. Currently, only a handful of families spread across seven cabins are permitted to remain in the refuge. Within less than 100 years, all remaining permits will reach expiration, and there will be no human presence left.

This season, as the Artic Refuge’s final permit holders seek prosperity in a hungry land, a new generation steps into this age-old way of life.  Eager young trappers, Tyler and Ashley Selden, and Charlie Jagow fully commit to a life among North America’s most isolated, modern day pioneers. Aside from the day-to-day challenges, Tyler and Ashley face another surprise this season – welcoming their first child. Meanwhile, Bob Harte faces his mortality and flees the Alaskan winter and after 40 years in the bush, the legendary Heimo Korth yearns to pass the torch to his daughter Krin. In an unexpected twist, both new and old generations must now learn how to survive a winter with much lighter snowfall than past. The families have always relied on heavy snow for their mobility to trap. Without solid snow fall, dog sleds and snow machines are of no use. This winter’s wolf packs move closer to the cabins, making trapping by foot all the more perilous. With pressure on their livelihood like never before, will The Last Alaskans overcome the tribulations that lie ahead this winter or will the homestead and its memories simply return to the wilderness?

Puget Sound Boat Show Coming Soon

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THE FOLLOWING IS A PRESS RELEASE

Northwest boat dealers showcase the latest boat lines and models at the Puget Sound Boat Show, March 17-20 at the Tacoma Dome. With more than two-dozen area dealers offering great values on both 2016 and closeout models, the event is the go-to destination for Puget Sound area buyers preparing for on-the water fun this spring and summer.

Sponsored by Twin Star Credit Union, the show offers free parking (a $10 value) in Tacoma Dome parking lots each day of the show.

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On the eve of the boating season—in one of the hottest markets in the U.S.–showgoers will have the opportunity to shop and compare from the best selection of boats under one roof. Dealers will showcase entry-level and popular welded aluminum models, the latest fiberglass sport boats and offshore boats offering luxury and durability.

Fun and enjoyment is the focus of several exhibitors offering marine accessories, fishing gear plus wakeboards, water skis and other on-the-water toys. Local experts will offer how-to advice on fishing, navigation, safety and other topics in free seminar presentations each day of the show.

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Hours for the Puget Sound Boat show are Thursday through Saturday (March 17-19) 11:00 am to 8:00 pm, and Sunday (March 20) 11:00 am to 5:00 pm.

Admission to the show is $12 for general admission and free to children 16 and under. Get $2 off discount coupons online at www.pugetsoundboatshow.com.

The Breach Continues Its Message

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Our friend Mark Titus, whose wild salmon film The Breach, was featured in the magazine, filed this update:

Season of Salmon – Season of Lights

The winter rains have come and with them the salmon.  Kids marvel at the return of late-fall Chum and Coho into our urban creeks and streams.  All of us do.  When you watch these large fish in small water attempting to fulfill their life’s mission and truly think about what they’ve gone through to get here, it borders on the mystical.   Life finds a way.

 

I want to thank you for your continued support and encouragement of this film that somehow found its way into the world.  I’ve had quite a few queries lately on where folks can get it to give as a gift or to watch it over the holidays.  Well, you can access The Breachin all its current formats right now through our very own website by clicking right here:  SHARE THE BREACH

 

We’re going to have some exciting news to report in the next newsletter (the last of 2015, before the holidays.)  Here’s a peek:  First, The Breach is partnering with several esteemed organizations doing vital work for wild salmon, sustainable food and the planet.  We’re going to have the opportunity to push the film out through their channels while simultaneously raising funds for their important work.  Second, we’ve got a new streamlined, news-packed website heading your way before the holidays – complete with a page to get some cool Wild Salmon/Breach gear.  Stay tuned.

 

The Time is Now

Wild Salmon have been all over the news lately.  The work to protect them for future generations is more urgent now than it’s ever been:

 

Bristol Bay

After President Obama visited Bristol Bay this September, the corporation behind the proposed Pebble Mine ratcheted up their efforts to stall and derail the EPA from protecting Bristol Bay.  They are spending millions in lobbying efforts, commercials and hiring outside consultants to testify to Congress on their behalf. 

You can watch all three hours of this testimony right here:  TESTIMONY

 

 

If you’d like a taste of what’s at stake in Bristol Bay, watch this stunning drone footage over Lake Illiamna, filmed this last summer by Jason Ching of the University of Washington – click here:  WATCH

 

Genetically Engineered Salmon

You may have heard about this in the news.  Weeks ago, the United States FDA approved a corporation’s version of genetically engineered farmed salmon for US markets.  Under current laws, these so-called “Frankenfish” would not be required to be labeled as genetically modified when sold to consumers.  Representatives Don Young from Alaska and Peter DeFazio from Oregon have introduced House Bill HR 913 – the “Genetically Engineered Food Right-to-Know Act.”  If you feel this is an important issue, please write your legislators and tell them.  You can read an Op-Ed about this by Representatives Young and DeFazio right here:  READ NOW

 

Now the Good News – Medals of Freedom

Two vitally important characters in The Breach and titanic heroes to the people, waters and salmon of the Pacific Northwest were awarded our nation’s highest civilian honor.  Bill Ruckelshaus, first head of the EPA was awarded the medal by the president in person – and members of Billy Frank Jr.’s family accepted the posthumous award on his behalf.  Deep admiration and sincere congratulations to these two men and their families.  You can read about it right here:  HEROES

 

We keep our Facebook feed up-to-date regularly with wild salmon news.  You can like our page and follow along by clicking right here:  FACEBOOK

 

Coming Up

News about upcoming screenings and new ways The Breach will be shared across the country are coming up in a special message  just before the holidays.  For now, enjoy this time with your friends and family as we wind toward the winter solstice and the promise of new life in the streams and creeks wild salmon call home.  And remember to #eatwildsavewild by insisting on wild salmon at your local markets and restaurants.  It makes a huge difference.

 

Thank you again for your passion and support.  I’d especially like to thank David James Duncan again for his powerful words at the bottom of this page.  I thought them appropriate to pass along to you now in this season of salmon…season of lights…

 

In Wildness,

 

Mark

 

From David James Duncan…

 

The Breach sings the wild salmon like Whitman once sang the folk life and burgeoning streets of America’s cities. The Breach roars the truth that when our thousand rivers and rills are stripped of their salmon, we are all bankrupted – tribes, towns, animals, trees, flowers, all facing a horrendous desolation and dearth and theft of the shared sacred. When our rivers are stripped by ignorance, greed, and apathy, our culture is robbed, our children are robbed, all humanity is robbed of a compass bearing, a great holiness, an ancient craft that Christ Himself practiced. As the father of three kids to whom I’d love to pass down the faith that all beings are holy, I find the silence of salmonless rivers very hard to bear. So, as The Breach so beautifully suggests, let us find the loss unbearable, stand up together, and stop those who would steal away this great gift.  This film shows us the way to keep the Gift coming.

 

www.thebreachfilm.com

Alaskans Featured On New Discovery Channel Series

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Keep an eye on the August issue of Alaska Sporting Journal to read our profile of Jeremy Whalen, one of the stars of Discovery Channel’s  new series, Treasure Quest: Snake Island, which premieres on Friday.  Whalen is one of two members of the gold-seeking crew with ties to Alaska.

Here’s a Discovery Channel release and video sneak peek at Friday’s debut:

 

Hidden somewhere off the south eastern coast of Brazil, could lie hundreds of millions of dollars-worth of lost Incan gold.  For 400 years, many have searched, fought and died looking for this elusive bounty.  But all have failed to hold onto it.  TREASURE QUEST: SNAKE ISLAND, an all-new series premiering Friday, July 17, at 10 PM ET/PT on the Discovery Channel, will take viewers along an epic journey with an elite team of treasure hunters who have a new theory on where the treasure lies – a remote spot home to 1,000s of deadly vipers.

“Every kid hears these stories about treasures and pirates and going off on adventures around the world with dreams of finding lost gold.  And that’s what I do. That’s what I’m doing right now,” said Cork Graham, the team’s expedition leader.

In 1524, a horde of Incan gold – known as the “Treasure of the Trinity” – was stolen.  For 500 years, Jesuits priests, privateers such as Thomas Cavendish and mathematician Paul Thiry have all searched the coast of Brazil for this legendary bounty, but in all that time, no one has cracked the code as to where the treasure might have been hidden… until now.

Discovery Channel will follow the adventures of these real-life treasure seekers who set out for two months in search of this priceless booty.  The team includes –

  Cork Graham, Expedition Leader:  Cork has dedicated his life to searching for lost treasure.  At the age of 18, he participated in a covert search for Captain Kidd’s treasure off the coast of Vietnam but was captured and accused of being a spy.  He is now focused on the Treasure of the Trinity and determined that it will not escape his grasp.
 
  Mehgan Heaney-Grier, Expedition Dive Master: Whether it’s free diving, swimming with sharks, or documenting alligators in their natural environment, Mehgan is no stranger to high-pressure situations—natural or man-made, especially among a crew of testosterone-fuelled alpha males.  The true value of the Treasure of the Trinity for her lies in its historical and archaeological significance, not its monetary worth.
  Jeremy Whalen, Ship’s Mechanic: Give him a few tools and he can build it, fix it or replace it. While he respects the historical significance of lost treasure, his real reasons for participating in the expedition are twofold – the adrenaline rush and the promise of a huge payday.

 

 

  Bryan Fry, Herpetologist:  An Aussie, Bryan has 25 years of experience dealing with deadly reptiles and the battle scars to prove it. He’s been bitten by snakes 26 times, yet eagerly keeps coming back for more.  For him, the real treasure is the chance to study the deadly golden lancehead viper up close. 

 

 

  Keith “Cappy” Plaskett, Boat Captain: Cappy has always dreamed of searching for sunken Spanish galleons off of Brazil’s coast, but navigating these treacherous waters and the brutal storms that unexpectedly form without warning will test the limits of his sailing skills.

The team will stop at nothing – scaling peaks through the jungle, exploring treacherous caves and diving among the galleons that sunk to the ocean floor centuries ago.  Treasure hunting is nearly impossible and the team will face dangers both on land and at sea.  It’s a place where modern-day pirates still exist and word has gotten around that they are looking for treasure. 

But they’re going to need more than pure brawn on this quest.  The team will need to solve complex mathematical clues and puzzles protecting the treasure – the same ones that have thwarted countless others before them.  But most of all, they’ll need nerves of steel as they brave one of the most deadly places in the world – where one careless step could not just cost everyone incredible riches, but ultimately their lives.

 

Bering Sea Gold Returns Tonight!

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I’m currently working on a profile of the father and daughter dynamic between Bering Sea Gold dredgers Steve and Emily Riedel (above) for our April issue. Until then, take a peek at tonight’s fourth season opener of the popular Discovery Channel show.

Here’s a sneak preview of my story, about Steve Riedel’s sometimes frustrating experiences when after suffering a serious shoulder injury he struggled to find riches in Nome:

Ironically, when Steve did make his life-altering decision, he swears he was never blinded by false promises, or prone to having unrealistic expectations. In other words: there was never the disillusioned sense of getting rich quickly, if ever.
But even still it hasn’t gone liked he even hoped it might, despite at the time it being “the fresh start” he craved.
“It had been a three-year ordeal, and so just before we came up it was at the end of the healing cycle, so I was feeling pretty good about my body. I really hadn’t been able to use my shoulder for three years,” he says. “It had been very depressing so I felt really good. I wanted to do something in did sort of fit in. I just wanted to get a real job. Of course, gold mining is probably the total opposite of a real job.”
But reality did set on the last season of Bering Sea Gold. He eventually got his own dredge, the Minnow, but he and his crew never got off the ground and mined just $11,000-plus worth of gold, one of the lowest totals in the third season.
“There are people who come up and dump $30-, $40-, $50,000 into an operation and they leave, sell everything off at 20 cents to a dollar. There are a lot of people up here like that,” he says.

Here’s the release from our good friends at Discovery, with a couple preview videos:

Photo by the Discovery Channel

Photo by the Discovery Channel

 

 

BERING SEA GOLD (409)

Friday, March 13 at 10 PM ET/PT on the Discovery Channel

Good Morning, Veit-Nome: The summer dredging season has officially kicked off in Nome, Alaska – ground zero of the great American gold rush. With warmer weather brings jam-packed claims, unexpected storms and rising tempers where gold fever is a family affair. With more competition and a short Alaskan summer, the miners battle treacherous conditions and each other in hopes of finding gold, and with the stakes greater than ever, it isn’t long before drama hits the Bering Sea. Captain Shawn Pomrenke is on the hunt for the series’ first-ever thousand ounce season, but his father Steve’s return to the Christine Rose causes their rocky relationship to turn explosive. And back for her second year as Captain of the Eroica, Alaska’s first and only female dredge owner Emily Reidel aims to fight her way back from financial ruin.

 

 

Gold Rush Season Finale Tonight

 

 

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In 2014, we profiled Parker Schnabel, the whiz kid gold dredger on the Discovery Channel’s hit series, Gold Rush. Tonight, the show closes its fifth season with Schnabel as one of the key storylines.

Here’s the release from Discovery:

Discovery Channel’s #1-rated series, GOLD RUSH, wraps up its record-breaking fifth season on Friday, March 6, with a 2 hour super-sized finale.  It’s been a cold winter, but nothing compares to the Klondike at the end of gold season. Having set bigger goals than ever this season, the mine bosses push their crews to the limit and risk friendships, pride and money to get every last ounce of gold. Kicking off the night at 8 PM ET/PT is a historic episode of ‘The Dirt’ where passions will flare as Executive Producer Christo Doyle gathers all three mine bosses to discuss their mad dash to find gold.  Then following the ‘GOLD RUSH’ finale kicking off at 9 PM ET/PT, the miners will share their reactions as they watch from the set of THE DIRT.

 

 

 Episode listings below —

 

THE DIRT – Pre-Show

Friday, March 6 at 8 PM ET/PT on the Discovery Channel

Parker’s grandfather, John Schnabel, makes his Dirt debut and for the very first time, Executive Producer Christo Doyle gathers all three mine bosses, Parker Schnabel, Tony Beets and Todd Hoffman to discuss their mad dash to reach their season’s goal. The season was full of gold and as a result, the tension on set was palpable.

 

GOLD RUSH – Season 5 Finale

Friday, March 6 at 9 PM ET/PT on the Discovery Channel

Millions in Gold: In the season finale, with the Klondike winter closing in, Parker Schnabel faces mutiny when he announces one last push for 400 ounces. The Hoffman crew gets the largest dozer in the Klondike to secure land for next season and it’s hell or high water as Tony Beets has one last shot at getting his 75-year-old dredge mining for gold.Following the finale, Todd, Parker and Tony come together on the ‘Gold Rush’ after show to react to the exciting end of the season.

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.