Grayling Fishing the Dalton Highway
Catching a grayling has been a lifetime goal of mine. Growing up in Michigan where they were common within my grandfather’s lifetime, and extirpated before I was born, I had illusions of finding the last surviving pocket in Michigan’s most remote stretches of woods. I did not find them in Michigan; however, I ended up meeting this goal far from where I grew up, on Alaska’s northernmost road, Grayling Fishing the Dalton Highway.
Dalton Highway Grayling In The Arctic Circle
On this remote, winding, gravel road north of the Arctic circle, grayling are plentiful. The road crosses many small streams. Most of which look too small to hold a fish at first glance. Under further inspection, these tiny creeks twist and turn, and have pockets of deep water that may hold 100 fish each.
My wife and I planned a trip to the Dalton Highway to celebrate our Alaskan residency. After one year of living in Alaska the state considers us residents and we can now hunt without paying for non-resident tags. The Dalton Highway happens to be excellent hunting. We stopped to grayling fish on our way to bow hunt for caribou.
Getting to this road is no easy feat, with road conditions being highly variable and gas stations spaced 300 miles apart. We rolled into one gas station with less than half of a gallon of gas in our Jeep. This road is also prone to slicing tires and it is a good idea to have multiple spare tires and patch kits. A rain and wind storm kept us mostly confined to the car and tent for 3 days. When the weather broke we began catching fish immediately. Grayling fishing the Dalton highway in Alaska and our bowhunt for caribou would have to wait.
About The Arctic Grayling
Arctic Grayling are in the Salmonidae family, closely related to trout, salmon, and whitefish. The grayling’s scales are textured like a white fish. They act as tiny iridescent mirrors, making the grayling difficult to see in shallow water. They have a large dorsal fin speckled with translucent patches of vibrant colors. This large dorsal is what gives the grayling its nickname of the sailfish of the north. The iridescence on the body makes them seem at home under the northern lights, shining blue, red, and green as the fish wiggles in the net.
The winters here are long and devoid of food for grayling. The rivers are frozen for nearly 8 months out of the year. As a result of the long winters, in the summer months they hit nearly any presentation with reckless abandon. They simply cannot afford to pass up on a meal.
The Arctic grayling (Thymallus arcticus) is a species of freshwater fish in the salmon family Salmonidae. T. arcticus is widespread throughout the Arctic and Pacific drainages in Canada, Alaska, and Siberia, as well as the upper Missouri River drainage in Montana. In Arizona, there is a population of grayling found in the Lee Valley. There are other lakes in the White Mountains. They stocked grayling at Toppings Lake by the Teton Range, lakes in the high Uinta Mountains in Utah, and a few alpine lakes of the Boulder Mountains in central Idaho. Wikipedia
Fly Fishing Presentation For Arctic Grayling
On this trip, the most effective presentation was a bead-head nymph. Tie the nymph about 18 inches under a float on a light fly rod. We used a 3wt Orvis Superfine and 5wt Echo Base fly rods. This nymph is casted upstream. I collect the line as it floats down towards me. I am making sure to remove all slack and make a quick hook set when the float goes down, or stops. Though the nymph proved to be the most productive fly, we also caught them on woolly bugger streamers, caddis dry flies, and even a foam mouse.
Once we found deep pockets of water we averaged about 30 fish an hour. Our fish averaged 13 inches in length with the big ones pushing 20. This was one of the most fun fishing days I have ever experienced. We saw moose, mountain vistas, and walked in the tracks of giant brown bears.
One fair warning for anyone attempting to repeat this trip. Prepare for bugs when arctic grayling fishing the Alaska road system. After the rain, or when the wind is calm, bugs were bad. We had to wear head nets and gloves so that no skin was exposed. Also, it’s wise to bring multiple forms of bear protection. Never travel alone. This region is home to grizzly, black, and polar bears.
The video below includes the highlights of this great day of fishing I shared with my wife. A memory we will cherish, and an adventure I hope many others will get to experience.
Benjamin Stevens Bio
Benjamin Stevens is a Wildlife Artist and Adventurer based in Kenai, Alaska. He spends his winters creating art, and the summers and fall traveling to hunt and fish. He cut his teeth hunting with a homemade longbow and guiding fly fisherman for trout in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. After graduating from Northern Michigan University, Benjamin, his wife, and versatile hunting dog, traveled to Alaska in search of a life full of adventure, inspiration, and meat for the freezer.