The sharp crack followed a dull thud spread a smile across my face as my fishing partner looked out the window to see if the offending tree had hurt anything. She asked, “What’s so funny about a tree falling on our house?” The wind had been building and was reaching 50-60mph gusts, not a common occurrence in February in the Kenai area. The tree hadn’t hurt anything but more important, February is our big ice fishing month. Too many other hunting adventures before and after February keep us occupied but February is largely dedicated to hardwater fishing. The wind storm that made me so happy signified a virtual guarantee of incredible fishing once it was over.
Most who pursue fish under the ice know that changes in weather play a very significant role in the winter bite. Extremes of low and high barometric pressure can put fish off their normal feeding and even moderate winds of 20-30mph will halt a bite. East wind is a virtual guarantee that the fish will not feed and we have learned to stay home on those days. A big wind storm meant that the fish would not feed during and for a day after the storm. This particular storm occurred on a Friday, which meant we’d be able to reap the benefits on Sunday, our day off.
Sunday’s weather brought no wind and a slight cloud cover. Heading into the wilderness lake that we would fish well before sunrise, we encountered the eerie quiet of the promise of a great day on the ice. The two-hour march arrived us to the lake at dawn and the ice, thanks to a long stretch of moderate winter temperatures, was only about 15 inches thick and the hand auger made quick work of a series of holes along the ledges of a point on the lake. Typically an ice fisherman will drill a lot of holes until the fish are found but when you’ve already been there and know, the work load is greatly reduced and you can dedicate more time to fishing instead of “hunting.”
Christine was jigging a hot orange 5/8-ounce Mepps Syclops, her go-to lure, in the first hole that was over 15 feet of water. Halfway finished with hole number two over 25 feet of water, I heard her holler, “Fish on” and shortly thereafter she had a rainbow in the 17-inch range flopping on the ice. This fish displayed a very large bite taken out of its side, a bite that seemed larger and inconsistent with another fish, most likely from a land otter, which frequent the lake we were on. Finishing the second hole, I let it “rest” and drilled another 30 feet from Christine’s location in the same depth. When you find a depth the fish are at, fish it.
As I settled into my camp chair and prepared to drop a silver 1-ounce Mepps Syclops, my favorite ice-fishing lure, Christine got another strike and the bend of her rod left little doubt it would be a nice fish. The big fish took line for a bit and then she got it back and had the fish near the bottom of the hole. Experience has taught us the need to center the fish in the hole when coming up. If they come up on the edge of the hole and the hook sets in the ice they twist off every time. Christine is a master and pulled the big fish straight up to reveal a beautiful, naturally-produced rainbow measuring 21.5 inches. I thought to myself, “Well, at least I can fish while she marks her license.”
The strike came on the drop as they nearly always do with rainbows and my rod bent double and a 20-inch rainbow was soon on the ice. He was quickly released. Christine and I were both entered in the Soldotna Trustworthy Hardware ice fishing derby and I had a rainbow entered that had me at first place in the rainbow division. Knowing her fish would easily beat my entry there was no reason to tag the big female. And so the day went. Each of us catching numerous fish in the 20-inch class, all released, and several more in the 18- to 19-inch class that we kept for eating.
The lake we fished on has a run of sockeye salmon that explains the many large fish. They feed relentlessly on the smolt as evidenced by the contents of the stomachs we had caught there in the past. But this day produced something we had never seen before. A 19-inch fish was brought to hand and was laying on the ice and from its vent popped the head of a salmon smolt. These fish were feeding so hard and fast they were not digesting what they ate, it was passing right through them.
The perfect storm doesn’t happen often so the next time a tree is blown over on your house in February, gather your ice-fishing gear and head to the lake!