By: Andy Couch
The Matanuska – Susitna Borough (Mat-Su) contains lots of lakes, is roughly the size of West Virginia and is rich in ice fishing opportunities. Many lakes along the road system are stocked by the Alaska Department of Fish and Game (ADF&G) providing endless options. Perhaps the best way for anglers to learn what lakes are stocked and what species is available is to access the ADF&G website and scan the stocking list.
There’s still a few good weeks remaining in our ice fishing season. Expect warmer temperatures and longer daylight hours, which tends to be good for fishing. I’ve always experienced good ice conditions on guide trips through March and some years mid-April. Warmer weather and longer daylight hours have the fish more active. This trend will continue as long as the ice remains solid.
Keep in mind, lakes that receive the highest stocking numbers (and highest numbers of catchable and broodstock fish) are easily accessible waters that tend to receive the most pressure. The more heavily fished lakes often provide excellent action, particularly earlier in the ice fishing season. Meanwhile, more off the radar locations can provide more consistent catches throughout the season.
Some of the best catching occurs soon after the ice forms when fish are active and moving throughout the lakes. As the winter progresses and oxygen levels drop (especially in smaller lakes) most of the fish will relocate to shallower water. For this reason I usually spend most of my time fishing in 8-15 feet of water. I also like to cut several holes providing my guests the opportunity to move from hole to hole when the action slows at any particular location.
Locations that hold fish during summer months are usually a good place to start looking for fish during the winter. When fishing an unfamiliar lake I often like to fish holes all over the lake in search of better catching locations. This is always a bit easier earlier in the season when it takes less time to drill holes. Finding blood on the ice near an old ice fishing hole is an indication someone recently caught fish from that spot.
My favorite bait for catching Mat-Su rainbow trout, landlocked salmon and Arctic char through the ice is Premium Balls O’ Fire salmon eggs (the red lid jar). I prefer the larger eggs that thread easily on the hook and fish 3-4 on a #2 Gamakatsu wide bend finesse hook. I believe the larger, multiple-egg bait and larger hook dramatically increase the chances of solidly hooking and catching larger fish. At the same time the wire on this hook is fine enough that we still catch plenty of smaller fish.
Sometimes it pays to experiment. I start by dropping the bait to the bottom. Then, I tighten the line until I can feel the sinker tap the bottom when I jig the rod up and down. Finally, I reel in a crank or two to get the bait just above the bottom. Fish often bite lightly during the colder months and especially if the bait is not moving. Rather than setting the hook when the fish first bumps the bait, I advise waiting for at least three or four munches. To avoid loosing fish I like a long stout hook set.
Because of the lengthening daylight hours and warming temperatures March is my favorite month for ice fishing the Mat-Su Valley. Ice fishing can be a simply and relaxing experience in a beautiful outdoor setting. Welcome if this will be your first time.
Editor’s Note: In most Mat-Su Valley lakes fishing and harvest is allowed year round. However, there are some exceptions, so check fishing regulation before fishing a new location. Andy Couch operates Fishtale River Guides. For more information on his Mat-Su ice fishing trips please visit http://www.fish4salmon.com. Always check to make sure ice fishing conditions are safe prior to venturing out on the ice. If there’s any doubt it might not be suitable please don’t attempt to ice fish.