By Maraley McMichael
Senior Voice Correspondent 

Winter fishing adventure was smooth as ice – for locals


January 1, 2022 | View PDF

Courtesy Maraley McMichael

Grandpa McMichael ice fishing on one of the family visits to Finger Lake, February 1986.

"Whoa!" Grandpa McMichael exclaimed as my husband, Gary, drove down the boat launch at Finger Lake Campground near Palmer, right out onto the lake ice. We were only 30 feet offshore when Grandpa demanded, "You turn this car around and take me back to shore, right now. I'm not kidding!"

Gary's mom and dad were up from California spending the Christmas holiday with us. This was not their first trip to Alaska, and they were always ready to go adventuring with us no matter where in Alaska we lived.

We got up that morning with the plan to go ice fishing on Finger Lake. After a hearty breakfast, we loaded our little AMC Eagle with extra warm gear, thermos bottles of hot chocolate and coffee, snacks, ice skates, the ice auger, fishing gear and lawn chairs. By the time Grandma and Grandpa, Gary and I, our two children and the dog got in, the car was plumb full.

That winter of 1984 had already been very cold with not much snow. What little snow we did receive had been blown off the ice, leaving the whole lake like a gigantic skating rink. Various size bubbles a foot deep and more were visible in the crystal clear ice.

Our family of four had already tested the ice when we had been out fishing the week before. Hindsight, I'm sure Grandpa assumed we would park in the campground and pack the gear out to the fishing spot. No one thought to warn him.

Hearing the fear and panic in his dad's voice, Gary stopped the car. "Grandpa, the ice is plenty thick. Get out. I'll show you." He walked around and opened the door for his dad, who would not get out. The kids and I piled out, but Grandma and the dog wouldn't leave the car either.

Getting out the ice auger, Gary then started drilling a test hole; never hitting water of course. He pointed out other vehicles and ice-fishing parties further out. Finally Grandpa was convinced it was safe. We all got back in the car and drove about a quarter mile before setting up camp.

It didn't take long to make a hole with Gary's gasoline powered ice auger. By that time the kids had helped Grandma and our Springer spaniel out of the car and the dog was learning to use her toenails to get around. After taking a turn fishing, the kids and I decided to skate.

The opportunity for skating on lake ice that nice had not occurred for years. Since everyone was content with their activities and safe, I took off on my own, skating part way around the perimeter of the lake; only falling once when one of my blades caught in a pressure crack.

By the time I returned, a couple of land locked salmon had been caught, the food and drinks enjoyed, and everyone was about ready to pack up and go home - ending a thoroughly enjoyable ice fishing adventure. There were more ice fishing trips in years to come, but that first time driving out onto Finger Lake with Grandpa McMichael, was permanently etched into family lore.

Maraley McMichael is a lifelong Alaskan currently residing in Palmer. Email her at

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Maraley McMichael is a lifelong Alaskan now residing in Palmer.

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