One minute, there are zero rainbow trout in John Hedberg Lake.
Fewer than 30 seconds later, there are 700.
Nikiski residents cheered fish culturist Chuck Pratt on Thursday as he flushed hundreds of trout from a hatchery truck through a hose into Hedberg Lake.
It was the first time the Alaska Department of Fish and Game is stocking the lake, just off the Kenai Spur Highway in Nikiski, around Milepost 23. Starting in 2022, the department will add 1,000 rainbow trout fingerlings to the lake each year.
Jason Ross is president of the Nikiski Community Council and has been building the park next to the lake for a few years. He said fishing was one of the first things people asked about when he got started.
“I was out ice fishing one day I was like, ‘Well, maybe I ought to talk to some people,'" Ross said. "So I just called Fish and Game.”
Fish and Game stock several lakes in Nikiski and around the peninsula.
Jenny Gates, assistant area manager for Fish and Game’s Soldotna office, said there are a few factors the department considers before stocking a lake, like depth and oxygen content.
“Primarily, the most important requirement for our lake is that they have public access," she said. "And that they have adequate habitat to sustain a fish population.”
The 700 trout the department unloaded Thursday are from the William Jack Hernandez Sport Fish Hatchery in Anchorage. They’re between 9 and 14 inches and were originally supposed to be part of a fishing pool at the Kenai Peninsula Sport, Rec and Trade Show this spring, before the show was canceled.
Gates said the only other fish they’ve found in Hedberg Lake are sticklebacks. The lake is 23 feet at the deepest and named for a Nikiski homesteader — though, it’s not officially “John Hedberg Lake” yet. Ross said they’re still working to make that title official.
Gates said Fish and Game doesn’t currently have a formal program to survey and sample stocked lakes.
“I’ll probably come back in the spring and have a look at this like and see how the fish did over winter. Set a couple of fyke nets and variable mesh gillnets for an hour or two and see what we catch," she said.
Ross said he’d like to host fishing events at the lake in the winter. He’s been working on making the park accessible for local recreationists, with a track for bikers and ski trails in the winter. Toni Loop, of Nikiski, is building a community garden next door.
“My vision is definitely some ice fishing contests for kids, is one of the things I really want to do, is to be able to have people come down here, bring their kids down here and have maybe a one-weekend ice fishing contest and see what we would do for prizes or whatnot," Ross said. "Just to have some fun and get some people out of their house in the wintertime.”
The bag and possession limit for rainbow trout in Hedberg Lake is five fish and only one can be 20 inches or longer, according to Fish and Game. For more information on sport fishing regulations, head to the Department of Fish and Game website.