Grayling: The Sailfish of the North



Photos courtesy of Dennis Musgraves

Our correspondent Dennis Musgraves spends almost one-third of his year fishing the endless waterways of Alaska. He and his buddies call themselves the Alaska Salmon Slayers. Dennis’ latest contribution, for our December issue, is fishing for Arctic grayling on the Delta Clearwater River. Here’s a sneak preview:

The motley crew on the boat consists of four anglers, including me. Chris Cox and Paul Ferreira both sit close to the bow of the boat, and Ron Ely takes a seat beside me at the steering console. All of them are accomplished anglers and veterans of the Clearwater. 
We are armed with fly rods with weight sizes ranging from 4 to 6. Our fly boxes are full of an assortment of dry fly patterns in different sizes, including Adams, midges, and ants. However, it’s been our experience that the dry fly of choice for this watershed is a large 14 or 12 blue dunn. I suggest the bigger the better. They seem to perfectly imitate a mayfly hatch that occurs during this time of the year and are irresistible for the active grayling.      
Chris and Paul watch with intensity as they survey the clear, blue water out in front of the moving vessel. They are looking for groups of fish sitting deep in the holes as we skim the surface. We only get about a ½-mile away from the boat ramp when Chris yells out “Slow down!” He spotted a large group of fish as we went over the top of them. By the time I throttle down the boat the area he had seen the fish at is already about half a football field behind us.
I think about turning around in the narrow river for only a moment, but decide to press on forward. This is the Clearwater, after all, and the river is jammed-packed full of Arctic grayling. It does not take long to get going again and round the next turn to find the water in front of us boiling with active fish. A great stretch of river approximately 200 yards long, perfect for the four of us have room without having to be right on top of each other.
Upon all of us seeing the rising hoard I quickly slow down and angle the boat over to a high cut bank and tie off.  All of us disembark simultaneously looking for a place to spread out and start casting. The spring-fed river runs very cold, so all of us are wearing a good warm layer under our waders. Not only is the water frigid, but the current is deceptive, thanks to the crystal-clear clarity of the water. The quick rate of flow is noticeable even at knee-deep depths, and it’s easy to lose your footing.