By Christine Cunningham, for the Redoubt Reporter
The day my fishing partner decided that enough time had gone by that we needed to go ice fishing happened to be on a day in which the wind was blowing about 45 mph and the temperature had risen to negative 20 degrees.
My personal views on ice fishing held that fish don’t much like the wind. I don’t know what goes on underwater in a wind, but based on the attention that gets paid to my lure by fish, my guess is that they are hanging on to a reed by their lips waiting out an underwater storm. But since fishing is better than ironing my clothes or washing my dishes, I decided to go anyway.
The road to Hidden Lake wasn’t all that bad. As long as we kept the speed of the vehicle to less than 10 mph and stayed in the middle of the road, there was every chance we’d make it to the lake.
The chances weren’t as good on making it back. But, those were the odds that we were willing to take in order to catch a lake trout and avoid domestic chores. When my life flashes before my eyes, as it did on the last downhill curve in the road to the lake, I certainly don’t want to have any images of myself ironing clothes. I’m just not that good at it.
From the parking lot it was clear to us that it wouldn’t be a good idea to drive out on the lake. Freeze and thaw conditions had created about a foot of overflow. We loaded up our sled with the barest of essentials. The hand auger, the ice scoop, our fishing rods, our spare fishing rods, tackle boxes, two camp chairs, my portable ice shanty, my propane heater, several extra cans of propane, a Thermos of coffee, a bottle of blackberry brandy, and, in my case, a book on the life and legend of Crazy Horse, who defeated Custer in the Battle of Little Bighorn.
Once the sled was hooked up to my fishing partner, we began the long walk to our favorite spot. Luckily, the wind was at our back and so my added weight in the sled was of little inconvenience.
I erected my shanty and got my heater glowing, then quickly dropped my lure to 30 feet and decided on a new method of fishing that would serve both my lack of faith and the furtherance of my study of Native American history.
Instead of jigging my lure, I would just let it hang in the water. At least for a little while. At least until 10 a.m., when the fish might actually start biting. If my fishing partner got a fish, I would hear it and that would be my signal that the fish were biting.
I fell asleep.
When I woke up, around 11 a.m., my propane heater had fizzled out and my line was frozen in the hole. Since I missed the 10 a.m. bite, I’d have to wait until two, the fish’s lunchtime. Outside, my fishing partner looked like the arctic version of The Thinker sculpture.
“Any fish?” I yelled.
He’d had a few bites, but they were kokanee. Just then, he started fighting what looked to be a lake trout. I watched through the window of my shanty as he pulled up one of the smallest lake trout I’d seen.
“I’m going to let this one grow up,” he said before putting the mad little fish back down the hole.
The fishing didn’t get any better as the hours wore on. I jigged from the bottom of the water column to the top so many times I got tired of singing “One, two, three, four, five, once I caught a fish alive,” and decided to multitask by reading my book.
It was late in the afternoon when we decided that we had given the lake a fair effort. The ice on the way back was in even worse condition. We broke through over a foot deep every step of the way.
In the parking lot, I saw the lights of a truck that must have driven out on the lake before us and was coming back at full speed — 10 mph. The truck’s lights bobbed as it crushed through the overflow.
When it finally launched itself from the lake to the top of the boat launch, two ice fishermen in sleeveless shirts grinned from the cab of the truck.
They were all beard and sunglasses. The driver shouted toward me, “Now that’s what you call a powerwash!”
Given the conditions of the lake, I don’t think these two were very bright, although they claimed to have caught plenty of kokanee.
“It doesn’t matter if I catch fish,” I told my fishing partner, who was unloading the sled and who was covered in hoar frost. “I just like the opportunity to fish and to be outside.”
He looked at me the way I must have looked at the gold dust twins before saying, “Is that what you were doing?”
Christine Cunningham was born in Alaska and has lived on the Kenai Peninsula for the last 20 years, where she enjoys fishing, hunting and outdoors recreation. Her book, “Women Hunting Alaska,” was released by Northern Publishing in January 2013. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.