Orion Willis, a student of Soldotna Montessori Charter School, said Tuesday morning that he had never caught a fish before. He was among the first to call out “fish on!” and lift up a freshly caught rainbow trout during an ice fishing event hosted by the State Department of Fish and Game at Sport Lake this week.
Willis is one of roughly 450 students from the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District slated to try their hands at ice fishing on Tuesday and Wednesday. The annual ice fishing opportunity at Sport Lake is part of “Salmon in the Classroom,” a part of the Division of Sport Fish’s Aquatic Education Program.
“It’s such a fun opportunity for them to be able to get a chance to learn something new that a lot of people in the community spend their winter days doing,” Fishery Biologist Kayla Hansch said Tuesday while standing on the ice. “A lot of these students haven’t ice fished before — it’s brand new for them.”
Each group of students, after arriving, would attend a brief safety discussion and ice fishing tutorial led by Hansch before being turned out onto a marked-off section of the lake. She said they had around 100 holes prepared.
Sport Lake is one of many lakes stocked with fish by the department. Hansch told the students that this year around 19,000 rainbow trout and 4,000 king salmon had been stocked to provide fishing opportunity.
The purpose of Salmon in the Classroom events like the annual ice fishing opportunity is to get local students out fishing, but also to teach them about their environment and which species of fish can be found in local waters. Students are also instructed about sport fishing regulations.
On a chilly but clear-skyed Tuesday morning, under a shining sun, countless students in snowpants, hats and gloves could be seen spread out over an area of the lake. They sat by holes and “jigged” baited hooks — each hoping to feel the tell-tale tug of an interested fish.
It was easy to tell when a fish was on the line, Willis said, because his rod bent sharply toward the hole. Despite the evidence that a fish was pulling away hard, he said he had no trouble getting the fish up and out — “it came pretty easy.”
He said he could identify it as a rainbow trout because of its stripes — but demonstrated that if he held his catch up in the light its scales shone a rainbow hue.
Eyes turned and a crowd gathered after Willis called out his catch. Hansch helped Willis get his fish into a bag for transporting home. Willis said he planned to cook and eat it with help from his father.
Across the ice, a handful of students had seen success around an hour into the event on Tuesday. Several students could be seen at different times posing for photos with their fresh catch — like Soldotna Elementary’s Natalie Kiech, who had to react quickly after a rainbow trout of her own wiggled free of her thick gloves and almost escaped back under the ice.
For more information about the Department of Fish and Game, including education and outreach efforts like Salmon Celebration, visit adfg.alaska.gov.