The One That Got Away

After a belated start to frosty temperatures on the Kenai Peninsula and a late November deer-hunting expedition to the Midwest, I finally enjoyed my first prosperous ice-fishing adventure of the season.

Since I was first introduced to ice fishing two years ago by my favorite angling partner, Mike, I have become an avid and very devoted weekend warrior to the sport. (It was 31 degrees below zero during my maiden voyage onto frozen waters.) Nevertheless, I’m not sure if it’s my sheer lady luck that usually bags the finest catch of the day or the skills I have acquired through Mike’s immense experience. A bit of both, I presume.

Our morning began at a small lake on the Kenai Peninsula where we were hoping to find a native rainbow or Arctic char lurking around the shelf. We attempted to fish the north end of the lake once before but were unsuccessful. Our normal technique is to turn the ice layer into Swiss cheese, trying to find any sign of life, but it was far too windy to easily drag the tent around without taking an unplanned flight right along with it. So we found ourselves back at the same lake, determined to dismiss its bad reputation by catching the “lake monster” we believed was there.

After checking the topography, we chose to drag our Jet Sleds to the opposite end of the lake near a small stream. Mike drilled the first hole with an 8-inch Eskimo ice auger about 30 yards off shore. After determining that the area was too shallow, we moved out another 20 yards. It was perfect; about 10 feet deep.

We set up our Eskimo FatFish 949 ice tent and loaded it with an arsenal of jigs and lures and a variety of bait. My weapon of choice was a Blue Fox Pixee lure of the pink variety. I decided to sacrifice my clean hands and sense of appetite for the ultra-stinky bait; a gooey blob of cured eggs. I dropped the smelly pink Pixee to the bottom, reeled up a few inches and started jigging my heart out, swiftly lifting my rod about 15 inches then letting the Pixee freefall through the water column. It created magnificent flashes that would attract even the wariest of fish.

The water in this particular lake is crystal clear when the sun comes up. It is the type of lake where your back becomes sore from leaning directly over your ice hole all day in order to watch the aquarium of unsuspecting victims circle and strike your lure. I sat on my bucket and patiently jigged; waiting for the light to come up enough to see what was lurking beneath the ice. All of a sudden I felt a solid hit. It was definitely a fish of substance, one that I immediately wanted to see on the ice. A few minutes passed and I had another strike, but no commitment.

At this point the light had come up enough to see to the bottom of the lake. There were fish everywhere! It was definitely a trout lake. We could see the resemblance of rainbows and the white-tipped fins of Arctic char. Mike quickly caught several small char right away as I gazed down at a swarm of fish of all sizes. I decided on quality over quantity and began dodging the smaller fish by vigorously moving my Pixee higher in the water column before they could strike, waiting for the big one to come along. Mike started to land rainbow after rainbow, laughing out loud in pure ice-fishing bliss.

That’s when “it” came along.

“It” was the largest and most magnificent fish I have ever seen beneath the ice. It was the Free Willy of the freshwater trout world, and this tubby bruiser did not hesitate one split-second before violently striking my lure. I quickly yanked my rod upwards to set the hook and began reeling. The fish bent the tip of my rod into the ice hole and immediately began taking drag, frantically jutting back and forth through the water. Somehow I managed to fight this behemoth to the top of the water column when it decided to smash itself against the bottom of the ice. Needless to say, the hook popped out of its mouth upon impact. We both sat in astonishment as I sniveled about losing the big fish of the day.

Success was not delayed for long. Mike continued to catch a variety of rainbows and Arctic char as I also began the same performance. We managed to land several 18-inch rainbows that put up quite a battle. My day was also redeemed with a 20-inch trout in the end, a beauty adorned with a fetching pink stripe along the lateral line. However, it was arguably half the size of the one that got away.

Autumn Renk is a devoted angler who enjoys year-round freshwater and saltwater sport fishing in southcentral Alaska. You can primarily find her fishing for rainbows from a drift boat, catching Steelhead along a riverbank or jigging for trout on a frozen lake.