Copper River Record April 2014
By Robin Mayo
It is early in the morning on Saturday, April 5th, at Silver Lake. The air is cold and the lake is a smooth, chilly expanse of white. Far out in the center, some anglers who arrived very early this morning are already fishing. The scene is quiet and cold, but soon that will change.
The first “hot spot” appears near the dock at the West end of the lake, where the crew from Wrangell Institute for Science and Environment (WISE) and Bureau of Land Management (BLM) are setting up for their fifth annual Family Ice Fishing Clinic. A propane stove hisses as it heats an oversized pot of chili, and water for tea, coffee, and cocoa. Dixie cups are filled with bait, and buckets full of short ice fishing poles await eager young anglers. A power auger roars to life, re-opening holes that were drilled the evening before, and a few more for good measure, bringing the total to over 100.
Just as the warmth of the sun begins to be felt through thick winter layers, families start arriving, sledding down the hill from the McCarthy road with camp chairs, coolers, blankets, and bright smiles. They pick up bait, gear, and friendly fishing advice, then head out to find their lucky spot. Before long happy shouts are heard as the first fish are pulled up through the ice, colorful, wriggling rainbow trout.
In a darkened tent, the BLM crew has set up an underwater camera. Apparently the trout are bored and looking for distraction, because soon they are flocking around, bumping their noses against the camera, and nibbling at the bait on lines dropped through a hole drilled next to the camera. Soon a bunch of kids gathered, and tried to catch the hungry fish, but kept losing them as they pulled them up. The tent filled and excitement rose, with fish under the ice jostling for the bait, and the kids in the tent jostling for a turn fishing and a view of the screen. The excitement died down only when the rainbows were so full of shrimp that they could barely move.
Silver Lake was stocked by Alaska Department of Fish and Game with several thousand rainbow trout last summer, so the fishing is lively. A novice fisher dropped a line through the ice for the first time in her life, and pulled up a 25 ½ inch beauty that looked more like a salmon than a trout. Throughout the day, several hundred fish were caught, a significant increase from the total of about twenty last year.
As well as fishing, visitors enjoyed visiting with friends and neighbors while eating a hot lunch provided by WISE, and tried their hand at “firewood bowling” with logs for pins and short rounds for balls. Materials were on hand for the youth to make their own short jigging rods using dowels, screw eyes, and simple tools. BLM Fisheries biologist Tim Sundlov explains: “Ice ﬁshing rods are diﬀerent than ﬁshing rods used during the open water season. A long pole and reel aren’t necessary for ice fishing because there is no casting. The line guides are wide to accommodate water freezing and then ﬁlling up with ice. When a fish is on the line, the angler drops the rod and pulls the line by hand. Moving the stick up and down is referred to as jigging and entices fish to the lure and/or bait.”
At the end of the day awards were given, for the largest and most fish caught, for great attitudes and helping hands, and for the ice bowling high scorers. The largest fish caught by youth were several 17.5 inch Rainbow Trout. But the real catch of the day were the great moments, many caught by photos. Youth bundled in winter clothes enjoying the spring sunshine, and learning a new skill. About a hundred people came to the WISE event, and many more fishers enjoyed the day on Silver Lake and other area waters, then attended the pig roast at Uncle Tom’s Tavern in Chitina. It may be the largest outdoor winter event in the Copper River Basin.
WISE and BLM put on this event as part of their “Take it Outside” youth education initiative. We are grateful for support from National Park Service, Alaska Department of Fish and Game, Chitina Volunteer Ambulance Squad, and many, many volunteers who lend a hand in many ways.
Who We Are
WISEfriends are several writers connected with Wrangell Institute for Science and Environment, a nonprofit organization located in Alaska's Copper River Valley. Most of these articles originally appeared in our local newspaper, the Copper River Record.