The hardwater fishing season is finally upon us in Alaska. Mother Nature was somewhat reluctant this year to bring in the cold, wintery weather and prevented an early start for vertical jigging, which usually occurs mid-October for us living in the Interior. However, ice anglers did not have to wait long as temperatures dipped down quickly the second half of the month and stayed below freezing long enough for a couple inches of the hard stuff to form on the smaller lakes. The last day of October had a few hardcore daredevil types managing to tiptoe onto about two inches of clear, solid surface with spud bars trying to secure the title “First Ice” of the season. Halloween had them looking for coldwater treats while avoiding a bust through tricky-thin ice. My buddy Clinton Hanson and his crew were able to jig up about 50 average size Arctic grayling and a couple dozen rainbow trout in about four hours while fishing over4- to 6 feet of water at a lake near Delta Junction.First Ice

Although I got a bad itch myself to get my winter fishing on, you just won’t see this guy out on any ice that thin. Getting older has not made me necessarily any wiser, but maturing has influenced me to be much more cautious. I’ve developed a run away and live to fight another day mentality when it comes to stepping out on sketchy frozen stuff. Early-season ice fishing is really exciting, but it’s also very hazardous. A good risk assessment and safety plan are a must when it comes to exploring early ice fishing conditions.

As a personal rule of thumb I do not venture out on the ice unless a good solid thickness of at least three inches exists. Four- to 6 inches is a general recognized thickness for safe foot travel on ice, and you should have at least 10 inches of solid ice for any kind of small vehicle. Look for good clarity in the ice, the clearer the better. I like to drill test holes to actually see a side view of a hole for reliable clarity and good thickness check.

Even when the ice appears to be thick enough, there still may be instability issues from snow cover, overflow, fluctuating temperatures and water current (even in a lake). Always approach a frozen body of water with caution and avoid careless mishaps. Bottom line: if you’re unsure, simply don’t go.

A good precautionary item I always take with me during the early part of the ice fishing season is a type IV throw cushion. The flotation device can be easily tossed to a buddy who may inadvertently bust through the ice, or used by oneself in case of a mishap when fishing solo. The cushion has handles on the sides, which makes it easy to pack and keep with you.

Remember as you begin winter fishing this early part of the season; be prudent with early ice conditions. Have fun, but make sure you incorporate safety when you decide to find your own “First Ice” success. Check the ice conditions often and have a good plan in place to avoid mayhem.


 Dennis spends over 100 days annually sport-fishing all over Alaska. Chronicles of his year-round Alaska fishing adventures can be found on a recreational website, founded to educate, inspire and celebrate sport-fishing in the Great Land. You can find him at