To Wait on Pale Ice

Day 3

The Adventure Series is a collection of outdoor experiences, highlighting stories about people with a shared appreciation for wildlife and wild places. These stories reach across cultural and political boundaries, connecting all walks of life and geographies. In pursuit of broadening our collective understanding, TU is partnering with the Wildlife Conservation Society’s Arctic Beringia Region this week to take you into the heart of interior Alaska. Follow along each day this week as we bring you the series, “To Wait on Pale Ice,” photographed and written by Woodruff Laputka of the WCS. You can read the first installment here, and the second installment here.

Harding Lake is notoriously challenging for catching fish due to a history of fishing pressure. Its proximity to the communities of Salcha, North Pole and Fairbanks makes it popular, and the trout there are large, well-fed, and cunning as a result.

I soon found presumptions of sitting on the ice, pole gently hanging from my lap above a small black abyss with beer in hand evaporate. K and O were standing, constantly moving their poles as they measured depth and
speed of their lures, raising them high, gently dropping them before pulling them back quickly.

“You have to lead them,” said O, the only one of us to have ever caught something at Harding, “but not too fast or they’ll lose interest. And not too slow or they’ll get suspicious. If there’s a ball of bait swimming higher up, there’s usually a trout somewhere nearby.”

The cold dark bottom, where the large trout lurk, takes a maximum plunge at 141 feet. We had been dropping line between 30 and 40 feet depending on our lures to try and rouse their interest for about two hours so far.

Just then O stopped, mid-sentence, and watched the small dial-like screen of his Hummingbird. A small group of bait was being minded by a fish, slowly climbing the scale of his depth-finder. He stood hunched over, like a predator ready to strike, and jigged his line slightly. Another fish appeared on the dial, reaching toward his lure but making no commitments. He jigged some more, dropping and pulling and dropping again. There was no sound. K watched from the other hole intently.

“There’s a third one,” O muttered. “Here he comes.”