The trip to the Tangle Lakes area in Interior Alaska is one we especially look forward to every year. Lots and lots of Arctic grayling are waiting for us there in the creeks and the lakes, and so is some spectacular scenery along the Denali Hiway. This year was no exception, and we couldn't wait to get started. After gathering at MacLaren Lodge, we headed out for the Clearwater River to wet a line and say hello to the fish.
Sherry has been on this trip before, and she connected with a good sized grayling almost right away. He came unbuttoned before she could get a good set on him, but now she knew just where he was, and a little while later, she brought him in with what turned out to be her favorite fly of the trip, a black mayfly pattern with a white parachute.
Peterson (as she likes to be called) was intent on hooking up with a nymph as the water was high and a little dirty. The spot we usually start in was as reliable as always and there were small fish rising all along the current. Kate also brought a bright fish to hand within the first half-hour we fished. These weren't some of the larger fish the creek is known for but we were happy just to be fishing.
After a great dinner at the lodge we made our plans for the next day and Sherry headed to her cabin, I headed to my van, and Peterson & Kate went to the small enclave they established across the road from the Lodge. In the morning we were raring to go and the boat was ready for us. A low ceiling promised rain for the day, and we encountered it for the entire day as we wandered a small, wilderness river pursuing fish. The coming storm was obviously putting down the fish, but Peterson started us off with a few nice fish on a nymph that she was trying and we alternated between dries and nymphs for most of the day.
Kate picked out a likely looking spot and absolutely hammered it for awhile, but with no fish to show for it. Sherry picked up a couple of fish, but it was very hit and miss. Then, as we rounded a bend in the river, a beautiful deep pool with perfect grayling water entering and exiting it was just waiting for us and the fun began.
Peterson was the first to hook up with what proved to be a glistening, aqua-tinted grayling nearly 18-inches long. A native of Vermont, she couldn't get enough pictures of it because she'd never seen such coloring on a fish. She was to spend her day commenting on the blue, green, purple, and orange spots, gill plates and shining cycloid scales that grayling display.
We could all see the fish resting at the bottom of the pool, and Kate was determined to hook one of a group of three that she had her eye on. Just as we were going to head over to the bank for lunch she scored. Another fish, as large as Peterson's, was on her line and giving her quite a time until finally relenting and letting her bring it to shore. Sherry, right around the corner was also pursuing other fish nearby. After lunch we hiked up the creek and found several other prime spots holding fish. Nymphs of various kinds provided the most success.
It was still raining the next day when we headed out to a different creek were the fish were all over our flies from the very first cast. Here again, nymphs were the order of the day. Gold ribbed hare's ears, pheasant tails, and Czech nymphs proved to be the best bets and we had one or the other on the lines nearly all the time.
By mid-afternoon, it was raining quite hard on and off, and we could see the water becoming more off-color and rising, but the fish were absolutely begging us to keep fishing, so we did. I gave both Kate and Peterson a lesson in Czech nymphing with two flies, and they both were hooting and hollering with non-stop success. We stopped several times to try to get pictures of two fish on the same leader because they were so excited about the technique.
And then we switched to ants and more fun ensued. We were very wet, but really couldn't say that we were miserable because the fishing was so exciting. Whether the ants had orange legs, a white post, or chartreuse & black stripes, the fish were all over them. Most of the time, the fly had barely landed on the water before at least one fish was right there to go for it. Usually it was more like several eager fish were after it immediately. It was an absolute feeding frenzy, and we had lots and lots of hits and misses, but it was quite a day. And, it was still raining!
The next morning the sun finally came out and we headed over to the Tangle River to try our luck. The river was high there as well, so the fishing was slow for a time, but soon we had some success on dry flies. Kate landed an 18-inch fish on a Royal Wulff on her second cast and Sherry brought out her black parachute fly and caught three nice fish right in a row.
We ate lunch and then hiked down to try a different part of the river. Once again, it was nymphs that helped us get down to the fish through the rushing water. High, but not too dirty, we enjoyed the challenge of lots of over-hanging brush, and the patience it took to place the fly right on the edge of the big current. Kate had the quickest success as she located just where fish were holding and proceeded to catch several of them.
Sure was hard to say farewell to this jewel of grayling fishing, but we'll definitely be going back next year. Now is the time to let us know that you want to go along.