Everyone who fishes dreams of the perfect experience: the perfect trip, the perfect setting and naturally, the perfect fish. Those dreams keep us constantly exploring different environments, with different gear, for different piscatorial treasures. Sometimes, good fishing can make us believe that we have found this Nirvana, but the dreams continue, of another place, another "absolutely guaranteed" fly to try, or another species to which we've not yet cast.
Trying to portray perfect fishing, most anglers get a dreamy, far away look in their eyes while visualizing some solitary and picturesque setting, lots of co-operative fish, ideal water levels and, of course, wonderful weather. The desire for optimal water levels and perfect weather, not too hot or too rainy, is hard to fulfill. Dreams of the perfect place and the perfect fish are quite attainable, however. The place is Alaska, and for me at least, the fish is the native Arctic grayling.
An astonishingly gorgeous creature, willing to take your fly almost endlessly, the Arctic grayling is a fish like no other. Encounter it and at least some of your dreams of fishing perfection will come true. Don't be surprised if you come under its spell, as have so many anglers before you.
Saint Ambrose referred to grayling as "the flower of the fishes." They are not a type of trout, as some believe. Nor are they a member of the char genus. Rather, they are a species of their own, Thymallus arcticus (Pallas, 1776), within the family referred to as salmonidae. Closely related to other salmonid, and resembling them somewhat, grayling nevertheless, have one major distinguishing feature, their spectacular dorsal fin.
Peter Simon Pallas, a German zoologist and botanist and contemporary of Carl Linnaeus, the father of biological nomenclature, named the Arctic grayling. In 1766 Pallas first created a highly praised system of animal classification. Thereafter, he led scientific expeditions to Russia, which is where he undoubtedly became familiar with what, ten years later, he first classified as the Arctic grayling. The Thymallus part of the grayling's name derives from the ancient Greek and is said to result from their smell, which some describe as that of the herb, thyme. A second definition of the word, thyme, however, is "burnt offering." That definition appears to be the basis for calling grayling Umber, a term often used for them in Europe. Umber is a gray-brown clay, that's intensity is greater when burned, and that's color is rather like that of the grayling. Regardless of the origins of the name, Pallas was apparently as taken with this beautiful fish as many are today.
Scientists still do not always agree on how many species of grayling actually exist. More are being discovered all the time. Those we fish for in Alaska are Thymallus arcticus, or Arctic grayling in everyday terms. The name clearly reflects the regions where they exist, since virtually all of North America's Arctic grayling live in Alaska or Canada.
Arctic grayling consist of fluvial populations that live and spawn in rivers, lacustrine populations that live and spawn in lakes, and adfluvial populations that live in lakes and spawn in tributary streams.
A large portion of grayling are fluvial, that is, they are river dwellers. Still, significant resident populations inhabit many northern lakes with inflow or outflow streams where spawning occurs. In a few places, like the Baltic Sea coast, grayling also appear to tolerate slightly brackish water, at least for a time, and a population known as sea grayling inhabit the Gulf of Bothnia. This book is devoted to Alaska's fluvial Arctic grayling.