By: Chris Shaffer
To be honest I wanted to stay in the hotel and sleep in. I’m more of a fair weather angler and after guide Dustin Slinker of The Bait Shack in Anchorage, Alaska, told me he expects us to get three bites in a half day, I wasn’t excited about fishing. Unfortunately, with him and pro Kyle McClelland focused on the rods I had to head out in the well below zero Mat-Su Valley air to film them, incase they did get these scattered bites from expected big rainbows.
Slinker was honest from the start. He told us various lakes in the Mat-Su Valley had enormous rainbows, but bites through the ice are few-and-far between particularly in late January and early February when trout aren’t that active. Unlike the lakes closer to Anchorage where you can catch dozens of trout in a half day, the journey we were taking was scheduled for big rainbows, not easier to catch planters.
When we arrived prior to first light it was -20 out. It was so cold our gas-powered auger took 30 minutes to start. It was stubborn until we placed it next to a Mr Buddy and warmed it up. The first hour of fishing was as poor as the air was warm. No bites. The temperature didn’t rise and we didn’t set up a shanty, either. Slinker and McClelland wanted to fish rather than be comfortable. I was ready to look for a coffee stand. After a few hours of no bites I started to head back to the car. As soon as I stepped on the ice road to walk back our luck changed.
Conditions didn’t change. It didn’t get much warmer. However, suddenly McClelland’s rod rigged with a Fire Brine shrimp started dancing. With cameras rolling while filming Pautzke Outdoors we landed a seven-pound rainbow. Slinker’s fish stories were starting to sound more realistic. To be honest, I had my doubts, but don’t tell him that. He was confident. He knew they would bite – if we were patient.
Less than 10 minutes later McClelland caught another, this time a five-pound rainbow. I joked with Slinker and asked him if he was going to let the kid show him up on his own water and he chuckled. A true guide, Slinker wasn’t here to catch fish, rather put McClelland on fish he’d never forget. Thirty more minutes passed and we caught another, exactly as Slinker said we would.
The Mat-Su Valley is littered with lakes stocked with trout and other species by the Alaska Department of Fish & Game. We were fishing one of many, one found on the annual stocking report and decided to try. Our action came exclusively on thumbnail size pieces of Pink, Natural, Orange, Chartreuse and Red Fire Brine shrimp. All of them were dead-sticked on jigs. As Slinker told us, it’s important to come with a rainbow of colors and let the fish tell us which they want on that day and they did.
At press time ice was more than two feet thick in many Mat-Su Valley lakes. How long this continues depends on the weather. Meanwhile, there’s ample opportunity to ice fish now. This will be the case for a while. Come packing Fire Brine shrimp and you could catch a beautiful rainbow, like we did. In fact, we released all the fish we caught that day, and the entire week we spent in Alaska.
Editor’s Note: Be sure to check regulations to ensure you are fishing in bait friendly waters as some in the Mat-Su Valley don’t allow bait. Dustin Slinker operates The Bait Shack. For info on his guided ice fishing trips please visit https://www.facebook.com/thebaitshack or http://www.thebaitshackak.com.