For several weeks each Sunday morning before the appointed date, 75-year-old Nelson stands up at Our Redeemer Lutheran Church and announces that there will be an ice-fishing party for kids at Mirror Lake. For seven years he’s been making the announcement; then he brings fishing gear to the lake, a pound of shrimp, and his deep fryer to heat water for hot chocolate. Cookies are also on hand to “sugar them up” before sending them home.
Nelson and his wife, Maryann, are the grandparents of eight children and eight great-grandchildren and in spite of Len’s straight-faced claims to the contrary, the couple have always had a heart for kids. Maryann works for the Campfire program at Chugiak Elementary School and is active in their church Sunday school. Nelson decided to organize the family fishing event back seven or eight years ago when he realized that there were kids who had never had the opportunity to fish.
Nelson invites everyone to join the fun for this annual Our Redeemer event. This year the fishing party will be held March 24, 1-4 p.m. There’s sledding nearby if the fishing is slow, but most of the time the kids catch fish.
“I’ve had a few dads get upset at me because the rule is that it’s for the kids. Dads can bait the hook, but only kids drop the hook in and pull the fish out,” he said.
For a few years, when the fishing was poor, Nelson made it his mission to see that Mirror Lake get stocked with fish. He says he made a nuisance of himself at the Alaska Department of Fish and Game (ADF&G) office in Anchorage.
“They run me out of the office two or three times,” Nelson said. “I’m bashful, you know. You have to explain to me why you can’t do something.”
After a five year hiatus, ADF&G began restocking Mirror Lake in 2012. Nelson’s pestering notwithstanding, it was the newly re-opened hatchery in Anchorage that allowed for the release of thousands of catchable-sized fish into area lakes. Beginning in May and five times through October 2012, ADF&G released hundreds of land-locked Chinook salmon and thousands of rainbow trout into Mirror Lake.
March is a good time to ice fish throughout Eagle River and the MatSu. ADF&G’s Sport Fish Division stocks a variety of species into lakes and streams around the state. Hatchery-raised rainbow trout, Arctic grayling, Arctic char, and landlocked coho and Chinook salmon are stocked in many southcentral and interior lakes. Coho and Chinook salmon smolt are also released into several streams to return in subsequent years. The ADF&G’s website is an excellent resource to see where and how many fish have been stocked in local lakes. In addition, the William Jack Hernandez Sport Fish Hatchery is open to the public daily (seven days a week) from 8:00am – 4:00pm. For more information visit www.adfg.alaska.gov
Ice fishing throughout the Eagle River and MatSu area should be good throughout the month, according to Mike Romine of ADF&G, but be aware of dangerous ice conditions. The general “rules-of-thumb” for safety on the ice:
- Less than 4 inches of ice – STAY OFF!
- 4-6 Inches – Ice fishing, foot travel in single-file lines, and small spaced seating on the ice should be safe, presuming the ice is clear and clean.
- 6-10 Inches – Snowmobiles and ATV’s can travel safely on good ice that is over six inches thick.
- 10-16 Inches – Small cars and pick-ups can begin to venture on to the ice. However, it is best to avoid driving on the ice whenever possible.
- 16+ Inches – A medium-sized car or mid-size pickup can drive on good clear solid ice.
Two years ago, Nelson had knee replacement surgery and handed the planning of the ice fishing party over to Eagle River resident, Greg Hobbs. But Nelson plans to be there again this year, giving some of the kids their first taste of angling. Veterans of the event, who have since become teens and young adults, have asked Nelson to continue the ice-fishing tradition so that their children too can experience the fun.
“One year there were 125 people on the ice,” he said chuckling. “Twice as many people as there were in church that Sunday.”
Not that he’s counting, of course. It’s a community outreach and all are welcome to attend – especially the “ankle-biters.”