John E. Hoover
writer, broadcaster, photographer

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    Alaska: The Great Land, Pt. 2

    (Reeling in the memories)

     A 2-pound Arctic char proves a feisty foe for John DeCristo as it tries to throw the hook.

     

    Jim Hoover found the lake to his liking, and shows off the 14 rainbow trout and six Arctic char that he took in one day.

     

    Originally published in the Tulsa World, Sept. 12, 1999

    It was a little like golf, only running.

    A brief excursion home into the Alaskan interior last week reaped a memorable fishing trip, but the fish were hitting so fast -- much more so than memory recalled -- that the senses were overwhelmed.

    Instead of a relaxed afternoon on a serene lake surrounded by beautiful scenery and captivating wildlife, we kept getting interrupted by all these fish pulling on our lines.

    Forget chit-chat. Don't even think of picking up that camera. Lunch on the boat? Out of the question. Just unhook the fish, replace the bait and get the line back in the water. Quick.

    Such is angling in Alaska.

    ``I've never gotten this many fish out of this lake before,'' said my brother, longtime Sourdough John DeCristo.

    Quartz Lake, a 600-acre state recreation area in central Alaska, was the setting. Located 85 miles south of Fairbanks, Quartz Lake Campground has 80 campsites, four picnic sites, and public and private cabins.

    The Alaska Fish & Game Department stocks the lake with countless rainbow trout, Arctic char, land-locked silver salmon, and Dolly Varden trout. While lunkers are scarce, the lake makes up for size with quantity.

    Over two days, in less than six hours on the water, our party boated 82 fish, ranging from 10-inch trout to 20-inch char. The biggest of the char weighed roughly 2-1/2 pounds and there were almost two dozen of those.

    ``We'll have to remember this spot when we come back icefishing,'' said our other member, my brother, Jim Hoover.

    By the time I arrived in Alaska (Aug. 22), the king salmon had already passed the state's southern coasts, making their way through hotspots like Valdez and Kenai, spawning in the interior rivers and dying. Freshwater action on the pinks and chums was also slowing, so the only option left for salmon was Valdez -- a seven-hour drive from Fairbanks -- where a large count of silver salmon was arriving from the Pacific Ocean.

    Limited time, however, didn't allow us any major ventures.

    In search of suggestions, a Fairbanks sporting goods dealer steered me to a local fishing guide, ``an Eskimo fella by the name of Denali. He's been around a while and knows his stuff.''

    Expecting an ancient mariner wrapped in seal skins, I was a bit surprised to meet Denali, a clean-cut 23-year-old dressed in a bright blue T-shirt and jeans.

    ``Valdez is where you want to be right now,'' he said, ``but if you don't have the time, then go to Quartz Lake. I hear the char are biting on anything.''

    A phone call that night reserved a boat and $25 the next morning bought a three-day non-resident fishing license.

    The first day, Jim and I left his house in North Pole at 7 a.m. Highway construction set us back 45 minutes, so when we got to the dock at almost 9:30, we were a little concerned.

    Rental for a 16-foot, flat-bottom boat is only $8.50 an hour, so we decided on a three-hour tour. The lake was still warm from the previous day's sunshine, but the air was chilled (52 degrees), giving the lake a calming, steam-bath effect.

    The first two hours were dead. Loner trout broke the water nipping at insects, indicating that top-water fishing would be the order of the day. But an hour on flies and eggs got nothing. The next futile hour was spent trolling and looking for other spots -- and thinking we had arrived too late.

    Then, without warning and with less than an hour left on the rental, the mother lode presented itself. After setting anchor in 25 feet of water and about 50 feet north of a lily bed, the rigs were changed to fish off the bottom. Using Balls O' Fire salmon eggs set on single No. 12 or No. 8 hooks two feet above 4-ounce sinkers, we caught our limit in less than 30 minutes -- and reserved a boat for the following day.

    Jim and I returned a little later the next morning, this time with big brother DeCristo and my toddler daughter. We returned to the same spot, and each of us had a fish with the first cast. At the 2-1/2-hour mark, we were counting fish to make sure we hadn't exceeded our limit.

    We eventually left, our daily limit nearly reached. No doubt a cow moose we saw on the shore was glad to see us go and take with us our irritating din. To her, we were a noisy, shiny, little floating thing with four heads, eight arms, three skinny poles and a teeming bucket of fish.

    To us, we were sprint fishermen.

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