As often happens before these outings, I don’t sleep much…too much anxious anticipation. I’m also up early, spending a half hour prepping clothing, tying leaders, choosing lures for the four combos I plan to bring, then loading them into rod lockers, along with extra line and some assorted tackle before heading down for breakfast.
George walks past a thermometer and notes temperatures have plummeted 30 degrees overnight. “Winds are strong, too.”
Not good news, but we’re in this game, regardless of the situation. We finish eating, dress quickly and load for the seventeen mile snowmobile trek to Lake Susitna.
We pass miles of undeveloped shoreline and islands, with surreal, snow capped bluish-purple mountain ranges surrounding us in the distance, then cross a spit of land into Lake Susitna, where George pauses briefly to check the map on his smart phone. “About twenty minutes yet,” he notes, wiping condensation from his helmet mask, and the trek soon continues.
As we approach our waypoint, I notice George’s snow machine dig in, slogging in slush. Mine, with a heavier sled in tow, simultaneously begins bogging down. I gun it, however, and slowly but surely make our destination, where I pull onto a crusted snowdrift to remove slush from the track. That stuff freezes in, and it will be a long hike back.
I start my power auger, which fires right up, revs up to full speed…and stays there. I shut down.
“Trouble?” George questions. Puzzled, I shut down and start again, with the same results.
Closer inspection reveals slush frozen around the throttle cable assembly. I gently clear what I can, and noticing a little improvement, resume drilling, but the cable sticks at about 80%, so I can’t get the RPM’s needed to slice effectively through the sticky slush.
Shutting down, I again attempt to clean things off, then pull start the engine. When it fires, my hand slips on the icy handle and the power head turns, causing the pull cord grip to catch the choke lever, and I watch helplessly as plastic pieces of my former choke assembly scatter across the snow.
Concerned, I set the auger down and announce I’m going to get our back-up. Here we are, standing in three feet of snow and a foot of slush, in sub-zero wind chills, twenty miles from the lodge in wilderness Alaska. It’s our first morning on the ice, I haven’t drilled a single hole yet, much less begun fishing, and we’re already facing a serious mechanical issue. Good thing we brought two augers.
I remove my coat, and post-holing through the deep snow and slush well over knee-deep, carrying our back-up 52 cc, 10” power auger, begin the task of drilling. Stopping to kick snow aside and open a space at each location, I laboriously drill a dozen holes through 36” of ice and 12” of slush. George follows with his Vexilar and a skimmer to confirm depths and direct me as I cut the grid.
It’s a workout, and when I shut down, I’m soaked with sweat. You’d never know there was a -25 wind chill. I’m just glad to have my Polar Fire suit, which will help dry me out and keep me warm, or this day would be over before it began.
We start working the line of holes, and after an hour, have one lake trout to show for our efforts.
“We need to move,” George declares, reeling up from his last hole. “We should have seen more action by this time.” I agree.