Grayling, grayling, and more grayling made our annual Denali Highway/Tangle Lakes trip one of our best in years. They were everywhere. They were also voracious. Whether fishing with dry flies or nymphs, everyone caught fish like crazy. They weren't large fish as grayling go; mostly they were in the thirteen to fifteen-inch range, which is still a good fish on a delicate 5-wt fly rod.
The first group started off trying streamers in the high water of one of our favorite little streams, but it wasn't until we put a small split shot on, that the fish appeared. A short time later, the sun came out and so did the bugs, and we were able to switch to dry flies, while also putting on the bug repellant at the same time.
We headed off the road the following day to a creek absolutely jam-packed with eager fish. After a morning of mostly dry fly catching with elk-hair caddis, royal wulffs, and, parachute Adams, we moved up-stream for awhile to put the gold-ribbed-hare's-ear nymphs to good use. Everybody caught several sixteen-inch+ fish in the narrow, deep channels, proving once again that the biggest fish are typically in the deepest, fastest water.
A different section of one of the rivers proved to be another good hunting grounds for larger fish, after we had successfully bush-wacked our way down the bank to get to it. Now, the anglers really put their roll casts and "flip" casts to work because the bushes were usually right behind them. Wow, did they ever get good at putting their flies right where the fish were.
The second group hit most of the same spots that the first group had fished, and they, too, perfected their casts, their accuracy, and their fish-playing skills on numerous willing subjects. These gals faced even higher water than the first group, so we used a mix of small streamers and nymphs at first. Surprisingly, even when it was raining in the afternoon, the fish began to rise, and all got the dry-fly experience they were hoping for.
The next day they absolutely slammed the fish just waiting for them in a beautiful run with water so transparent that they could clearly see both grayling and whitefish slowly fining near the bottom. Even though they wanted to catch some whitefish to see what they looked like, these bottom dwellers preferred to stay right where they were and refused the flies.
Nevertheless, the grayling were more than cooperative as they hit our caddis and mayfly imitations with abandon. Right along the current seams, where they always like to sit, the fish definitely came out to play. When we fished the deep channels, they also proved how much they liked our pheasant tail and bead-head prince nymphs. The fishing was great in several spots along the creek until someone noticed a huge hornet's nest hanging out over the water they were casting into. "Just imagine what would have happened if I'd hit it with one of my casts," she said as she moved to a different spot on the river.
Our bush-whacking day proved to be just as successful as the first group's had been, but again with higher water. Dry flies proved to be the ticket in certain spots, but nymphs were definitely the better producers in other spots. They just changed places throughout the day to take advantage of both types of fishing.
Our last day started out cold and rainy with fish preferring to sit tight. Just one or two small fish treated themselves to the dry flies. Nymphs weren't doing much good either. So, I finally put on some #12 crackleback flies and the fish came to life. (The crackleback is a weird little fly that I learned about when fishing for trout in Branson MO with my friend and co-owner of the River Run Outfitters fly shop and guide service, Carolyn Parker.) After awhile, however, even those flies couldn't seem to get a rise out of the fish, so we re-rigged with one small split-shot and a #16 cased-caddis nymph that did the trick. It was great to finish out with a bang.