There is a lot of snow on the ice this winter. If you’re a fish, that means it’s dark under the ice, even with the longest days. Worse than that, it means that plants on the bottom of the lake can’t produce oxygen through photosynthesis. Dissolved oxygen levels in water, on which both plants and fish depend, have been used since freezing, without replacement, in many lakes. Without oxygen, plants stop growing and fish become lethargic.
Lethargy is the case in most populated lakes in February. The Alaska Department of Fish and Game only has lakes with no entry or exit. This is to prevent the spread of non-native populations to other drainage systems. A body of water with an active winter inlet will still receive plenty of oxygen through the streams that feed it. Before you decide to go fishing, check out the locations available to you and choose your battles.
The Fairbanks area has the Chena Lakes. Chena Lakes is actually a single lake connected with five different sections. All the different sections have holes 25 and 30 feet deep. Silver, chinook, rainbow trout, grayling and gourd should be present. In general, small silverfish are most active at this time of year. Chena has deep sections, which means more oxygen available. However, oxygen increases – you can start with bait near the bottom without much success due to the depletion of oxygen at depth. Try checking higher in the water column at six to eight foot intervals and see if the action changes.
Gravel lakes in the Fairbanks area, if deep enough, could produce decent catches just under the ice. Don’t expect solid success from these small stocked fish this time of year. They can barely swallow the bait. A good method is to make a good-sized hole, which can be seen down, and strike when the bait disappears, whether you see a fish or not. Light-colored eggs are the ticket, for no other reason than the ability to see them at a reasonable depth.
People in Delta Junction like shrimp for bait. Maybe so, but if the bait is worth more than the fish, that might call the logic into question. Most of the stocked lakes in the Delta are small and shallow. Fishing is generally a good proposition, mainly missing, until April. The exceptions are Birch Lake and Quartz Lake, both of which are decent most of the winter. Birch Lake is not fished as extensively as Quartz. Birch is 60 miles from Fairbanks and 40 from Delta, making it a longer trip than Quartz Lake waiting at Delta Junction.
Quartz and Birch lakes support good populations of silver and rainbow. Birch has larger fish, probably due to deeper water and less fishing pressure. Access to Birch Lake is adequate. There is a good exit and plenty of parking. Grab a sled to get your gear out on the ice or bring a snow machine. Fish Quartz and Birch near the bottom in 15 feet of water or less. Eggs work, shrimp, light colored wet flies are also successful.
White Mister Twister machines work well at Quartz Lake. Quartz has a plowed road around the south and east side of the lake. Take a look before you jump on the ice with a two-wheel powered rig. When fishing in shallow water, save the eggshells for a couple of weeks. Crush them and drop them down the hole. A light colored background will make the fish much more visible.
The big lakes in the Paxson area are decent fishing this time of year. Paxson Lake has numerous streams and springs. Winter fishing is very good. Lake Paxson has overflowed this season due to deep snow and relatively light ice cover. Check before you go out on the lake with a snow machine. There has been minimal fishing at Paxson in recent years. Twenty feet should be your starting depth. Templates will work well in Lake Paxson.
Summit Lake is another lightly fished lake that has good access and excellent fishing. Expect fish in the 20- to 24-inch range with the occasional larger one. Summit is an exceptionally clear body of water. It can be seen over 20 feet deep. Silver flashers work well on Summit as well as standby templates. If you’re going after big fish, use rigs in the three-ounce range. Red and white is the color of Summit Lake trout.
Swede Lake is home to big lake trout. Years ago, I pulled a 44 inch trout from Sweden in March. I released it and it had no scales, but that fish rivaled a 30 pound trout caught in Lake Paxson. Swede Lake fish seem partial to red and white Daredevles, although I’m sure other lures work as well.
Swede Lake is 20 miles from the road, so it requires a decent snowmobile and some planning, but it’s worth the extra effort in late March and April when the daylight improves and temperatures
Wherever you decide to fish, the effort is always worth the trip. Remember: winter fishing is an excursion, not an afterthought. Good preparation isn’t just the key to success, it’s the difference between fun and disaster.