For many, when the last salmon run ends in the fall, fishing season is over. But in the Mat-Su Valley, that's only the beginning of the "hardwater" season. From Lake Louise to Denali State Park, ice fishing opportunities abound in the Mat-Su Valley.

There are more than 80 stocked lakes in the Valley alone, making it an ideal destination for ice fishing. You'll find everything from lake trout to char to landlocked salmon and pike. No matter where you're headed, you'll find a suitable lake within a few minutes.

One of the most popular spots is Big Lake, where you'll find endless spots to try your luck. In the Palmer area, Finger Lake and the Matanuska Lakes State Recreation Area offers several different lakes that are easily accessible. The Nancy Lake State Recreation Area near Willow is also popular, as is Byers Lake in Denali State Park.

Big Lake is the place to be on January 13, as the Still Cold Open ice fishing tournament begins. This volunteer-run tournament includes a series of fishing days (January 27, February 10, February 24 and March 11 are the other tournament days) and is a catch-and-release tournament, with anglers taking a picture of their fish while being measured to determine the winners. It's a two-person fishing tournament and has grown immensely in popularity. For more information about the tournament and to register, visit their Facebook page HERE.

Ice fishing a great family-friendly activity that doesn't require a ton of fishing gear. You can get started simply with an ice fishing rod and a few lures, along with an auger and an ice scoop. As you get more experienced in the sport, you can add equipment like an ice shelter and sonar fish finder to the mix. Kids absolutely love catching fish on the ice, and it's a great way to introduce them to a new outdoor experience. 

If you've never been ice fishing before and could use an extra hand, there are several knowledgeable guides in the Mat-Su Valley that offer ice fishing trips.

Dress warm and head out for an amazing experience on the hardwater this winter!