U.S. DEPARTMENT OF THE INTERIORBUREAU OF LAND MANAGEMENT
A Hook for a Lifetime: Ice Fishing on Silver Lake, Alaska
Imagine a magical frozen lake nestled in the midst of some of the highest peaks in Alaska and near America’s largest National Park. The sun is shining, the sky is bright blue, and the gravel McCarthy Road is clear of snow and ice, though bordered by foot-high snow banks and spruce forests where an occasional eagle perches or a wolf disappears into the trees. On the lake, rare even for Alaska, families are spending a day outside together; the air is vibrant with children’s laughter, and fragrant with the smells of steaming chili, hotdogs, and hot chocolate. There is the rumble of snowmachines and ATVs, the crunch of sleds, and the motor blaring from the big ice auger (drill) wielded by BLM Glennallen Field Office Natural Resource Specialist Laurie Thorpe.
It is April 6 at the Kids Ice Fishing Clinic. BLM fisheries biologist Tim Sundlov is busy showing the kids and their families how and where an ice hole is drilled, how to set up the ice fishing pole, work the reels, what kind of bait and tackle to use, and how deep to drop a line. After the excitement of catching the iridescent 17.5-inch to 22-inch rainbow trout, they learned how to safely remove the hooks, humanely handle the fish, and how to hold it for photos. These lessons aren’t for a day, they’re for a lifetime.
Every child is different. Some spend the entire time fishing. Others are fascinated at scooping bits of ice out of the holes, or lay on the snow-covered ice to peer through a drilled ice fishing hole into the clear waters to search for fish. Others don’t fish at all, they simply play and love being among family and friends in the wide open air, sipping hot chocolate and exploring, and their exuberance is contagious. Everyone rejoiced when Marymarie Wallace pulled the first fish out of her hole. She won first prize, but the food and prizes paled in comparison to the moment she caught that fish and was surrounded by parents and staff toting cameras, her family, and curious kids.
BLM Glennallen Public Affairs Specialist Marnie Graham shuttled to the event in the Wrangell Institute for Science and Environment (WISE) van, joining Ahtna Native and WISE Board Member Mark Johns with three of his young relatives. They tell Marnie this is the first time for all of them to go ice fishing. They explain that though there are plenty of lakes with fish, Johns says most area families do not have many of the supplies needed for ice fishing. Programs like this make ice fishing affordable for people. Bed and Breakfast host Cynthia from Glennallen adds that this event brings the community outside in a way that wouldn’t happen without it. Though her family catches fish in the summer as part of a subsistence lifestyle, she says the winter months find them caught up in daily schedules and routines. It is Kids Fishing Day that motivated them to drive the two hours to Silver Lake and ice fish, and in the process, they have quality family time, and reconnect with their community and their love for the outdoors.
Little Tobyn, about five years old, was in the tent watching the fish cam, when Tim Sundlov asked him, “where’s your family?” Tobyn smiled magnanimously, dimples and all, and said, “We’re ALL family here!”
It is even rarer these days for the BLM to be able to sponsor such an opportunity, and this year’s only happened through partnering with the nonprofit WISE, National Park Service, and Alaska Department of Fish and Game. The partners provided ice fishing gear and bait, food, viewing station with a live fish cam, prizes, and skills. Many BLM staffers volunteered skills and time. This year’s clinic doubled the participation from last year, with 132 registered and several more who did not. Some families drove over the mountains from Valdez. Others came from as far away as Anchorage (over 500 miles roundtrip).
When the event began to wind down, one of the kids exclaimed, “What a FUN day! I just wish we caught more fish!” Robin Underwood, Executive Director of WISE, replied with a fishing adage, “Well, that’s why it’s called fishing; otherwise we’d call it catching.” One of the parents did catch the experience on video. You can see it here. http://vimeo.com/63495907.
For more pictures of the Ice Fishing action checkout: www.facebook.com/BLMAlaska
—Karen J Laubenstein