All About Ice Fishing
Ice fishing is a great way to spend time on the hard water with friends and family. If you’ve never gone ice fishing, there are a few things you’ll want to keep in mind. First, preparedness is key to a successful day on the hard water. Ice fishing gear is a bit different than what you’d use for open-water fishing. You’ll want to be sure you have the correct gear before heading out. Personal safety and comfort should also be on the top of your check list before drilling holes in the ice.
In this issue of Reel Times, we provide some basic tips, reminders and locations to try on your next ice fishing adventure.
Searching for the perfect holiday gift? How about a 2024 Sport Fishing License? Buy one for yourself or give the gift of fishing to someone you know. Licenses can be purchased in our online store.
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We'll see you on the water,
By Tim Mowry | Region III Sport Fish Information Officer
If you ask Andy Gryska, November is the best time to go ice fishing in Interior Alaska.
“The ice is thinner, the weather is warmer, there’s more daylight and the fish are feistier because there’s still plenty of oxygen in the water,” Gryska said, rattling off a few of the advantages to early-season ice fishing.
As the area management biologist for the Tanana River Drainage Management Area in Fairbanks, Gryska is a big fan of ice fishing, whether it’s for work or play. Gryska routinely goes afield to ice fish at different lakes and ponds in the Fairbanks and Delta Junction areas. As the biologist who ultimately oversees the stocking of 89 lakes and ponds in the Tanana River drainage, Gryska said it’s important to have “boots on the ground” knowledge of the area he manages.
Sometimes, though, Gryska just wants to catch a few rainbow trout that he and his wife, Joy, transform into a delicious fish dinner.
“People who live in Fairbanks and don’t go ice fishing in the winter don’t know what they’re missing,” Gryska said. “With an ice fishing rod and a jar of salmon eggs, you can catch enough fish to feed your family and enjoy a day outside.”
Over the course of the winter, however, oxygen levels in most lakes and ponds drop and ice fishing catch rates tend to decrease as fish become more morose and try to conserve energy and oxygen. Many of the smaller lakes and ponds of Interior Alaska are prone to what fisheries biologists refer to as “winterkill,” a natural phenomenon that occurs when oxygen levels become so low that fish can no longer survive.
When shallow water bodies freeze over, they are sealed from the atmosphere and the fish and other organisms must survive for the winter only with the oxygen already present in the water when the lake or pond freezes. Day by day, oxygen is slowly depleted from the water. The longer (for example, 7 months vs. 5 months) the lake has an ice cap, the more likely a winterkill may occur.
Each lake is different, but in general, oxygen levels begin to reach critical levels for stocked fish species in shallow Interior lakes by late January, said fisheries biologist April Behr, who oversees the ADF&G Stocked Waters Program in Fairbanks.
“Natural processes such as decomposition and respiration consume oxygen, and the rate at which oxygen is removed from a lake depends on multiple factors such as depth and the amount of vegetation,” Behr said. “Approximately 49 percent of the stocked lakes around Fairbanks and Delta winterkill, and 28 percent of the stocked lakes in the Glennallen area winterkill.”
Popular stocked lakes that winterkill in the Fairbanks area include Ballaine, Cushman, and some of the small ponds along the Steese Highway, Chena Hot Springs Road, and Richardson Highway, Behr said.
It is important to note, said Behr, that different species have different oxygen tolerances, and some native species (such as northern pike and blackfish) can withstand extremely low oxygen levels for extended periods of time.
Once the oxygen levels drop and fish aren’t moving as much, catch rates drop off. If you’re not fishing directly over fish, your chances of catching them are greatly reduced, unless you are constantly drilling new holes and changing locations, which means more time spent drilling holes than fishing.
Here are some of the advantages of taking to the ice early, assuming you have drilled test holes to ensure the ice is thick enough to support you, your snowmachine or your vehicle. The general rule of thumb for ice safety is that Ice should be at least 4 inches thick to support the weight of a person, 6 inches thick to support a snowmachine, 8-12 inches thick to support cars and small trucks, and 12-15 inches thick to support larger pickup trucks.
The ice is thinner - Interior Alaska is famous for growing good ice. The World Ice Art Championships are held in Fairbanks every March and ice sculptors from around the world drool over the huge 4-foot-thick slabs of ice they get to carve into incredible works of art.
For ice anglers, though, the thicker the ice is the harder it is to cut through it, especially for low-budget anglers who don’t own a gas-powered or electric ice auger. Ice on most small Interior lakes and ponds is already at least 6 inches thick, which is thick enough to support ice anglers but thin enough to cut through easily with a hand auger or even an ice spud/chisel.
“Ice fishing early in the season is easier for people who don’t own a power auger because simple, inexpensive tools like spud bars or axes can be used to easily chop a small hole in the ice when it is less than 12 inches thick,” Gryska said. “Once the ice gets to be over a foot thick, you’re not going to want to use an ice spud or a hand auger.”
And in the spring, once the ice grows to 4 or 5 feet thick, which it routinely does in Interior Alaska, even cutting through it with a powered ice auger is a chore.
The weather is friendlier - Let’s just say it tends to be a lot warmer and a little bit lighter in November than it is in January and the first half of February.
The average high temperature in Fairbanks in November is 10 degrees above zero and the average low is minus 4 degrees. In January the average high temperature is 0 degrees, and the average low is minus 15 degrees.
Likewise, the amount of daylight in November ranges from almost eight hours on November 1 to nearly five hours on November 30. In January, there is less than 4 hours of daylight on January 1 and just under 7 hours on January 31.
It’s the humane thing to do - As noted above, a portion of the fish stocked in smaller lakes and ponds throughout the Tanana River drainage will die due to winterkill if they’re not caught before January or February.
The way Gryska sees it, as both a biologist and ice angler, is that a fish in a frying pan is better than a dead fish floating in the water when the ice melts.
“We encourage anglers to harvest fish from stocked lakes and ponds early in the winter, especially in those lakes and ponds that winterkill later in the winter,” Gryska said. “We like to see these fish go home with anglers.”
With temperatures dropping and ice starting to thicken up on Interior lakes and ponds, the Alaska Department of Fish and Game (ADF&G), Division of Sport Fish reminds ice anglers that any ice houses (including portable ice fishing tents) in the Tanana River and Upper Copper/Upper Susitna River drainages that are not removed daily from the ice must be registered with the department.
Ice anglers can register their ice houses by phone or in person at ADF&G offices in Delta Junction (907-895-4632), Fairbanks (907-459-7228) or Glennallen (907-822-3309).
Ice house owners will be issued a permit with a unique permit number. The ice house must have this permit number plainly displayed on the side and roof with the numbers at least 12 inches high and 1 inch wide in a color that contrasts with the background. A signed copy of the ice house permit must be kept in the ice house anytime the ice house is being used.
All registered ice houses are required to be removed from the ice no later than April 30th. Portable ice fishing tents/houses do not need to be registered if they are removed from the ice at the end of the day,
“Anglers should check ice thickness on the lake or pond they plan to place their ice houses on before doing so,” Tanana River drainage Area Management Biologist Andy Gryska advised. “This can be done by drilling holes in the ice to measure ice thickness, starting from shore and working their way farther out onto the lake or pond.”
Ice should be at least 4 inches thick to support the weight of a person, 6 inches thick to support a snowmachine, 8-12 inches thick to support cars and small trucks, and 12-15 inches thick to support larger pickup trucks. However, no ice is 100 percent safe, and ice anglers are advised to avoid off-colored snow or ice.
For additional information, contact Andy Gryska at the Fairbanks ADF&G office at (907) 459-7339 or email@example.com or Brandy Baker in the Delta office at (907) 895-4632 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
By Katelyn Zonneville | Region II Information Officer
As snow arrives, anglers across Alaska eagerly anticipate the annual transition from summer to winter fishing. Whether you are excited or not, it’s time we bid farewell to our trusty open-water gear and prepare to embrace the frozen fun that is ice fishing. Storing your summer fishing gear properly is essential for the success of next season and can help clear room for your winter must haves. We will guide you through the process of maintaining summer gear and getting ready to venture onto ice waters, ensuring you have a seamless shift between the seasons to maximize your time out fishing, and catching!
Summer Gear Maintenance and Storage: - The time it takes to properly store and maintain your fishing gear can make all the difference in the springtime. You will thank yourself later when your salmon tackle bag is ready to go after you get wind of the first fish arriving.
Fly Fishing Gear: - If you have no plans to bundle up, venture out to find open water and cast a line, it’s time to clean and store your fly fishing rods, reels and tackle.
- If you plan to store your fly rods in their respective tubes or cases, inspect your rod socks (covers) and cases to ensure they are dry. A moldy rod tube and sock is the last thing you want to be greeted with in the springtime. It is best to break down your rods versus leaving them partially or fully put together. The ferrule of a multiple piece rod is the hollow cylindrical connector location at the joint where the rod sections come together. When left together for long periods of time, you run the risk of getting your rod sections stuck at the ferrules. If you have had this problem before you understand the frustration. A tip for keeping this from happening is the use of ferrule wax, a lubricant that allows you to easily assemble and disassemble your rod while keeping the attachment strong.
- Next up is storing your fly reel. Remove any old monofilament leaders and loosen the drag on your fly reel. This is good practice for several reasons: compression of the drag system in your reel can reduce its performance or trap moisture. Reduce your drag enough to release pressure on the components of the drag system and you are good to go! Now you can tend to your fly line. Fly line can come with a hefty price tag, and proper maintenance can increase your fly line’s lifespan. At least a couple times a season you should be cleaning and “dressing” your line to prevent dry rotting from sun exposure, dirt, and salt water. Extra dirt on your floating fly line can also cause unwanted sinking. Many fly-fishing brands offer fly line cleaners that both clean dirt and condition your line to protect it from sun exposure (UV) and becoming brittle. Finally, did you use your fly-fishing gear around salt water? If so, you should make sure all rod & reel pieces and parts have been rinsed or whipped down with fresh water to ensure no salt is left behind.
- Go through your fly fishing bags and fly boxes. Make sure you leave your boxes open to dry out before closing them away for the season. Beautifully tied flies can become rusted and unusable in a matter of a couple days. Do you tie your own flies? Have a fly-tying party this winter and prep flies for the upcoming spring and summer season. Be sure to tie enough of each of your favorite flies, nothing is worse than having a fly that works, but only having one! Are you interested in how to tie some classic Alaskan flies? Be sure to explore our YouTube Channel on fly tying!
Spin Fishing Gear: - If you only have plans to ice fish this winter it might be time to put aside your floating fishing rods, surf rods, and more. Before you do, make sure to check out the following tips so you are ready for the next season.
- Grab your spinning rods that are ready to go on the rack for the winter and rinse or wipe down all gear used in salt water with fresh water. Take off the set-ups you have left on these rods and put them back in the correct table box/bag. Leaving the reel attached to your spinning rod is fine for storage but be sure to check out the next step on reel maintenance.
- Now it is time to check your reels, how does the line look? If you notice your monofilament line is cloudy, brittle, or knotted, it may be time for a line change. We suggest you wait to swap your line for new until it is closer to spring. The longer line spends on a reel the more memory it can have, where it retains the coiled shape from the reel. Instead, remove the line from the reels that need to be replaced, this way you quickly know which reels need new and which ones can wait a season. As we suggested with fly reels, reducing the drag on a spinning reel can extended its life, along with a tune up! Check out this great YouTube video on how to clean a spinning reel. Not all spinning reels are the same, but they all have similar components that should be cleaned or oiled. Alaska is known for its abundance of silty water characterized by the presence of fine sediment particles such as silt and clay suspended in the water, giving it a cloudy or turbid appearance. This silt can accumulate in and on your reel, the more often you clean and oil your reel the less problems you will have with silt and the longer your reel will last you!
- Finally, organize your tackle boxes-now! Go through all your fishing tackle, clean out old broken pieces and replace the items you are running low on. Summer fishing gear will be on sale during the winter, the best time to purchase it! Consider making yourself a terminal tackle box. Terminal tackle refers to the various components and accessories you may include on a fishing rod set up, including hooks, weights, swivels, and leaders. A good terminal tackle box will allow you to easily change your fishing strategy while on the water, such as targeting different depths or species. Take the time to pre-tie your favorite leaders and bait-rigs. This can be handy with fly-fishing and spin fishing gear! Having pre-tied leaders may save you precious time when faced with the loss of a set up to a pesky snag.
Prepping for winter fishing: - Now that our summer gear has been tucked in until spring, it’s time to pull out the ice fishing gear! Prepping for winter fishing requires careful planning and attention to detail. Start by inspecting your equipment and remember safety is paramount when fishing on ice. Consider that no ice is 100% safe, check ice thickness with a spud bar and bring along safety equipment such as ice picks. To get started ice fishing check our Online Fishing Forum: Ice Fishing Gear, Tips and Tactics!
- Ensure your ice auger blades are sharp and well attached, blades can become loose during season of drilling. If you are running a powered auger, check your oil and or fuel, you may need to replace or add some. Newer augers may be battery powered, make sure to test and charge batteries before going out!
- Check the line on your ice fishing rods, does it need to be replaced? Did you loosen the drag on your reels last year?
- Organize your ice fishing tackle for the locations you visit the most, create different boxes for targeting different species and locations.
- Gather your miscellaneous items: ice scoops, heaters, foam floor mats (warmer feet!), chairs, electronics, a shovel etc.
- Consider getting a sled to easily transport all your fishing gear on the ice. If you will be the power behind that sled, look for one that is narrower. The wider the sled, the harder it will be to pull when it is loaded down with gear! If you plan to go out fishing for extended periods of time, consider an ice tent. They come in various sizes and heat up nicely.
Looking to get out ice fishing this winter for the first time? We’ve got you covered! Our FREE Rod Loaner Program allows you to borrow fishing rods and equipment at no cost. It’s the perfect opportunity to introduce someone to the joy of angling or try your hand before purchasing your own gear. The Palmer, Anchorage, Soldotna, Homer, and Fairbanks offices offer a rod loaner program with various gear. As always, don’t forget to check the Alaska Department of Fish and Game Sport Fishing Regulations for the area you plan to fish, as well as purchase a valid Sport Fishing License! Resident annual sportfishing licenses (besides the permanent senior license) always expire at the end of the calendar year, on December 31st. Be sure to get your new 2024 license before then! Be safe and happy winter fishing!
By John Driscoll | Program Technician, Douglas
As 2023 draws to a close, the Alaska Department of Fish and Game (ADF&G) hopes you and your loved ones had a wonderful year filled with joyful memories, laughs, and good times while fishing across our beautiful state. As you plan your fishing adventures for the year ahead, we encourage you to purchase a 2024 sport fishing license and king salmon stamp as a gift for yourself, your family, and friends. Remember, Alaska residents 18 years of age or older and nonresidents 16 years of age or older must possess a sport fishing license. These age requirements also apply to anglers looking to go king salmon fishing and must obtain a king salmon stamp beforehand. Sport fishing licenses and king salmon stamps are valid for the calendar year, January 1 through December 31, 2024, so this is truly the gift that gives all year long!
Buying a sport fishing license and king salmon stamp for yourself and others is easier than ever and can be done in several different ways: on the ADF&G online store, on the ADF&G mobile app, at your local Fish and Game office, or at other local vendors. When purchasing a license and stamp online, make sure to select “Products For 2024” on the drop-down menu near the top of the page. If you are purchasing a license and stamp as a gift for someone else, make sure you have all their personal information needed to complete the purchase (name, address, date of birth, etc.). Once you have purchased a sport fishing license and king salmon stamp, a copy will be emailed to you, so do not worry if you ever lose your license as you can always print out another one! The prices for licenses and stamps are listed below:
- Annual Sport Fishing License: $20
- Annual King Salmon Stamp: $10
Nonresident Sport Fishing Licenses:
- 1-Day: $15
- 3-Day: $30
- 7-Day: $45
- 14-Day: $75
- Annual: $100
Nonresident King Salmon Stamps:
- 1-Day: $15
- 3-Day: $30
- 7-Day: $45
- 14-Day: $75
- Annual: $100
We hope you have a joyful end to 2023, and we look forward to seeing you and your loved ones out on the water in 2024!
We asked Wilson Puryer, who works as a Fish and Wildlife Technician in the Sport Fish Information Center in Anchorage, to tell us a little about himself and his role at ADF&G.
What are the general duties of your position? - As a Fish and Wildlife Technician working at the Anchorage office’s Sport Fish Information Center, a large part of my job is interacting with the public by answering questions about sport fishing regulations and techniques, issuing fishing licenses and permits, and distributing fishing equipment through ADF&G’s Rod Loaner Program. I also maintain the display aquariums in the front lobby that exhibit multiple freshwater fish species found in Alaska and help out here and there on stream surveys and field work when area biologists need an extra hand. During the month of January, I also work as part of a crew at the William Jack Hernandez Sport Fish Hatchery clipping the adipose fins on Chinook salmon fry destined to be stocked into the Ninilchik River and Crooked Creek.
What do you love most about your job? - Being able to provide people with the information and legal means to get out and enjoy the outdoors, make lasting memories on the water, and perhaps bring some food home for the dinner table – all while building a constituency for fish and their habitats - is a really rewarding aspect of what I do. I also really enjoy taking care of the fish in our lobby display aquariums. It isn’t every job that allows you to look after pike, blackfish, and grayling!
What are some of your favorite things to do in your spare time? - I enjoy reading, writing, watching natural history and wildlife films, camping, hiking, fishing, snowmachining, and going on long backpacking trips with a rifle (my gentle euphemism for unsuccessful hunts).
What is your favorite fishing memory? - Snorkel spearfishing for pike. In areas of the state where northern pike are nonnative (such as Southcentral Alaska), spears are an allowable fishing gear type for the species. While most people spearfish for pike through the ice in the wintertime (which is also incredibly fun), there is nothing prohibiting someone from spearfishing for pike during the open water season as well. In the warm and sunny early summer of 2022, I donned my wetsuit, goggles, snorkel, and polespear for a handful of pike spearfishing outings. Being in the pike’s element and searching for fish visually lent a whole new layer to fishing that angling doesn’t generally provide. And besides providing knowledge that could help when I go fishing for pike with a rod, getting to observe their habitat preferences and behavior underwater was just plain cool. Pike will allow a snorkeler to get surprisingly close - about six feet – before they slowly start to swim away, which can make spearfishing for them both exciting and effective.
What is a fun or unusual fact about you that people might not know? - During my time as a zookeeper before working for ADF&G, part of my job was to hand-feed and train wolverines.
Field to Plate - Recipe of the Month
Smothered Wild Alaska Crab Garlic Fries
Enjoy your next meal with this recipe for Canned or Air-Fried Wild Alaska Salmon Carbonara from the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute.
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