When most people think of flyfishing in Alaska, dreams of huge schools of salmon, or arm-size steelhead come to mind. But there’s another, often overlooked opportunity for flyfishing bliss: arctic grayling. Found in nearly every livable water system in Alaska, grayling are my favorite fish to pursue with a fly rod.
Maybe grayling get overlooked because they rarely grow larger than 18 inches, and don’t come with all of the hype that salmon or trout bring. But they are a unique and pretty fish.
From a distance they seem almost bland–they aren’t flashy like a rainbow–but up close, you’ll immediately notice their large, turquoise-speckled dorsal fin and gold-dust-colored stripes along their belly. They are a fly fisherman’s dream, almost always willing to pluck a well placed dry fly from the surface.
The cool thing about grayling is that you never know quite what to expect from them. I’ve fished some rivers where I’ve caught them on every cast, all day long. You know life’s tough when you can’t even yank a bad cast back out of the water without having a fish on it instantly. Then again, sometimes I’ve had a dozen stacked right in front of me and couldn’t get any of them to eat.
Grayling are what I would call a finesse fish, perfect for a 3-weight fly rod, and they have very soft mouths. If you try to yank them out of the water when they take your fly, you will tear the hook out every time. On the larger grayling, especially, you have to play them in. If you try to horse them too hard, you’ll lose the fish with one flip of its tail.
If you find yourself standing knee-deep in a crystal clear Alaskan stream, be sure not to forget about grayling. If you love flyfishing, you won’t be disappointed.