As winter takes hold of interior Alaska our fly rods are reluctantly put away and our ice augers are dusted off. Come November, the long warm weather days are behind us, and the weather forecast often predicts sub-zero temperatures. While averaging 6 hours of usable daylight this time of year, our fishing trips often involve getting up well before sunrise and getting home well after sunset.
Interior Alaska provides many opportunities to target a multitude of species including Northern Pike, Burbot, Arctic Grayling, Arctic Char, Rainbow Trout, and Lake Trout. We generally begin on smaller, shallower lakes, containing Northern Pike, Rainbow Trout, and Burbot. These smaller lakes offer safe ice a week or two before the larger, deeper lakes.
Toward the end of November, the larger lakes become safe enough to fish. That’s where we target species like Lake Trout and Arctic Char. When the lakes first freeze, it can be hard to judge what’s safe and what’s not, but where there’s risk, there’s usually reward. We carry spud bars and have ice picks draped around our necks to ensure a safe first outing, since we’re often walking on a meager 2 to 3 inches of ice. This kind of depth can easily crack under our feet when we drill holes to fish. The ice isn’t thick enough this time of year for snow machines, so we bring as little gear as possible.
Our small sleds, which we drag by hand, contain only a few necessities like an auger, small tackle box, and a few rods. Choosing not to bring an ice shanty or a heater means that wearing the correct clothing is even more important. Base layers, warming layers, and well-made outerwear are all meticulously chosen to ensure we maximize what little daylight we have to fish.
Although we usually spend most of the day hole hopping, both to find fish and stay warm, the fishing is usually some of the best it will be all winter. The fish have gone a few weeks without seeing another fisherman’s lure and are often willing to eat almost anything that is presented to them. Early season ice fishing is some of the most fun you can have on the ice and a great way to introduce a new ice angler to the fun of ice fishing.