The Art of Grayling II

Part II of several.

By Ken Marsh

Dwellers of clear, cold streams and lakes, Arctic grayling are elegant creatures easily identified by their uniquely oversized pink- and powder-blue-spotted dorsal fins, purple- and turquoise-sequined flanks, small pouty mouths, and bellies that seem rubbed with gold dust. Anglers adore them for their beauty and for their willingness to strike a variety of spinners, spoons, baits and flies. Grayling are especially renown among fly-fishers for their tendency to rise to dry flies.

Compared to Alaska’s tackle-busting legends – halibut to 459 pounds, world-record king salmon weighing more than 97 pounds, and steelhead topping 42 pounds –grayling are smallish and delicately built; the state record, caught in 2008, weighed a hair over five pounds. As a result, these modest fish never draw trophy-fishing mobs, which is fortunate since the best grayling waters and the environments surrounding them are generally fragile as the fish themselves and intolerant of crowding or heavy pressure. 

At a glance, grayling seem cast from an ancient mold: their broad, scalloped scales and webbed, sail-like dorsal fins suggest a living fossil pulled from mudstone and magically brought to life. In fact, Arctic grayling are Pleistocene fish, ice age survivors that over the last 10,000 to 20,000 years have spread from North Slope and Yukon River Valley origins to become common throughout Alaska’s Southcentral, Southwestern, Interior and Arctic regions. The only part of the state where they’re not found in abundance is in the Southeastern panhandle. 

Today, many excellent grayling fisheries can be reached from Alaska’s highway systems. Good grayling waters include many of the streams and lakes along the Parks, Glenn and Denali highways north of Anchorage in Southcentral; the Tok Cutoff, Richardson, Alaska, and Steese highways outside of the Interior city of Fairbanks; and the Dalton Highway snaking into the Arctic north of Fairbanks. The isolated, abbreviated road system outside of Nome is also known for excellent grayling fishing opportunities.

(To be continued.)

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