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AMDS Outdoor Adventures - 02/17/02
by Steve Herschbach

Skandics on the Lake

Skandics on the Lake

My brother-in-law, Rich Bidasolo, had a birthday approaching, and a group of us decided it would be a good excuse to go for a snowmobile ride and do a little ice fishing. I left Anchorage with a Ski-Doo Skandic 380 behind my truck under gloomy grey skis, headed north for the Mat-Su Valley.

The weather had lightened up a bit by the time I arrived at Marion Lake, just south of Big Lake, about an hour later. Rich was waiting along with my father, Bud Herschbach, and friend Terry Dickerson. Rich has a Skandic 500, my father has a Skandic 380, and Terry has a Polaris Indy Lite.

As you can tell, my family tends to lean towards utility type sleds. The Skandics, with their fan-cooled engines, two-up seats, luggage racks, and hitches are great machines for all-around Alaskan snowmobiling. Their long tracks do well in deep snow, and the standard reverse makes working in tight quarters a breeze. And besides being great utility snowmobiles, they are actually quite fun to ride.

I suited up and we made the short ride over to Big Lake. Our destination was Cow Lake, near Redshirt Lake north of Big Lake. The main goal, besides a snowmobile ride, was Northern Pike. Our luggage racks were loaded with ice fishing gear in anticipation of the days catch ahead.

We had not made this trip before, but had a pretty good idea of the route we were to take. Rich had a new Garmin eTrex GPS unit he had received for his birthday, and had the coordinates for Cow Lake punched into it for good measure.

Ski-Doo Skandic 380

Ski-Doo Skandic 380

We headed to a trailhead access on north Big Lake and headed on out. After awhile it became apparent we were not headed in the right direction, and so we headed back looking for a trail headed west. We arrived back at Big Lake without seeing any such trail, and so turned around and headed back north to try again.

Again, we did not see an obvious trail heading west. The main trail was groomed and quite wide; a regular snowmobile highway. Finally the decision was made to cut west in hopes of hitting the trail we were looking for. And sure enough, a short time later we came across the right trail. The junction must have been less than obvious, but now we were headed in the right direction.

An easy trail soon brought us to Cow Lake. We headed to the west end near a stream outlet and started drilling holes. I had brought a light rod and reel, but the rest of the crew was outfitted with numerous tip-ups. These are little automatic rigs that have a little paddle on top intended for catching any wind and jigging for fish unattended. A little flag is set on a catch such that when a fish is caught the flag pops up, alerting one to the fact that a fish has been caught.

So I was the odd guy with my fishing pole. I've never ice fished for pike before, and in fact have only caught a couple in my life. They have been spreading through lakes in the area, however, and the Alaska Department of Fish & Game is concerned that the aggressive pike will drive the trout and salmon from the lakes they inhabit. Bag limits have been removed in many areas to encourage fishermen to try and keep their numbers down.

We got a few holes drilled, and one of the tip-ups promptly caught a little pike. The fish was quite small, not like the two-foot fish I had envisioned. Still, it was a fish, and an encouraging sign.

I tried the herring that everyone else was using on my rod and proceeded to fish my hole in the ice. I'm not terribly patient at fishing, as I got spoiled at an early age on easy fishing in the area before Anchorage was as large as it has become. The fishing is not what it once was in local streams and lakes due to the increasing numbers of people fishing the waters. So I decided to try a few eggs after getting no bites in a short period of time.

Rich drills holes     Steve with pike
Rich drills holes, and Steve with pike

I let the line down, and stuck the pole in the snow to put the bottle of eggs back in my storage box. When I turned around, the tip of the pole was tugging down! I grabbed the rod and pulled up a pike about a foot long. I felt pretty proud of my little pike as I really had no real idea of what I was doing. But from what I know about pike it does not take much savvy to catch one. They are voracious feeders.

Rich and Terry moved around the lake drilling holes and setting tip-ups at different locations. The fish were not very active and we were not seeing much action. Still, it was not too long before Rich pulled up another pike a bit larger than the one I had caught. And not long after that my father pulled one up.

Rich with Northern Pike    Bud with Northern Pike
Rich and Bud with Northern Pike

About that time up pulled another friend, Mike Graves, on his new Arctic Cat 600 4-Stroke snowmachine. We gathered round and admired it looks and quiet running engine. Four-stroke motors are heavier and less powerful than two-stroke motors of comparable size, but I can see where there will be more of them in the future for the trail riding market. Their quiet running and clean exhaust will be popular in areas with lots of riders on trail systems. Ski-Doo has just introduced it's 1000 cc 4-stroke engine in two models for 2003, the Grand Touring V-1000 Sport, and Legend V-1000 Sport.

Since Mike had arrived we decided it was time for a little expedition over to Redshirt Lake. The sun had come out, and the temperatures were mild. Along with a couple of feet of good snow, this made for perfect riding conditions. We headed over to the lake to just have a little riding fun.

Mike on his Cat   Terry with his Indy
Mike on his Cat, and Terry with his Indy

Redshirt Lake is quite sizeable, with lots of open riding area and untrodden snow. We toured around and traded sleds back and forth to see how the different machines performed. None of these snowmobiles are powerhouses by any means, and most people would find them tame by comparison to the more powerful machines available today. But as the machines were all roughly comparable in performance no one felt like they were really lacking performance wise, and we simply had a great time buzzing around the lake.

Dad was still manning the fishing grounds back at Cow Lake, so we finally headed back before he started wondering where we were. A few more small pike were caught, but nothing of any real size. Still, we caught fish, and had fun riding, so the day was judged a success by all.

Rich on his Skandic 500  Ski-Doos on Redshirt Lake
Rich on his Skandic 500, and Ski-Doos on Redshirt Lake

We loaded our gear up and headed on back to Big Lake. Quite a few riders were out enjoying the day, as much of the early winter was lacking in decent snow, and temperatures have been colder than normal. But now with the days lengthening people are getting out and about enjoying the best part of winter in Alaska. Something about spring approaching after the long Alaska winter gets everyone in a mood for some outdoors fun.

I'd been holed up much of the winter, and working too many weekends of late, so I really enjoyed getting out of town and having a little fun. The fishing was fun, the riding was great, and spending time with family and friends the best of all. Hopefully it won't be too long before I get out of town again!

~ Steve Herschbach

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