Ice Fishing at -40

Disclaimer: There’s a heck of a lot of photos in this post. The light in the Interior just takes my breath away some days. This was one of those days. It was about -40 when I took the majority of these photos and I could only snap a few at a time. It was just so beautiful; I justified my frost-nipped fingers to the necessity of capturing the light.

Our friends Matt and Mandy and Maple and myself have been trying to plan an ice fishing day for quite a while. Various plans, travel and other obligations had delayed this plan until yesterday. But this time, we were prepared: we’d reserved an Ice Hut on Birch Lake early in the week, additional gear (for me) had been purchased (thanks to an incredibly generous wedding gift from my Auntie Carolyn and Uncle Ken) everyone was confirmed to go, we were set! Little things (like a projected forecast of -40) were not going to stop us! We gassed up the car, packed a bunch of food and hot coffee and we were off to Birch Lake – tackle box (and auger) in hand!

When we got to the lake things looked a little hairy. The ice was thick enough but the foot of snow on the ice was a little troubling, due to the fact that we were in a Subaru Legacy. Luckily, someone in a truck had gone out to the farthest ice shack already, so we chugged along in the tracks that were already in the snow. Was it a little hairy? Yes. Did we think we were going to get stuck? Once. Did we get funny looks from everyone in their huge trucks? Absolutely. Did we have a blast? Most definitely.

The tracks out (see those Ice Huts in the distance?)

The tracks out (see those Ice Huts in the distance?)

Subarus. They do it every time.

Subarus. They do it every time.

Light breaking.

Ridge Outline.

Our turnaround area.

Our turnaround area.

About halfway out (just in time for it to be a really big pain in the neck to back up) we realized that, while DNR (Department of Natural Resources) had assigned us the Ice Hut D-18 there was no D-18. There was a D-19 and a F-30 but nothing in between. In the end we took D-19 for the day, assuming that if someone else came along claiming D-19 we had at least started the fire for them.

Checking out the Ice Huts.

Checking out the Ice Huts.

"No, seriously, there is no D-18."

“No, seriously, there is no D-18.”

D-19. Our abode for the next six hours.

D-19. Our abode for the next six hours.

Early morning light.

Early morning light.

Once we got to our Ice Hut, a few more hiccups revealed themselves. We had only brought a hand auger, thinking that the ice would not have completely frozen again, due to the high traffic that these Ice Huts see in the winter. We were mistaken. Matt and Maple spent the next hour, re-drilling the holes through three feet of ice. Mandy and I brought in gear and then drank coffee, chatted in the car and nursed our frost-nipped digits (I managed to get my nose, Mandy got the tips of her fingers.) The light was just gorgeous and, before I got my nose, I took a few photos.

De-gearing the car. (See all that lovely ice fog?)

De-gearing the car. (See all that lovely ice fog from our Subaru?)

Stark.

Stark.

Stark 2.

Stark 2.

Our next door neighbors.

Our next door neighbors.

Once the holes were re-drilled we all tromped inside. Ice Huts are (by necessity) fairly tiny. Four people, four fishing holes (two of which were drilled) and a wood stove all fit into a 10’x10′ space. After being in the Ice Hut for about 20 minutes, Mandy and myself made the astute observation that it was barely warmer in the Ice Hut than it was outside. Matt informed us that the wood stove in the Ice Hut was missing the cinder blocks that allowed it to actually generate significant warmth with the door closed. Mandy and I took turns manning the wood stove (our frozen feet being all the motivation needed) to try to get the temperature up in the Ice Hut. When we came into the Ice Hut the temperature inside was probably -20 and by the end of the day we’d probably stabilized the inside temp at about 15 above.

There’s no electricity in most of these Ice Huts, so all our light came from headlamps and a lantern we hung from the ceiling. The tiny space magnifies all sound, so once we were all settled, we tried to stay settled as much as possible. I fished for a bit but my glasses kept fogging over and I couldn’t see the line. Eventually we all settled into Matt and Justin fishing and Mandy and I huddled around the fire, eating a bunch of food and offering opinions on whether a fish was a keeper or not.

There are times when you’re just really cold and you feel like you’re earning your check mark for being Alaskan. When -40 doesn’t faze you and you go anyway. When your feet are cold and your hands are cold and you’re dipping your hands into water of all things, and you’re still laughing and drinking coffee.

Ice Fishing Set-Up.

Ice Fishing Set-Up. (The dark spot next to the log is the ladle for scooping out ice.)

Our bait. Though they look like delicious berries here, they're actually cold mini-shrimp dyed neon pink. The fish loved them.

Our bait. Though they look like delicious berries here, they’re actually cold mini-shrimp dyed neon pink. The fish loved them.

Matt and Mandy. (Mandy was having more fun than her facial expression might indicate.)

Matt and Mandy. (Mandy was having more fun than her facial expression might indicate.)

Mandy stoking the fire. (She did this a lot.)

Mandy stoking the fire. (She did this a lot.)

Biding time in between stokings.

Biding time in between stokings.

I could title this, "My Afternoon Ice Fishing."

I could title this, “My Afternoon Ice Fishing.”

Welcome Warmth.

Welcome Warmth.

Matt and Mandy are awesome people to go out adventuring with, because a little extremism doesn’t really faze them. Even though it was really very cold in that Hut, we all laughed and chatted and caught small Arctic Char and Rainbow Trout. Mandy thawed frozen Twizzlers for us over the wood stove and we all joked that we needed to bring marshmallows next time.

I snuck outside for a few photos. The sun was shining and the lake was glorious. But it was really, really cold, so I wasn’t outside long.

Range.

Range.

Shadow.

Shadow.

Highlight.

Highlight.

Sun.

Sun.

We did pretty well with the fishing. No huge fish, but consistent bites for about 2.5 hours. All in all Matt and Maple probably caught close to 20 fish. We kept about 8 for dinner, dog scraps and trap bait.

Catching a fish was pretty exciting in the Ice Hut.

The Fisherman Waits.

The Fisherman Waits.

The other fisherman waits.

The other fisherman waits.

A fish is caught!

A fish is caught!

Yay!

Yay!

It's a keeper.

It’s a keeper.

This 5-year-old-happy-happy-glee-I-caught-something reaction happens every time Maple catches a fish. It's pretty adorable.

This 5-year-old-happy-happy-glee-I-caught-something reaction happens every time Maple catches a fish. It’s pretty adorable.

In his element.

In his element.

All good things come to an end. I probably could have lasted a couple more hours if my feet hadn’t been so frozen. (Next Ice Fishing trip I’m bringing down booties and contacts.) We packed everything up and loaded the car up in about 7 minutes and were on the road back to town. After a brief stop at the Knotty Shop in Salcha to warm our feet, eat ice cream (no, really, it makes sense) and admire the approximately 746 taxidermied ptarmigans in the store, we were on our way home. Truly, a day well spent.

D-19 in the daylight.

D-19 in the daylight.

Photo o' the Day.

Photo o’ the Day.

Happy Ice Fishers in the distance.

Happy Ice Fishers in the distance.

Not only are there Ice Huts on Birch Lake, there’s a cabin right there that you can rent for the night. Plans have already been made for an overnight Ice Fishing extravaganza! Fish’s best bite times are based on the sun/moon cycle, so if they’re biting from 11-1 in the morning/afternoon, then they’re biting 11-1 nighttime/early-morning.

Cheers and Love,

Maple and Me

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2 thoughts on “Ice Fishing at -40

  1. Pingback: Arctic Char and Rainbow Trout – Dinner is Served! | Maple and Me

  2. Thanks for sharing! Glad we could help the big adventure. Imagine taking the day to reach 15 degrees. You’re both so hardy! The marshmallows are a good idea with hot chocolate.

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