First Signs of Spring Poking Through Melting Snows

SLOWLY: Animals, fish begin to appear, but winter still grips most of the state

Craig Medred / Anchorage Daily News / April 11, 2004

Spring comes late to Alaska even in the mildest years.

April showers might bring May flowers elsewhere, but here April showers just speed the snow melt.

One thing that's true in Alaska almost every year: April skiing is far better than April fishing -- if there is April fishing.

Most years, the ice isn't gone from local lakes until the end of the month. Some years, it hangs on into May.

And the farther north one goes, the more wintry it gets. Big Lake ice often remains until late May. Lake Louise's might linger into June. If you're thinking about fishing either one now, you probably ought to be thinking ice fishing.

But spring always comes.

Even when the open-water fishing season remains weeks away, there are always encouraging signs come April.

The most obvious change has come and gone with the passing of the spring equinox on March 20. After that seemingly endless winter of darkness, the days are now half full of light and gaining minutes every day.

This is the light that will change everything: melting the snow, nursing vegetation back to life, sparking that short, lush bloom that leaves summer visitors to the state amazed at the greenness of it all.

It'll be weeks before residents take note of that. Count on several weeks of a white-and-brown landscape.

But some of the wild creatures have already voted with fins and wings on their faith in summer's arrival.

Gray whales are back, finning their way up the coast past Seward to summer feeding grounds in the North Pacific Ocean and the Bering Sea.

Meanwhile, the first Canada geese have returned to Anchorage, as they almost always do the first week of April. More will filter in daily, looking for possible nesting sites or pausing to feed on the first green shoots, hopefully, before moving north.

By about mid-month, the first black bears will be nosing out of their dens in Prince William Sound. Although some already have been reported on the Kenai Peninsula, it will likely be another two weeks or so before one looks for goodies in an Anchorage bird feeder.

Grizzly bears are another matter. Some of them may already be out, and by the middle of the month skiers on the trail from Arctic Valley to Indian -- where the skiing could remain fine into May this year -- should be on the lookout for fresh tracks and big, brown bodies.

Hooligan will pass through the Indian area about the same time. The first of the many anadromous fishes to return to Southcentral Alaska waters, hooligan usually nose into Turnagain Arm by mid-month and can be found in decent numbers by the end of April.

But the fishing season doesn't really start in earnest until May 1, when the boat-launch tractors start working the beaches at Deep Creek and charter boats in Homer and Seward begin regular halibut trips.

There will be both halibut and king salmon in Cook Inlet by then, though the fishing season never seems to start as fast as an angler would like. By about May 5, some lucky angler should have caught the first king salmon of the year in Anchorage's downtown Ship Creek.

The Kenai River is likely to produce a king about the same time, but the fishing will be slow in most waters until late May. There will be far more people fishing than catching until then.

To the north of Anchorage, the ice probably will be going out of Palmer-area lakes around the first week in May, and the Susitna River will remain iced up. Don't expect to be able to get a boat in the water there before about May 15.

That's when spring really begins to unfold in Southcentral.

By then, the moose are starting to drop their calves, the bears are out in earnest, the Alaska Department of Fish and Game is gearing up the stocking truck for visits to local lakes, and enough king salmon have made their way back into the region that an angler has a real chance of hooking something.

By June 1, many will almost be able to forget the winter of near-record snows. Snow season will quickly fade, but for fans of endless winter, it is worth noting the first signs won't be far away -- late July or August.

Skiers usually can get a few runs down Tincan Mountain in Turnagain Pass in July, and early July hikers on the Resurrection or Crow Pass trails are still likely to find significant amounts of snow up high.

Alaska might not be "Seward's Icebox,'' but parts of it come close.

This is, all in all, a better state for those who love to ski, or relax by a roaring fire, than for those who love to fish. But the latter do get about four months of frenzied activity every year.

It's just around the corner.

Hang in there.

Daily News Outdoor editor Craig Medred can be reached at

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