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An ice time in Alaska

by Steve Hartridge | 09 September 2016

It is, by all local accounts, ‘unseasonably warm’ in Alaska. There are pools of melted water forming on the lake, but the presence of two 4x4s parked out in the middle of the frozen expanse is enough to convince me that the layer of ice is not about to break open on this particular afternoon.

The mercury may be higher than usual but I still have to shake the numbing cold away by wiggling my fingers constantly inside their thermal gloves.

Decked out in winter gear and ice cleats, I am in the Mat-Su Valley, about an hour north of Anchorage. I am holding a thin fishing rod above an ice hole, drilled two feet deep.

The Mat-Su Valley is potted with lakes, which according to our hosts Butch and Jehnifer Ehmann, a husband-and-wife team who run adventure company Ehmann Outdoors, are teeming with more fish than you can shake a rod at.

Below our feet, they tell us, are lake trout, landlocked salmon, burbot and Arctic Char. “Catching a large lake trout is like reeling up a 25lb king through the ice. It’s an amazing experience, one that you will never forget,” says Jennifer.

Alas it is an experience I am not going to have the opportunity to forget. On this bright afternoon these bountiful piscatorial denizens are as one ignoring the pink salmon roe bait bobbing below the surface.

After an uneventful hour or so, with all of our group ‘fishless’ without even so much as a nibble, I retire to one of the 4x4s for a sandwich, hot chocolate and cookie. But then a cry goes up from the middle of the lake: “Here! Here! Here!”

As one we swing round and there dangling on the end of the last persevering rod is a flapping silver-and-grey lake salmon. It’s an underwhelming size, but it’s a catch!

The salmon’s time above the ice is short and it is quickly dispatched back into the hole. But we are all just relieved one of us caught something – a barren visit to an Alaskan lake regularly stocked to the gills with wonders of the deep would have sounded a fishy tale indeed.

travelalaska.com; ehmannoutdoors.com/ice-fishing

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