If there's fishing gear is under your tree this Christmas, you don't have to wait until the spring to use it. The Alaska Department of Fish and Game is stocking lakes in Anchorage and the Mat-Su with thousands of fish this winter.

Among the anglers expected this season are more than a thousand students from the Anchorage School District. Each year, Fish and Game staff teach kids the rules and ropes of the sport as part of the Jewel Lake Jamboree. 

The fish they catch there are hatched across town at the William Jack Hernandez Sport Fish Hatchery, which raises rainbow trout, chinook salmon, arctic char, arctic grayling and coho salmon. 

The program started in the 1980s. At the time, Hatchery Manager Jeff Milton, says ice fishing wasn't much of a sport. 

"Winter ice fishing was minimal. It was only on wild stocks," Milton said, adding that wild stocks were more vulnerable to over-fishing. 

"Wild fish have limited reproductive capacity. In the wild, the water temperatures aren't always ideal for growth. So, what we normally see in Alaska with our cool water species, is slow reproductive rates, and slow growth," Milton said. 

According to Milton, it can take six to eight years for a wild rainbow trout to reach trophy size. Those raised at the hatchery can grow to a catchable size within 12 to 14 months. 

Besides Jewel Lake, Fish & Game is stocking five other lakes in Anchorage and the Valley:

- Cheney lake
- Green lake
- Kepler Bradley lake
- Loberg lake
- Long lake

The Jewel Lake Jamboree is tentatively scheduled for the beginning of February.

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