Denali Highway Delight

2012 Arctic Grayling Denali Highway grayling

The Denali Highway definitely lived up to its reputation again this year, with fifty and sixty-fish days, lots of wildlife, new techniques to learn, and, for some, a brand-new fish to fall in love with. The Arctic grayling did it again. By the end of the trip they had become the anglers’ favorite fish on nymphs and dry flies.

We started out the trip as we usually do at a beautiful creek about a third of the way across the highway. It had been raining a lot (just like everywhere else in Alaska, it seems), so the water was high and difficult to fish from the shore. We had to forgo one of my favorite spots because the water was too swift to wade there. Instead, we stayed down near the highway where it took a while for the fish to warm up to the flies. Pretty soon Carol caught the first fish of the day, and started us on the fish-adoration phenomena that always occurs when grayling are our target.

Our second day took us to another small creek that was much more wadable, and the hooking and landing started almost with the very first cast. One fish after the other came eagerly to the bead-head prince and pheasant tail nymphs, and some of them were in the 18-19-inch range. It wasn’t long, however, before the bugs came out and the dry-fly fishing began. From then on, everyone had their choice of styles to use. We got some great practice in on how to deliver dry flies to the fish, how to mend line, and how to use the dead-drift techniques. Boy, did they ever catch lots of fish!!

Just for fun, I tied up a couple of Czech-nymph rigs and let them try catching two fish at the same time. It was challenging fishing, and they often had fish on both nymphs, but lost one of them before getting the fish to the net. We finally did accomplish the double-fish landing, and manage to get some great pictures.

Late in the afternoon, just before he headed back to the lodge for dinner, Ginny also caught a lovely grayling with a parachute Adams, and, much to our delight, it posed repeatedly so that we could get pictures of him and his shadow with the perky little Adams showing prominently.

Besides the numbers of fish, the high-point of the afternoon was the appearance of a spectacular bull caribou with huge antlers that emerged from the bushes right across the water from us. All alone, he paused a second or two to look at us and try to figure out what we were, but then, as we moved to get out our cameras, he quickly disappeared back into the willows. Regrettably, none of us had time to get a good picture of him. Other caribou were on the hills as we drove along, but all of them were much farther in the distance. What a treat!

We bushwhacked and did some very tricky wading before reaching our destination for the following day. Once again, it was the deeper water that produced the largest fish, and always on nymphs. Czech-nymphing really shone in this water, and the double fish results were very impressive. Up and down the run we fished, losing a few flies along the way as we adjusted the weighted split-shot on our leaders, but it was definitely worth it.

Grayling can always be counted on to take dry flies too, and that day was no exception. Elk-hair caddis were mostly the fly of choice that afternoon, and everyone was now well-educated in how to deliver, follow, and drift them. The glare on the water made seeing them difficult, but they had the technique down, and were as successful on the dries as on the nymphs.

It was tough saying goodbye to each other and to the amazing grayling inhabiting the lovely streams along this scenic highway. As I turned back toward civilization I was awed by the changing colors, the new snow on the mountains, and the caribou heading toward their wintering-over destinations. This place is as hauntingly beautiful as anywhere in Alaska. I feel lucky to have been introduced to it over forty years ago, and it’s never lost its appeal for me. I’ll be back in 2013. I hope that you will be with me.


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