The much anticipated tournament series in South Central Alaska began this past Saturday January 14th. Still Cold Open is a tournament series that encourages the conservation of the target species by introducing a catch, measure, photo, and release method of capturing an angler's success for the day. The tournament is a six day, two person team series, that offers local fishermen an opportunity to test their skills against a tough lake, great fish, and better anglers. Jim McCormick, the tournament organizer, is along time Alaska guide with a plethora of knowledge about fishing Alaska and a passion for connecting fisherman.
Tournament registration is Burkshore Marina between the hours of 7am and 8am. There are five qualifying tournaments and one championship tournament. The top three teams in each of the five qualifying tournaments win an automatic entry into the championship as well as a prize package for the week. The remaining field for the championships will be determined by the top 20 points holders at the end of the season. There is a $50 entry fee per team, 100% used to purchase prizes for the end of season points champion and the championship tournament finalist. The next tournament, day two, is 28 January 2017. If you missed the first one there is still plenty of time to qualify by points or win an automatic bid by finishing in the top three for the week.
Day 1 started out with overcast skies and snow. 31 teams took off across Big Lake to their honey holes where confidence and hope of catching fish were high. The clouds prevented light penetration through the snow pack on the ice, so early catches triggered a bite through sound or vibration. Joey Dombrowski and I (Double Action 2.0) had fast, early success and we may or may not have been utilizing the Bio Lume by Aqua Vu to create an artificial light source that draws plankton, small fish, then of course bigger fish. Lure selection is important, just like anything, match the food source of the fish you are hunting. We ended the day with 10 plus keeper fish on the ice. The tournament allow a team to enter their top 6 longest fish. Our top 6 fish measured a total of 99 inches. We finished in second for the day behind Alaska Light Gear Squad who measured a total of 113 inches. Finishing 3rd was AK Hardwater who was the only other team to bring in at least 6 measurable fish for a total of 98 inches. These teams earned automatic qualification but you can rest assured they will be full throttle to the end trying to win the points championship.
Most of the 31 teams caught measurable fish and earned valuable points towards a top 20 spot in the championship. Fishing had mixed reviews but a few factors were evident with those that had success. The willingness to move was critical and the use of electronics assisted that decision. Fishing in area where you are not marking a lot of fish can pay off with a fish or two but doesn't increase your chances for a limit. Pack light and prepare for the move. Shelters, heaters, ice anchors, and several holes will weigh heavy on your mind and possibly prevent you from making a necessary move due to the hassle of regrouping. However, if you are in area that has a lot of fish, set up camp. A smart man told me along time ago, "Never leave fish, to find fish." When Joey and I fish these tournaments, we have an auger, our electronics, and 5-10 rods already pre-rigged. We tap one hole a piece and give ourselves a time limit, which starts over with every fish caught.
From here on out it is probably safe to assume Big Lake will not be able to be driven on outside of the plowed roads. So you will need to plan fishing close to the plow roads, plow a road to your area, use snow machines, or be prepared to walk knee high snow. There were several vehicles stuck in the berms along the plow road as well as on the lake itself. Bring a tow strap just in case as many people will be helpful in getting you out, not without a few Ford being stuck and pulled by Chevy jokes though.
If you didn't do well on Big Lake this time, no worries it will change. Go out, explore, and fish areas you have never been too before. If you didn't fish the tournament on Day 1, what are you waiting for? Visit the fb page Still Cold Open, Southcentral Alaska Fishing, or Fish Reflections for more information. The favorite part of my day before and after fishing, getting to connect with everyone in person. Big thanks to Jim McCormick for organizing such a great opportunity for all us fish heads to come together, Burkshore Marina for providing their building outside of normal operating hours, and everyone who came out to fish. Would be great if some of them Fairbanks Ice Fishing superstars would come on down and fish a few. Accommodations can be had at the Best Western on Lake Lucille or the Valley Hotel in Palmer, both great places to stay. Great times ahead, hope to see you on the ice!!!! I would like to personally thank my partner Joey D who has become a fish catching machine, Yakima Baits, Maxima Fishing Line, Bait Cloud, Aqua Vu, Lowrance, Frabil, Shimano, Power Pro, Eskimo Ice Fishing, Tackle Warehouse, and Chevrolet all of which contributed to our success this day.