This has been a warm winter compared to recent years.
Sure Kodiak has had lots of water as usual. But most has come as rain rather than snow.
It recently occurred to me that the cold winters forced me out of one of my favorite pursuits.
It iced over all the lakes, and I had to give up my winter trout fishing.
Ice will come and go on the lakes this winter, but any time you can find open water there’s every reason to put on your rain gear and go looking for trout.
The Alaska Department of Fish and Game stocks trout in over a dozen small lakes on the road system. You can find their general locations on Page 15 of the 2013 Alaska Sport Fishing Regulation Summary pamphlet for Kodiak Island or download a pdf version here: http://www.adfg.alaska.gov/index.cfm?adfg=fishregulations.ko_sportfish
Needless to say, that creates a lot of chances for you to find open water for fishing. The higher elevation lakes are almost certainly iced over now, but with warmer weather you may find open water on at least a few of those at sea level.
If you’re unacquainted with ADF&G’s trout stocking program, you’re in for a nice surprise. In contrast to other states that plant “catchable” trout ready for the frying pan, ADF&G stocks fingerlings.
It takes a year or two for the fingerlings to grow large enough for angling, but in the process they become as wild as wild can be. And their flesh is incredibly fine table fare compared to fish that spent their whole life eating hatchery food.
Annual stocking translates into a range of fish sizes in most lakes. Sure you have to wait for the fingerlings to grow up. But meanwhile fully-grown fish from previous years are ready and waiting.
In fact, there can be some real trophies. A very few fish live many years to become tackle busters.
I’ve lost my share of monsters when they managed to wrap around limbs and logs in the lakes, but I’ve landed some too.
Each year I expect to catch trout over 20 inches in length, with a very few even topping 24 inches. My largest ever was a whopping 29.5 inches!
I’ve learned something catching those big fish. Look in their bellies following the annual ADF&G fry stocking, and you’ll see that the really big fish make their living eating trout fry along with the local sticklebacks.
By removing the large fish when you manage to land them, you actually improve the long-term fishing in the lakes by assuring better survival of the younger fish.
Any time I fish a lake and don’t catch a fair number of smaller fish, I’m certain that there are big fish if I go looking for them.
So how do you go about catching winter trout from Kodiak’s stocked lakes?
The secrets are to slow down and look deep.
In the spring and summer, especially after an ADF&G fingerling stock, you can do very well with spinners and spoons fished close to shore. That’s because the fingerlings along with the sticklebacks stay there for cover.
But chasing down small fish takes a lot of energy, which is in short supply for trout in the depths of winter. In the coldest months trout simply aren’t inclined to work very hard for their food. There’s also a shortage of fingerlings compared to other wild foods.
Most of the food in winter is to be found in and over the deep weed beds in lakes. The water is usually warmer there too, and the plants are producing oxygen. That all creates the best habitat in the lake for trout of all sizes.
It takes exploration to find the deepest water, but once you’ve learned the layout of a lake it’s pretty easy to concentrate your efforts to the locations where the fish hang out.
Once you know that, you can concentrate on giving the fish plenty of time to dine.
That usually translates into using bait rather than lures.
But the trick is helping trout find your bait. Remember, you’re fishing a weed bed.
If you simply cast a bait into the deepest water and let it settle to the bottom, there’s a fair chance it will disappear into the weeds unless you happen to land in an open spot.
It’s much better to suspend your bait on top of the weeds or just above them.
You can go about it two ways.
You have to hang the bait from above, or you have to use a bait that will float up to suspend itself above the weeds.
If the water is shallow enough it’s easy simply to clip on a bobber and adjust the leader below it to the right length. But if the water is deeper than the length of your rod, casting becomes problematic.
One solution used in other areas is to use a sliding bobber along with a “bobber stop.” That little device goes on your line, but it’s small enough to go back up through the guides and even onto the reel without interference.
When you reel in to cast the bobber slides right down to your swivel. But once on the water the line can slide through the bobber as the weighted bait sinks until the bobber comes to rest at the stop.
Pretty slick, but I’ve never seen bobber stops for sale on Kodiak.
The more common alternative is to use a sliding sinker along with a floating bait. The leader is long enough so the bait can float up above the weeds, as the line is free to slide through the sinker and transmit a strike back to the rod tip.
Berkley Power Bait is the most common floating bait you’ll encounter, but there are other brands.
Can’t find any Power Bait on Kodiak?
Never fear, there’s a viable alternative.
Go to your favorite grocery store and buy a back of cocktail marshmallows.
Thread one of the marshmallows onto your hook before the bait, and you’re in business. You’ll have to experiment a little with size of bait and number of marshmallows for larger baits, but the trout love them. I’ve even caught trout on marshmallows by themselves.
What’s the best bait? That’s like asking which brand of cars is best.
I’ve had great luck on bottled salmon eggs, but even better luck with leftover cured salmon roe from the previous fall. Worms from the garden have been very good too. I know folks who make their own “dough” including bits of canned sardines or cat food along with garlic. And some folks swear by dipping their bait in garlic oil prepared by mixing crushed garlic with olive oil.
The biggest point is that winter trout fishing is fishing. It sure beats television and chores on a nice winter day.
Just be sure to dress for the conditions and bring along a nice comfortable seat. The trout bite can be slow and gentle, so you’ll need a good place to sit to enhance your patience.