Catch & Release: Doing It Right

Catch & Release, large salmon

When I first began thinking about how I would approach an article on catch and release, my brain got all tangled up with thoughts about why I fish, whether I would fish if I was convinced that fish feel pain, and if catch and release really achieves the goals that anglers believe it does.

It goes without saying that fishing is a wonderful way to be outdoors, that it is an enjoyable challenge for most of us to pit our large, human brains against the much smaller brain of a creature from another world, and that we do, at certain times, fish to eat. So, where did the concepts of fishing just for fun and practicing catch and release come from?

Anglers have probably always engaged in some catch and release activities, even if we didn’t call them that. We’ve let fish go because they were smaller than the legal catch limit, because we just wanted to catch a bigger fish, or because we hooked a sucker instead of the trout that we were after.

Now, however, even when we catch the trout that we targeted, we release it.  How come? When did things begin to change? Who is responsible for the concept of “limit your catch, don’t catch your limit” or the “zero limit” phrases that have become so popular?

Most fly anglers credit Lee Wulff, a giant in the world of fly fishing, author of eight books, inventor of the fishing vest, and a founder of the Federation of Fly Fishers, with being the “father” of catch and release. They use his now-famous 1936 quote, “A game fish is too valuable to catch only once,” as the rallying cry for the conservation movement.  Michael Gold, the photographer/videographer who captured Wulff on film, said, “He believed that it was important to release a fine fish so that the next angler could have the same experience. That no-kill concept changed angling forever.”

In Wulff’s early days governmental agencies regulated fishing through bag limits, slot limits, retention/non-retention rules, and open and closed seasons, if they regulated it at all. Management or conservation through catch and release was almost unheard of. Anglers who practiced it did so strictly voluntarily. Over time, though, catch and release (called “delayed harvest” or “selective harvest” in some states) has progressed to being a legal requirement on many waters. In Alaska, those requirements often coincide with “fly fishing only” or single barbless hook restrictions.

After years of practicing catch and release both voluntarily and as a legal imperative, we know that both fish and fishing derive benefits from its usage.  First and foremost, anglers receive the satisfaction that they have contributed to the future of their sport as Wulff’s comments suggested. If permitted by local law and regulation, they may also be able to extend the fishing day by releasing the additional fish they catch after reaching their limit.  In addition, catch and release is now an instrument used by governmental agencies as conservation and environmental protection mechanisms. Simply stated, returning fish to the water helps avoid the depletion of resources, and ensures enjoyable fishing experiences for ourselves and other anglers.

Objections to Catch & Release

Clearly, not everyone agrees with the catch and release philosophy, regardless of its benefits. Disagreement takes several different forms. Some see catch and release as an onslaught on the use of conventional fishing methods and equipment, others claim that fish mortality from catch and release is so high that it is not achieving its species conservation objectives, groups like PETA view it as fish torture, and a few simply see it as a ridiculous waste of time to catch a fish and then not kill it and eat it.

In Alaska catch and release sometimes engenders a cultural debate as many Alaska Native people characterize returning fish to the water as disrespectful of the fish. Raised in a culture that reveres fish as a major subsistence food source, they consider this mistreatment of the fish. Their belief holds that when animals are mistreated, the natural order becomes disrupted and people may risk food shortages in the future as a result. This position is not a debate but a cultural ethic. Anglers should respect such beliefs and traditional hunting and fishing grounds and move away from obvious traditional use sites.

Rather than enter into any of these debates, I’d rather concentrate on some of the reasons for fish mortality in fresh water catch and release fishing and how its correct practice can lower those numbers.  We’ll leave salt water catch and release and tournament release discussions for another time.

Fish Mortality With Catch & Release

Biologists have conducted many studies of fish mortality in fresh water resulting from the use of catch and release fishing methods. Some have to do with survival in particular species, some have focused on specific reasons for fish mortality including the use of certain gear and equipment, hook site factors, and fishing methods, and some have addressed the link between mortality and the actual techniques of catch and release.

The picture is increasingly clear that catch and release practices impact different fish species in different ways. Water temperature, salinity and fish size are three important interactive factors that affect survival of released striped bass, for instance. Spawning sockeye salmon tend to remain near their redds and are, therefore, more vulnerable to being caught and released multiple times, which can lead to incidental mortality. Adult coho salmon, on the other hand, may be more susceptible to high mortality rates from catch and release in estuaries since they may still be actively feeding and thus more apt to swallow bait and incur deep hooking injuries. Some fish caught and released during times of very high water or very low temperatures may show increased mortality when released, and fish such as lake trout, caught at great depths and brought too quickly to the surface of the water, may die from the fish version of “the bends.”

In spite of the fact that there are not yet species-specific catch and release methods, there is a growing body of evidence about which fishing gear, methods, and release techniques contribute significantly to increased mortality in catch and release fishing. Location of the hook and deep hooking, certain extraction methods, and the use of treble hooks and barbed hooks are some of the equipment considerations. Playing a fish to exhaustion, keeping it out of the water too long, and releasing it too quickly are types of fishing or release techniques that contribute significantly to fish mortality.

Studies show that fish hooked in the gills, throat, or lower internal organs are considerably more vulnerable than fish hooked in the upper or lower jaw. In fact, the Maryland Department of Natural Resources’ Recreational Catch and Release Mortality research program has concluded that the location of the hook wound is the single most important factor influencing catch and release mortality. The mortality rates may differ, however, depending on the species’ mouth construction, (grayling have softer mouths than trout, for instance), location of vital organs in relation to the throat, feeding methods, the activity level of the fish in the particular fishing environment, and the type of terminal tackle used.

It is true that a baited hook, whether treble or single, is more conducive to deep hooking than other methods of fishing simply because the fish is more apt to swallow bait. Many biologists recommend that the angler could reduce fish mortality by simply deciding not to use bait except when keeping fish. The type of hook the angler uses is the subject of many related areas of study.

Treble hooks and single hooks are another area of interest in the study of fish mortality with catch and release methods. The purpose of a three-pronged hook is to increase the anglers’ chances of hooking up the fish. More often than not, two or even three prongs of the hook will have impaled the fish. That makes the treble hook three times more likely to injure the fish and two to three times more difficult to extract. If these injuries are in the gills or the throat, the fish is increasingly likely to expire.

What about the barb or barbs on the hook? What difference does that make? The barbed v. barbless hook debate is another of the gear considerations in catch and release fishing. Studies have shown that while even barbed “j” hooks (which are, of course single hooks) reduced the time it took for the angler to land the fish, they also caused more hooking injuries. They also took longer for the angler to remove, increasing the potential for injury to the fish as well as its time out of the water.

Studies comparing the circle hook with the “j” hook generally show that use of the circle hook results in somewhat lower mortality rates in fish, especially when the fish are hooked in the upper or lower external jaw. Circle hooks are less apt to cause internal injuries than are “j” hooks. The fact that fish are often harder to hook with circle hooks than with “j” hooks, makes it likely that anglers will be less apt to use them, however. Studies related to types of hooks  used in catch and release fishing stress that other factors such as length of time the fish has been played, time the fish is out of the water, and skill of the angler in removing the hook all have a significant affect on the comparisons.

Some anglers object to fishing with barbless hooks because they believe that they will lose too many fish. In fact, the barb on a hook may make hook penetration even more difficult in fish with bony mouths. Just think how often it is necessary to set either a barbed or barbless hook several times on a large coho.

“J” hooks, circle hooks, and treble hooks can all have barbs. It’s easy to remove them by taking a needle-nosed pliers and pinching them down.  Japanese hooks, which typically have what is referred to as a “miro-barb,” are easier to flatten than stainless steel hooks or hooks with larger barbs.

Anglers lose just as many fish with barbed hooks as those who are fishing barbless. If you watch carefully, you’ll see that the successful angler is one who can set the hook well in the first place and then keep the line tight while playing the fish, regardless of whether the hook is barbless or not.

Correct Catch and Release Methods

Besides wounding, the other primary cause of mortality for caught and released fish is stress. Stress on the fish results from being played to exhaustion, and/or being released incorrectly. Here are some guidelines for playing and releasing fish.

  1. Get the fish in quickly 

    Protracted fish-fights are the stuff of legend. Many’s the angler who brags about the length of time it took to land a fish. That seems to verify that the fish was extraordinarily large and that we have been the victor. A fish that rolls over or lays on its side is clearly exhausted. It must be revived and released correctly to survive. The goal should be to land the fish before those signs of exhaustion appear and then to release it quickly, correctly, and safely.

  2. Use the size of tackle recommended for the fish you’re after 

    Using the proper tackle is a pre-requisite to getting the fish in rapidly. A rod and line too light for the size of the fish will always cause a prolonged battle. Unfortunately, people insist on using the lighter weight rods that are now on the market to pursue heavier species than they are intended for. Sure, you can probably land a four or five pound rainbow that you have accidently hooked on a two-wt rod, but by the time you do, the fish is so exhausted it you cannot revive it. Even if it appears to be o.k. when released, it may die later of the delayed reaction to stress. Better to just pop out the fly or break the leader to let the fish go. There’s less damage to the fish with a hook in its mouth than there is from being played too long.

  3. Use single barbless hooks
    Barbless hooks are much easier to remove from the fish than hooks with a barb, and single barbless hooks are the easiest of all. Rather than just clip off two of the hooks on a treble hook, replace the hook with a single, barbless hook. Pinch the barb down with a needle-nosed pliers (and keep the pliers accessible for hook removal.)
  4. If using a landing net be sure it is soft, knotless mesh or rubberSome anglers use landing nets and others do not. There are many excellent landing nets on the market now that are made of soft, knotless mesh or soft, flexible rubber. Avoid using old-style nets made with knotted cotton or twine.  They scrape slime off of fish.Some anglers choose not to use a net at all. They prefer to land fish by “tailing” them. If the fish has a soft mouth, “lip-landing” may be the method of choice. Either method requires that the fish’s belly be supported during handling and release.
  5. Keep fish that are going to be released in the water. Don’t haul them  up on the bank 

    Fish starved of oxygen often cannot be revived. Even when they appear to be o.k., they’ll still risk delayed mortality. Fish allowed to thrash around on the bank or in the rocks suffer serious injuries to their internal organs. Stand in the water and remove the hook without taking the fish from the water.

  6. Hold it correctly for hook release so you don’t remove its slime 

    Take hold of the fish right in front of the tail to avoid removal of their slime. Keep hold of the tail during hook removal and picture-taking so that the fish does not escape prematurely and return to the water without proper revival. Better yet, take a picture of the fish in the water.A fish’s slime protects it from bacteria and parasites. It is important not to wipe it off by handling the fish. Fish also need to remain in a horizontal position to avoid damage to their internal organs. Don’t just hang the fish off the end of the line without supporting its body during the hook release or picture taking.  A release that just tears the hook out of the fish’s mouth while it is struggling in a perpendicular position can do extensive damage. Hold the fish in front of the tail with one hand and support its belly with the other. Lift the fish out of the water for hook release or picture taking just briefly, returning it immediately to the water. Maintain a hold on the fish’s tail to help control it so that you can properly re-stabilize and re-oxygenate it during revival.

  7. Keep your fingers out of the fish’s gills and away from its eyes. 

    Putting your fingers into a fish’s gills can puncture its gills and kill it. Regardless of whether the fish is in the water or out, it will begin to bleed, and will die because it can’t breathe. It is also easy to put out a fish’s eye with your fingers. Although a fish might be able to survive with only one eye, there is an effect on its feeding habits and a risk of infection from the open wound.

  8. Remove the hook with a commercial hook-release tool or needle-nosed pliers, and not with your hands 

    Hook removal is one of the most sensitive aspects of releasing a fish. Much depends on where the hook is lodged. Lip and jaw hook-ups are the easiest to remove and generally result in much lower mortality rates for fish. Hooks lodged in the gills, throat, or stomach are the most problematical to release as well as the most lethal.Many people use a needle-nosed pliers or hook-release tools to extract hooks from fish. With a needle-nosed pliers, the angler just needs to grab the bend of the hook with the nose of the pliers and rotate the hook backwards from the way it entered the fish.  When using a commercial hook-release tool it is important to learn to use the device before going fishing to avoid hurting fish while you learn. Some people practice by inserting a hook with a line on it into an orange or an apple and using the tool to remove it. Others stick a hook inside a small cardboard box (to give the illusion of a deeply-hooked fish) and practice for removal of a hook that could be in the fish’s throat or gills.

    Since inserting a tool or pliers into the fish’s throat or stomach frequently results in bleeding, catch and release studies recommend simply cutting the leader and leaving the hook in the fish. Even that can cause the fish to die, however, because the hook can impair natural feeding. A barbless hook is, of course, more apt to dislodge no matter where it is located. Unless prohibited by catch and release regulations, it

  9. During revival hold the fish underwater with its head facing into the current 

    When reviving a fish, one hand should be holding it tightly right in front of the tail, and the other should be cradling the fish’s belly. (In front of the tail is the only place you can safely squeeze a fish.) Do not move the fish back and forth, as this forces water backwards into its gills and can actually slow down the revival process or even drown it. Simply hold it without letting the current turn it sideways.To revive, the fish must re-stabilize and re-oxygenate. That process takes time. Released too soon, the fish will wobble out into the current, turn belly-up and drown.As re-stabilization and re-oxygenation begin to occur, the first thing the angler will notice is that that the fish’s gills start to open and close naturally. Next, the fish will begin to wiggle and appear to be ready to go. It isn’t. Keep its nose pointed into the current, and continue to hold it there. Make sure it stays straight into the current and don’t let go of it. A fish that is completely revived and re-oxygenated and ready to swim away safely will forcefully trust itself out of your hand. You won’t be able to hold it. Releasing a fish prematurely is a very common mistake in catch and release. Follow the rule that it is the fish that decides when it is ready to return to the water, not the angler.

    Just a word about releasing a fish in a lake from a float tube or canoe. When there is no current in which to revive a fish, the angler needs to create one. When releasing a fish from a canoe, most anglers simply paddle along with one hand holding the fish in the water until it revives. It’s harder to do in a float tube because you’re paddling backwards. In that case, secure your rod, hold the fish in front of the tail and under the belly with its head below the water.Then begin to paddle slowly with just one flipper around in a circle with the fish’s nose pointed into the current that you’re creating.  If it takes awhile and you are feeling dizzy, just carefully turn the fish around and paddle with the other foot in the other direction. Just as in moving water, the fish will force itself out of your hands when it’s ready to go.

    Certainly, there are some fish that we’ll keep. We all want a few salmon in our freezer. But with other species, it’s a good idea to follow the recommendation to limit your kill to just fish that you’ll be eating right away. Finding that you’ve put fish into the freezer only to get freezer-burned and then thrown away will make you wish you had.

    When you do keep a fish, dispatch it quickly. Just one sharp blow right on the top of the head where the head and body meet is usually all it takes. If you have a knife, just one stab into that same spot will achieve the same result.

    I think that it’s great to see a healthy, revived fish take off like a rocket back into the watery depths. Saying goodbye isn’t nearly as hard when you know that you’ve released the fish correctly so that it will be around for you, your children, or other anglers to catch another time.

    “Catch & Release: Doing It Right” was originally published in Fish Alaska Magazine, October 2008

Fish Talk | August 2019 Newsletter

Grebes floating

Hi Everyone: 

Summer’s almost over! I can’t believe it! I hope that you’ve had your fly rod well-bent a lot of the time.There’s still time for the best of the best — Silvers! I’m dusting off my 8-wt and gathering up the big flies to be all ready. I hope you are too.

The Sockeye salmon have been absolutely unbelievable this year and everybody’s been taking home huge numbers of them. They are still arriving in some locations!

Casper, Wyoming – Fly Fishing WeekendRip and Hopper’s Adventure will be hanging out and fishing in Casper, Wyoming.Come Join the FUN with DUN Magazine 

Rip and Hopper’s Adventure is heading to Casper, Wyoming for a fun-filled weekend of fly fishing, education, and socializing. This will be a similar event like the United Women on the Fly Missouri River Weekend except we’re going to have a festival, Fly Fish Casper, in the mix!!

Both @Jen Ripple and @Heather Hodson will help connect you with other women who want to share lodging or a fishing guide.

Casper, Wyoming – Fly Fishing Weekend

August 16-18th

Mid-current ( has a very good video this week Choosing the Correct Strike Indicator for Nymph Fishing. “This is a critical decision for fly fishermen. Choosing the right indicator for your fly fishing with nymphs is critical to success.” Find it in the “News” section

If you missed the Alaska Fly Fishers annual picnic in Mirror Lake this week you missed a lot of fun. The evening was absolutely perfect, (breezes & no bugs) and beautiful, calm, water. Super dogs, burgers, & brats on the grill, and lots of other food (like yummy brownies) to finish it all. We were joined by a group of people from Hawaii who even tried their hand on a fly rod and a float tube. Put the date on your calendar for next year!


20th Annual Kenai River Clean Up

Their event is Sept 7-9 (both days). Get in a little fishing along the way.

I’ve posted an article from the archives  you might want to read about fishing in Nome: “There’s No Place Like Nome” 

Grayling fishing in Nome Alaska

I’ll be moving to Anacortes, WA in late September. I would very much appreciate it if you would help me sell my condo by forwarding a copy of my realtor’s (Joan McKinnon) information and photos to your
neighbors & friends.
Click here to see the Condo’s listing.

That’s all for now
Best Fishes!


There’s No Place Like Nome

Nome Grayling

O.K. click your heals together and repeat after me, “There’s no place like Nome, there’s no place like Nome.” Now you’re in the right frame of mind for me to tell you that the far north’s Seward Peninsula, and the Nome area in particular, provide some fishing opportunities that you may have been missing.

Salmon in the North Country

Many people find it hard to believe that northwest Alaska rivers experience runs of salmon. But they do. Some are accessible only to fly-in or rafting anglers, but the Alaska Dept. of Fish & Game’s Kotzebue or Nome offices have information about lots of possibilities. In the case of the Nome area, ADF&G publishes an informative little booklet, The Nome Roadside Fishing Guide that details the different species of fish present in the nearly twenty creeks and rivers along the three gravel roads that lead out of town. Pink salmon are present in most of them, as are chums, but spawning populations of silvers, sockeye, and king salmon also occur.

One of the best known of the sockeye runs along Nome’s road system is found in the Pilgrim River, which drains popular Salmon Lake. The Nome-Taylor (or Kougarok) Road parallels the river for nineteen miles from the lake to a bridge at milepost 65. A popular boat put-in spot, the bridge also offers wading access both up and down river.

We didn’t have a boat, one year, so we’d taken our rental car and driven to the lake and its BLM campground/picnic area on a sunny August afternoon. It’s a beautiful, if very buggy, spot with a number of cabins lining the shore. Big pods of sockeye were splashing and pairing up for spawning just off the beach. We did our best to eat under and around our head nets as we sat on the bank to watch. “I didn’t realize that there was such a large run of sockeye up here,” my friend said. She saw for herself that she had been mistaken.

Since the river was open for salmon fishing some distance down from the lake outlet, we rigged up the 8-wts and hiked off downstream to see if we could find any keepable sockeye, or in the alternative, to fish for Dollies and grayling as we went.

Why is it that the same sockeye that refuses to strike a fly when they are silver and fresh, absolutely inhales anything that drifts their way when they’re all toothy and scarlet-bodied in their spawning phase? Over and over again we ended up with one of these feisty reds on the end of the line with the tiny egg imitation, intended for a fat grayling, stuck firmly in their jaw. Still strong, even though nearing their end, it was a battle to get them to shore for the release, especially when we’d hooked them on the 5-wts.

Of course, grayling, Dollies, and even the stray whitefish also took these flies. Following up tight behind the salmon, they were as eager as fish anywhere to pounce on what looked like stray eggs to them. As often happens, some of the Dollies up-chucked real eggs as we worked to dislodge the hook and return them to their feeding. We never did encounter any bright sockeye that afternoon, but we had a great time just the same.

While king runs in the north are typically small, and chum runs have been depressed in recent years, a respectable run of silvers often makes an appearance in some of these arctic rivers. The Sinuk and the Cripple River, on the Nome Teller Highway as well as the Niukluk at the termination of the Nome-Council Road, and the Fish River into which it drains, can have some good silver fishing at times. Many Nome residents also head to the Nome River on the Nome-Taylor Highway for silvers when it is open. Some of the rivers, like the Niukluk, require a boat to access the best fishing, but many do not.

Summer of 2004 produced some strong early runs of coho in several of these creeks after a number of closures in recent years. Before the run tapered off and emergency regulations went into effect to end the fishing, we experienced some exciting silver action during our annual trip to the Niukluk River in mid-August. Most of the fish were fairly “colored-up,” but aggressive and acrobatic just the same.

Nichole, who was just learning to fly fish, and her dad, who had given them both our Nome trip for her college graduation gift, could hardly decide whether they liked the grayling fishing or the silver fishing better. Since they didn’t have to choose one over the other, they just spent the days alternating their time between the two.

The strength of these northern salmon runs varies widely from year to year, resulting, at times, in stricter bag limits or complete closures, but a call to the Nome office of ADF&G can easily provide information on which to base a fishing excursion to the area.

More Than Salmon-Dolly Varden

Just because the salmon runs might not be as prolific as those on the Kenai or in Bristol Bay, don’t think that the farther north you go, the less enticing the fishing

possibilities are. It’s just not true. Merely shift your perspective (and the size of your fly or spinning rod) a bit and you’ll be surprised at the marvelous Dolly Varden and

Arctic Grayling fishing with which you can while away the long-light Arctic days on a trip toward the top of the state.

Especially in even-numbered years when the pink salmon runs have been strong in the Nome area, the Dolly Varden char fishing can be excellent. In typical Dolly

fashion, these pink-spotted beauties key on the eggs of the spawning fish and provide exceptionally fast action in Nome’s shallow, riffly streams, which are generally very wadable and crystal clear.

A few years ago, the perfect conditions made for a day of truly “every cast” success. The water was low and just the right temperature. Dozens and dozens of pinks were busy digging their nests and laying their eggs in the dish-shaped indentations among the riffles. The Dollies were absolutely everywhere. With good Polaroid glasses, their gray shapes were clearly evident flitting back and forth between mating pairs of salmon or holding right behind a nest. Big ones, small ones, silvery ones, and brightly colored ones in their own spawning colors, they seemed to rival the salmon in sheer numbers. It was Dolly nirvana.

It hadn’t taken Sally long to find just the right color and size for her Iliamna Pinkie egg fly. She was surprised by the fact that the first dozen or so fish she caught were in water only about five inches deep and less than a foot from the bank. She’d been smart enough to follow the rule to “fish the water before you walk through it,” and was rewarded with a mother-lode of fish.

With so many targets so close at hand, she just kept meandering along the bank casting to waiting fish. She didn’t even get her boots wet for the first couple of hours of fishing! “I’ll never forget this lesson,” she promised. “I’ve been as guilty as anybody of thinking that I’ve got to be half-way across the creek and cast for 40 or 50 feet to catch fish. Not anymore.”

More Than Salmon – Arctic Grayling

Grayling fishing can be even better than Dolly fishing in Nome’s streams because grayling are resident fish, not dependent on the salmon runs. And, while they, too, key in on salmon eggs when such protein-rich fare is available, they never completely abandon their craving for bugs. The lovely Niukluk River, typical of the crystal clear rivers with firm gravel bottoms which characterize the area, is reported to shelter more than 1,000 grayling per mile.

“You will think you have found fly-fishing heaven when the surface of the river is alive with rising grayling,” says John Elmore, owner of Grayling-On-A-Fly Camp (Formerly Camp Bendeleben) on the Niukluk. “All of our guests have caught trophy grayling larger than 18 inches; some say that they have trouble catching one smaller,” he adds with a chuckle.

“Right there,” Maggie said as we fished the Niukluk one year. “That large grayling just keeps rising right on the edge of the outside current seam. I’ve got to get my fly to drift to that exact spot.”

She was right; we could all see the regular swirls of steady rises, one right after the other. The fish was feeding in such a leisurely fashion that it appeared to be waiting patiently for Maggie to present her #12 elk-hair caddis just perfectly. When she did, it was like watching the ballet. The fish zoned in on that floating bit of deer hair and tracked it briefly as it drifted downstream. Then, as we watched, he eased up and, with a fin-flared rise over the fly he made it disappear by sipping in gently as he re-entered the water. Hardly a ripple revealed where the event had taken place.

“Yessss,” she whispered. “I’ve got him.” She’d remembered that grayling often take “on the down” and had been accommodating enough to give him just an extra second or two to get solidly hooked up before she’d made her set. Now, she did, indeed, have him.

“What a bend I’ve got in my rod,” she marveled. “This is some grayling.”

Some grayling, indeed. It was evident from the size of the dorsal fin protruding from the surface of the water as she played him, that this was a very large fish. Maggie is a focused, experienced angler, and she knew not to rush things. On just 6 lb tippet, she didn’t want to risk breaking off her prize.

As she finally slipped her hand gently under the fish’s belly and brought it just slightly out of the water to remove the hook, it was evident to us all what an accomplishment we’d just witnessed. The tape showed a 21-incher, a trophy by anyone’s standards.

Seven Arctic grayling are listed in the 2004 International Game Fish Association’s book of World Record Game Fish. Five of the seven come from Canadian waters. The remaining two are Alaska fish. The largest of these record grayling (4 lb- 8 oz) was caught in western Alaska’s Goodnews River. The other, a 3 lb-4oz fish, came from the Nome area’s Niukluk River.

In Alaska, a trophy grayling is consider to be any fish 18-inches long or over. Generally, those fish approach 2 ½ to 3 pounds in weight, but this can vary greatly in different watersheds at different times of the year. Eighteen-inch long trophy fish do not at all reflect the largest of the State’s grayling. Many anglers fishing rivers throughout Alaska have caught larger fish with both fly and spin gear, but have not been willing to kill them simply to acquire a record. Grayling are the slowest growing of all sport fish, and an 18-inch specimen is typically much older than the same size trout or char.

ADF&G’s Fred DeCicco of the Fairbanks office has been conducting studies of grayling around the state. He aged one 18½-inch grayling from the Nome area, and determined it to be 30 years old! Certainly not all the Nome area fish are of this size or age, but for the serious grayling fisher, the sheer numbers of large fish can definitely enliven a trip to Alaska’s north country.

Because it takes grayling longer to achieve significant size, it doesn’t take much convincing to get people to treat them with special care and to release them for another day. A just-released fish will often rest quietly in just three or four inches of water right next to the angler’s foot. “I’m surprised,” one of my clients remarked on a recent Niukluk River trip after carefully releasing a gorgeous, slate-colored grayling. “My fish is just sitting there. Is it all right?”

I told her that it was and suggested that she stay squatting down without moving for a few minutes and watch him. “I don’t think I’ve ever had such a great opportunity to just look at a fish in the water and see what it’s doing,” she commented after a few seconds. “Look, you can see its white mouth opening and closing as it rejuvenates itself. And, those wonderful golden eyes are clearly looking right at me. He’s not afraid at all.”

“You’re actually breaking the current for him and providing an easy resting spot,” I told her. “He’ll stay there until he’s ready to resume his feeding or until you move and spook him back into deeper water.” Sure enough, within a few minutes that extended fin waved good-bye and the fish headed back to the drift from which he’d come.

A unique reward of releasing grayling is that it provides one of the best opportunities to observe the full extension of that unbelievable dorsal and the exceptional coloration these fish are noted for. If camera-ready while the fish is resting after a release, an angler can often get great photographs, shots that never seem to be as successful when the fish is being held for a hero/heroine shot. Light refraction through the water highlights the glistening emerald, lavender, fuscia and blue spots and spines on the fish’s fins as well as the gold sheen that often dusts the gill plates and body. The luster of the grayling’s scales is also much more pronounced under water. It’s worth the extra time and effort to try to photograph the fish there.

Driving the Roads

I always get the feeling that I’m in the western U.S. as we drive the Nome road system. The wide-open sky, the almost treeless hills, and the far-away Kigluaik or Bendeleben mountains on the horizon enable me to see for miles. I can easily imagine myself on horseback riding off into some gorgeous sunset. But just when I get too nostalgic, suddenly a weird and wonderful pile of rocks will appear at the crest of a hill, reminding me of the mysterious rock cairns of Ireland. It’s impossible to believe that these are not man-made. Many are so symmetrical I can hardly accept that nature could fashion them all by herself. They certainly enhance the mystique of the drive.

In August there are always cars parked along the road with the bright-colored windbreakers of berry pickers high up on the hillsides. People invariably wave as we pass by. Often, the crests of other hills will host bands of reindeer with the big, wide-antlered bulls carefully leading their harems away from any danger or grazing herds of caped and bearded musk-ox.

“Stop, stop,” Ellen cried as we rounded a curve just out from Nome one day. “Musk-ox, there, on the hill,” she said.

We stopped the truck, grabbed our cameras, and slowly climbed the small ridge next to the road where we could see about a dozen animals grazing contentedly. Two were moms with young ones. Even though they didn’t run, they and the other members of the herd were very aware of us and managed to stay a safe distance away. Every time they’d stop, though, one of the babies would insist on nursing again. As we’d move closer to try for a better picture, his mom would automatically lead him off. What a game of cat and mouse. We could have stayed there all afternoon if we hadn’t been on our way to the airport.

I couldn’t help but think of Carolyn, one of my clients who had come to Nome fish with us a few years ago and wanted so badly to see the musk-ox. She’d had to “settle” for seeing a cinnamon grizzly move into the willows near the creek as we watched and then paying a visit to the Anchorage zoo on her way back to California.

The Nome-Council Road is especially inviting in the fall. Not only is the tundra flushed gold and russet as far as the eye can see, but birds and ducks by the thousands are gathering for their southward migrations. Groups of snowy tundra swans dot the ponds along the road and a wide variety of ducks, resting in sloughs right beside the road, take flight when a vehicle approaches. We’ve had snowy owls and peregrine falcons fly up in front of us as we pass. Many people consider this area a birder’s paradise.

The very informative Roadside Guide, the mile-by-mile manual of species, fishing locations, access, and more refers to Nome’s road system as “unique in rural Alaska.” It documents the fact that the hills around Nome are vastly more accessible than most “bush” areas of our state. Besides the birding, fishing and wildlife watching, there are almost endless opportunities for hiking and backpacking.

Historic Nome

A fishing trip to the Nome area has the extra special benefit of permitting the visitor to take step back into Alaska history. Nome is, of course, where Alaska’s famed Gold Rush took place. Remnants of this great saga are everywhere in the area. A dilapidated gold dredge rests in a salt marsh right outside of town, and the often photographed “little trains to nowhere” with their attendant ore buckets and other mining paraphernalia all lie rusting in the sun along the Nome-Council road in the Solomon area.

The tiny, but engaging Gold Rush historical museum in Nome is also a delight. Everyone finds that they can spend hours and hours there imagining the hardships and achievements of those gold-crazed men and women as they panned and dredged the beaches, mined the mountains, and built a system for ore transport. The old

pictures alone are the stuff of legends. Book after book of them waits for modern day admirers. But it isn’t all just the stuff of museums. A walk along Nome’s nearby beach reveals active dredges still pursuing the dreams of gold to this very day.

Another special museum and shop in Nome is operated by the local Sitnusak Native Corporation. It houses marvelous native artifacts and dolls as well as one of Alaska’s very best libraries of historic books and films. I spent one of my most memorable airport delays on one trip whiling away the hours in that library viewing some truly remarkable films.

Modern day history also includes the incredible Iditarod Sled Dog Race that ends under the much photographed burled arch on Nome’s main street. Commemorating the historic thousand mile serum run when dog-sleds delivered life-saving medicine during an epidemic in the Nome area, the Race is now world-famous. Out on the Nome-Council road one can see the wood tri-pods that mark the trail into town that would otherwise be obscured by deep snow in the winter. In town the famous arch, under which so many race winners have posed with their lead dogs, can be photographed just off the street.

The Nome Visitors Bureau provides a wealth of information for anglers, birders, history buffs and more. It seems a shame to me that so many Alaskans have never visited this very intriguing part of our state. Now that you know that you can take your fishing rod along, there’s no excuse for you not to head north.

~Pudge Kleinkauf

“There’s No Place Like Nome” was originally published in Fish Alaska magazine, April 2005

Fish Talk | July 2019 Newsletter

July 2019 Flyfishing newsletter

Hello everyone; I’m a little late for the newsletter this month but we were really busy taking care of all the details of the Maxine McCormack event. It was incredible and I can hardly begin to tell you all the compliments both Maxine, and Chris her coach got lots of “where has this been all my life,” and “I’m going right home and practice what I just learned,” for instance.The weather couldn’t have been better and the locations more welcoming.

Our thanks go to our sponsors the Inlet Towers, Barnes and Nobel, Bristol Adventures, Mountain View Sports, Mossy’s Fly Shop, and Sportsman’s Warehouse. We really appreciated their help!

We didn’t have nearly time enough for everything we wanted to do but during one of Chris’ single person’s lesson Maxine’s dad (who came along as a helper) and she, saw a moose with her calf crossing the road when they slipped out for a little touring. “I’ll be coming back” all of them said, and Alaska will certainly be waiting.

Don’t forget Maxine’s and my new book!

The Girl With a Flyrod

It’s the 2nd Edition of my Gold Medal book, River Girls, and just as great, so, if you didn’t get a chance to buy one at Barnes & Noble or at one or the other event-location here in Anchorage during the event I am selling them at a $20 price. Just send me your address and a check and I’ll get one right back to you. My address is Cecilia Kleinkauf, 2220 North Star #2, Anchorage AK 99503.

-I just got back from a great trip for grayling and trout fishing where I usually go at least once a summer, known as Tangle Lakes. The place we stayed was MacLaren Lodge, -great folk as well as good fishing. On my way home I almost killed a small black bear and her two tiny cubs that were just coming out of the bushes along the highway! Thank goodness for good brakes!!!

Alaska Fly Fishers

The Alaska Fly Fishers has three events for you this Fall.

  • The August event will be a picnic, (TBA)
  • the September Clean Up
  • and the third will be a Silent Auction (TBA)

~For your information ~

And now (and with great regret) I want to let you know that I have decided to leave Alaska and move to WA, nearer to my family, medical facilities, and long-time friends, even though I have many, many, many of those in the Great Land. I’m planning on leaving this September. (I couldn’t leave in the summer–the fish just wouldn’t let me,) but much depends on selling my condo and other realities.

I plan to go to live at a retirement home at Anacortes, WA, called Capsante Court, that I have investigated and found to be one I liked.

I am also hoping that one of you might be interested in buying my condo or know someone who is, so that I don’t have to rent it.

Here is the Realtor’s listing.
Her name is Joan McKinnon
She is the best!

P.S. much of my furniture is for sale at a very low price! If you are interested just e-mail me at

Fish Talk | June 2019 Newsletter

She’s Coming To Town and Bringing Her Fly Rod!

Maxine McCormick!

The Girl With A Flyrod
The Girl With A Flyrod Maxine McCormick The International Fly Casting Champion by Cecilia “Pudge” Kleinkauf

From June 8th-12th you’ll be able to meet Maxine McCormick, the 15 year old International Fly Casting Champion, and learn The Secrets of E-Fish-ent Fly Casting from she and her coach, Chris Korich. Maxine will also be signing her’s & Pudge Kleinkauf’s new book,” The Girl With A Flyrod” .

See below for locations, times, tickets, book price, and more.
Happy Hour Silent Auction Saturday, June 8th -Inlet Towers Hotel tion-tickets-62237454903 – and, also at Inlet Towers Hotel on Sunday June 9th.
8:30-10:am & a Talk with Chris Korich from 10:30 to 12:30 (No Cost) and Book Signing. Lessons in the afternoon. Details TBA
  •  Monday fun at FisheWear 11:00-1:00 for Brunch, Book Signing & lessons in the afternoon. details TBA
  • Meet & Greet at Mtn View Sports 5:30p.m. + Book Singing
  • Sportsman’s Warehouse- Meet & Greet + Book Signing 10:00
  • Mossy’s Fly Shop Meet & Greet 12:30-2:30 & Book Signing
  • Family Picnic 5:00p.m. Inlet Towers School 8:00pm. $10.00 per family
Book: $24.95

Fish Talk | May 2019 Newsletter

May fishing newsletter
Hi Everyone: After a summer-like March and some beautiful April days with a few trees and flowers budding we had several snow storms to remind us that it was really NOT spring!! Just when I was changing the studded tires on my car, the mountains above town were hit with two feet of snow, and places around Anchorage got almost that much! After 46 years of residence in Alaska, you would think I would know better.
Now that it is May, when real spring weather appears I can gear-up and head for the Situk River to do some steelhead fishing. Even though it’s May,
I still have to be sure that I take my hand-warmers and, of course, my winter coat & hat. It’s hard to wait!!!


  • The Most Endangered Rivers of 2019: Every year I am amazed by the different rivers in the US that are endangered and need protection. This web site will give you the list’s rivers, starting with the dubious honor of most endangered river in 2019, which flows to New Mexico’s Gila River. The Gila is the last free-flowing river in the state and a tributary of the Colorado River, which flows through deserts and box canyons in New Mexico and Arizona. Take a look to see others and how you can help protect them.
  • -For those of you who fish Tenkara or who want to take it up here’s notice of the Tenkara Summit 2019. Registrations for the 2019 ISummit are now open! -Tenkara USA event will be held July 27, 2019 at the Millennium Harvest House Hotel in Boulder, Colorado. Find more information and registration details at the web site above.
  •  Get on You Tube & head to the Huge Fly Fisherman I’m not much of a You Tube fan, but I have taken to this site. I just can’t help it! If you love getting down to the “real” information about our sport go to this fellow’s web site for some really hilarious material. He hits things right on the nose. I especially like the way that he talks about trout food! “Trout Stream Insects: Equatic Entomology.” Take a look!!!!!!
  • Trout Unlimited is holding a Spring Flying Fishing event for women on May 14th from 6-8 p.m. at 49 State Brewery with skills practice from 6-7 and then fly fishing films 7-8. Cost is $15 Should be fun!
  • The Kenai National Wildlife Refuge and The Nature Conservancy in Alaska are pleased to announce the long-term conservation of a Kenai salmon stream with 293 acres to the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge, the natural habitat that serves as a nursery for salmon will continue to flourish around the Killey River, known as the source for more than half of the Kenai River’s early run king salmon.
  • The Alaska Fly Fishers May meeting is set for May 6th at the BP energy center at 6:30. The program has to do with fishing photography and you might want to bring your camera.


  • If you want a chance to win one of the 18 FREE TICKETS for the Inlet Towers Breakfast Buffet with Maxine McCormick & her coach, Chris Ckorich on Sunday, June 9th that the club is offering,

Other Opportunities


Fish Talk | Early April Newsletter

cabin by the river

Hi everyone: I can hardly believe it but there are some buds appearing on a couple of the bushes in my yard! That doesn’t necessarily mean that we won’t have more snow here in Alaska, however, but it still shows signs that the geese will be arriving soon and the lakes will be losing their ice. Hooray!!

  • The Great Alaska Outdoor Show, April 4-7-2019, is another sign of spring that we wait for with lots of anticipation. Go here to see the list of seminars and dozens & dozens of vendors appearing in the Sullivan Arena in downtown Anchorage. The Great Alaska Sportsman Show has always proven to be a great attraction! The four-day show draws crowds of people who care passionately about fishing, hunting, hiking, camping, climbing, guide services, and lots more.I’ll be there doing fly casting clinics on each day except Thursday. I’ll also have my five books FOR sale. They will also be ON SALE !
  • Get Your Cast On! & Save the Dates!

    Maxine McCormickMaxine McCormick, the fifteen year old International Fly Casting Champion, is coming to Anchorage, on June 8th-12th! She is going to be signing her’s & my new book, The Girl With the Fly Rod , and doing casting demonstrations, casting lessons and more in several locations around the city. There will a breakfast buffet sponsored by the Alaska Fly Fishers, and also a Happy Hour with a silent auction, a picnic, and other events at other different sponsors over the five days she is here. Other sponsors besides AFF are Trout Unlimited, Fishewear, Sportsman’s Warehouse, Inlet Towers, Barnes & Noble, Mountain View Sports and Women’s Flyfishing.The “where & when” of it all is still being put together right now, so this is just a “SAVE THE DAY” notice so that you’ll be ready to meet and greet this great fly fishing Champion when she arrives.The late April newsletter will have a complete itinerary and places you can purchase tickets. So stay tuned!
  • Annual Spring Fling for Women on Friday, April 19, 10:am Saturday& April 20 at 11:am.This is one we all wait for with its FREE Public Admission & Parking, Anchorage “Health & Wellness Expo” as well as vendors offering fashions, fine arts, informative seminars, lots of door prizes, concessions, beer and wine and much more at the Alaska Airlines Center at 3550 Providence Dr.
  • SOMERSET, Penn. The Fly Fishing Show has announced that anglers may now purchase fresh and saltwater fishing licenses for all 50 states by visiting the show’s website,“At the top of the page, click the word ‘More’ to purchase a fishing license by credit card wherever you are planning to fish,” said Fly Fishing Show President and CEO, Ben Furimsky. There is no additional fee for purchasing out-of-state licenses through the Fly Fishing Show website.Contact Information:

    The Fly Fishing Show
    531 North Center Ave.
    Suite 102
    Somerset, PA 15501
    Ben Furimsky
    (814) 443-3638
  • Hatching! 

    Have you ever stopped to think about the services of the two major fish hatcheries in Alaska? Fish ready for release are put into certain lakes and rivers & you can get information about when & where that happens by going to both the Ruth Burnett hatchery in Fairbanks and the William Jack Fernandez in Anchorage. (It’s rather hard to navigate the site, but just keep at it). Go to “Hatcheries” and then on to “stocking and release”. You’ll get charts to check on the area that you are searching for. This page is provided so you can search which locations have been stocked, with what species of fish, and when specific locations were stocked. two options are available for searching the fish stocking database as provided in the table provided. (p.s. if you get stymied just call 907-2672218 in Anchorage and 907-459-7228 in Fairbanks, for help.)

  • Alaska Fly Fishers!AK FlyFishers will meet on Monday April 1, 6:30 at the BP Energy center. Come and hear all about the guys that are in the process of creating a fly- tying business in Brazil!!!! Should be great!!!!! I can’t wait!!!!!!!
  • The Alaska Flyfishers will also be offering its annual Spring Seminar to folks wanting to take up the sport of fly fishing. That will be done in four different evenings to offer discussion on the various parts of flyfishing. Get the dates and locations at the Great AK Sportsman Show.
  • If you live in Fairbanks you have an outdoor show too. It is the Fairbanks Outdoor show on April 26-27-28 at the Carlson Center 2010 2nd Ave, Fairbanks. Sponsors information and door prizes will be posted when the dates get closer. See Big Rays for other information.

That’s All For Now!

Fish Talk | March Newsletter

Spring in Alaska

March 2019, Newsletter

Hi Everyone; We’ve turned the corner and can see a little bit of spring out there on the horizon! So, it’s time to do things like book your fishing dates for this summer at your favorite lodge, get out your rod and reel to see if they are in need of cleaning or new fly line, refurbish your fly boxes, or whatever else should need doing. It’s time to get going!

  • The Alaska Fly Fishers March Meeting is on Monday March 4th 6:30PM at the BP Energy Center, 900 East Benson Blvd, Anchorage. Presentation sounds great— hear Dan Redfield, an Emmy® nominated filmmaker and adventure photographer. He created Alaska Photoventures to fulfill his love for both film and photography.
  • A Contest!! If there happens to be a budding artist or fisher at your house you will want to know about the state fish-art contest. It is a way to have your child create a picture of fish & fishing in Alaska and win a prize! The contest consists of pictures of fish in their state that they want to nominate for the fish of the year. Take a look at this great opportunity! But don’t wait, the deadline is March 31st  All of the details can be found at
  • Girl Got Game – Go to U-Tube & or mid-current’s list of videos to see the Silver Kings Season video 5/E4. Pick up Alex Woodsum in the “Girl Got Game” U-Tube in the great video of her in the Florida Keys catching a grand slam of Tarpon, Bone-fish, and Permit all in one day and all on a fly!!!! Alex is one of the four young girls featured in my Gold-Medal Winning book many years ago called River Girls. She now is writing, working in organizations like “Now or Neverglades” Florida’s conservation trust, and various activities in the fly-fishing world. Yeh! AlexStay tuned to this newsletter to see information about the 2nd Edition of River Girls book with Maxine McCormick, the 15 year old fly casting champion who is winning all the gold medals in the world. Maxine & her coach will be coming to Anchorage the second week of June! She will sign your book and show all of us some of her casting. I can hardly wait!
  • Are you subscribing to “Catch Magazine? If not, you’re missing out on some of the most stunning photography in the fly-fishing world.” Just $12 a year gets you un-matched photos from different fish from different parts of the world and some of the best fly fishing you’ll ever see.
  • Winter Fish Fest IV – Trout Unlimited March 14th Please join the Southcentral AK Trout Unlimited Chapter for their fourth annual banquet at the 49th State Brewing Co in Anchorage event will be hosted in both Barrel Rooms on the lower level of 49th State Brewing Co. Winter Fish Fest IV will feature both silent and live auctions as well as some fishy fun. The event starts at 5:30p.m. Ticket $20 at the door for members and $25 for non-members, this will get you a drink ticket and entry to win a door prize! We recommend bringing cash or check please
  • WOW the new REI 500 E Northern Lights Blvd, Anchorage, AK in Anchorage is really something!! Get on down there for the rest of their winter sale now- and then especially be sure to join them on March 22–24 for their 3-day Grand Opening festivities, Fri.–Sun.! Three Whole Days!!!!! Here are the two parts each day: Mornings: Door prizes when the store opens (10:00 a.m.) Afternoons: Free food, music, door prizes and more—3pm to 6pm
  • The Fly Fishing Film Festival comes to Anchorage on March 26, 27, 28 at the Bear Tooth theatre. There will be four showings this year. March 26, at 5:30pm,- March 27 at 5:30pm, -and March 28 at 5:30 and also at 8:30p.m. Get to their web site to see the “trailers” proceeds will go to TU and the Alaska Fly Fishers.
  • Clean Water goes to Dirty Water without our help! Go to and hear how the Clean Water Act goes to Dirty Water if we don’t do something about it. Go to the link above and see what’s happening. They will provide you a letter to the EPA if you want to voice your thoughts. Go to as well.Articles for My Blog! 
  • Hear’s another classic article from Fish Alaska Magazine for you, rescued from my archive and now in the Articles section of our web site! Go straight to my website at to read about “My Arsenal of Great Grayling Flies” in the April 2010 issue of Fish Alaska Magazine.

Thats all for now. Best Fishes!



An Arsenal of Great Grayling Flies

An Arsenal of Flies

Grayling take lots of different flies. Some that you might not ever expect. So, let’s do a run-down of some of the best traditional and non-traditional patterns to help you build your fly arsenal for these great fish. I’ve listed a few great flies in each of six different categories for you, and added my personal “top three” favorites in each category. Here’s the list.

Category #1 Dry Flies & Emergers

-Elk Hair Caddis                                                -The Humpy

-Parachute Adams                                            -Blue Winged Olive

-Irresistible                                                        -Pale Morning Dun

-Royal Wulff                                                       -Griffith’s Gnat                                       

 There really isn’t a dry fly tied that grayling won’t take-as long as it is properly presented. These are simply the best, I think. Here are my favorites. 

  1. The Elk Hair Caddis is, without question, grayling’s favorite dry fly (mine too), probably because caddis are so prolific in Alaska. Don’t forget, though, these juicy little morsels come in different colors and different sizes. You’ll need #10-16 to cover nearly all the bases.  
  2. Second on my list of grayling flies would be the Parachute Adams in sizes ranging from #10-16. The basic Adams is a great fly, but the Parachute tops it big time for improved visibility.
  3. Hard choice for # 3, but I’d have to say it’s the Royal Wulff in the same size ranges as the others. You’ll have exceptionally good success with the Royal Wulff tied with a white Antron or calf tail post or wings.

More tips: Emergers such as the comparadun and the super-pupa, chronomids, spa rkle pupa and other larvae and pupa imitations are also good bets for grayling at times, as are San-Juan worms.

Category #2 Nymphs (with or without bead/cone heads)

-Gold Ribbed Hare’s Ear                                  -Pheasant Tail                  

-Prince Nymph                                                  -Copper John                   

-Brassie (copper, red, green)                           -Black Stonefly                

 Unless fish are feeding just under the surface, I use the bead-head version of these nymphs, especially when the water is faster, or my fly needs to get deeper.  Here’s my top three.

  1. Unquestionably the gold-ribbed hare’s ear, either bead-head or not, is my all-time favorite nymph for grayling. Tied in size 8 and smaller, it is useful on both lakes and rivers, although, when used on lakes, I tie it in olive.
  2. I love Prince Nymphs, and so do the grayling. Don’t leave home without some in size 10 and smaller. I definitely prefer the bead-heads.
  3. Sorry, but it’s a tie here between a pheasant tail nymph (preferably with a bead-head) and a black stonefly, bead-head or not. Sizes here are also #8 and smaller. (But, I also carry a few larger ones too.)

Czech nymphs would definitely be on my list and in my top three nymphs except that not all water is conducive to using them. Where the flow is right, they are fast becoming my preferred way to fish for grayling. (See my article on Czech nymphing  Fish Alaska Magazine.) Don’t forget that you can drop a tiny nymph off the bend of a larger dry fly or nymph for some fun grayling fishing, too, where fishing regulations permit the use of two flies. (See my article on fly fishing with droppers in the April, 2009 issue of Fish Alaska Magazine). 

 Category #3 Terrestrials


-Beetles                                                   -Ants

-Grasshoppers (where they exist)        -Deer Hair Mice

-Bass Poppers                                      

 Here’s where the real fun is. Grayling eat other things that land on the surface of the water besides bugs. Plopping large ant or hopper patterns on the water brings up more grayling that you can imagine. And, doing the quick, short, up-ward little jerks of the rod tip to make bass poppers “pop” on top absolutely sends grayling into ecstasy. Keep your poppers small and use the flat-faced ones. Top three terrestrials?

  1.  Ants are #1.  Be sure to tie or buy flies with a white or florescent post for visibility, though. The fish can see the ant, but without a post, you usually can’t. Anything from a size 4 or smaller will work.
  2.  Definitely, definitely, poppers! Watching grayling play with them makes me giggle. Just wait until you see a determined grayling going after a popper again and again, each time it pops! Use them when smolt fishing, too.
  3. My third choice for big stuff on top is a grasshopper. Alaska doesn’t have nearly enough hoppers to my way of thinking, but don’t let that stop you from using them. Just wait till you see how often grayling will rise for a hopper pattern if you offer one. Try large Stimulators to imitate hoppers, size #4 and smaller.

 Category #4 Spring Smolt

-Thunder Creek                                                 -Woolly buggers (small-white)

-Alevin                                                                -Epoxy smolt

-Marabou Lake Leech                                       -Thorne River Emerger                         

Just like all the other species of fish, grayling chase salmon smolt in the spring as these tiny food bites wend their way down from the waters of their birth to the sea. Watch for disturbances in the water and birds diving on them to show you where the “bait balls” of smolt are. My picks? 

1-2.     This time it’s hard to pick my #1 smolt pattern. It’s a tie between the Thunder Creek, and the Thorne River Emerger. Depending on which species of salmon smolt the grayling are after, one or the other of these flies will nearly always work. Generally just keep them to a #10 if it’s pink salmon smolt, and to a #8 or maybe even a #6 if its silvers, kings, or chum smolt.

3-4.        I’ve also got a tie for #3 choice. That would be either a white or off-white marabou lake leech, or a small, white or off-white woolly bugger. Sometimes I clip the legs short and put eyes on the bugger with a black, waterproof marker. Again, stick with #10 or #8 flies. 

Category #5 Egg Imitations

-Glo-Bug                                                            -Iliamna Pinkie

-Two-egg Marabou                                            -Two-toned yarn flies      

-Plastic Beads

Where salmon exist, grayling bulk-up on salmon eggs just like rainbows and dollies do. Unlike rainbows and dollies, though, grayling will continue to take dry flies when eggs are available. Nevertheless, egg-imitation flies are must-haves in your fly box. If king eggs are present I carry #6 flies, and for every other type of eggs I use #8-#12 in a variety of colors from bright to pale, depending on the length of time the eggs have been in the water. It’s not hard to pick the top 3 here.

  1.  Glo-bugs are still # 1 for me even though I use all the others.
  2.  Plastic beads have to be #2, but the time it takes to rig them, the difficulty in matching the real egg color, and the fact that fish often get smart to them because they are hard, makes it difficult to rate then #1.
  3.  I’d rate the two-toned yarn flies third on my list because they represent an egg/flesh combo, and I can use them alone or with a plastic egg if I prefer.

Category #6  Streamers (with or without bead/cone heads)

-Woolly Buggers                                                         -Muddler Minnow

-Bunny/Flesh Flies or Egg-sucking bunnies                   -Polar Shrimp

-Egg-sucking leeches -Lake Leeches or bead-head  lake leeches

Grayling will take salmon-sized leech patterns at times. Usually, however, I stick to size #8 or #10 in most of my grayling streamers. The top 3?

  1. Muddlers really shine as a grayling catcher. Last summer I caught 36 fish in the same spot with the same little muddler in less than an hour and a half.
  2. Especially when rotting salmon flesh is in the water, I put bunny leeches second on the list. Just vary the color for different times of the year.
  3. Polar shrimp is an often over-looked but very productive grayling streamer. Be sure to have some in your box.

Streamers aren’t what people typically use for grayling fishing. Nevertheless, I’ve been salmon and trophy char fishing when grayling beat the larger fish to our big streamers so often we stopped trying to guess which species of fish we had on the line. Biologists tell of grayling with big mice, bait fish, and frogs in their stomachs. Just because they’re smaller fish, doesn’t mean they have a smaller appetite.

Now, load up your fly boxes and go enjoy the grayling fishing!

Fish Talk | February Newsletter

Truck camper in mountains
Just think, 2018 is gone with all of its great fishing for silvers, rainbows, kings, Dollies, sockeye, pinks, pike, and grayling and I don’t know where it went, do you? I’m also behind on my newsletter in the last couple of months and it’s time I got going. Here are a couple fish pictures and a couple of pictures of glaciers for the newsletter while the fish and we are dreaming about next summer.

 AK Fly Fishers Auction

The Alaska Fly Fishers club has had some setbacks with the online auction that they have been working on but they haven’t given up. It’s going to appear very soon now so keep watching their website at .  It will be done ONLINE ONLY and will feature all those great trips we have seen in the past, and maybe some other great items we always drool over. The starting point will be their website. Start planning those fishing trips for 2019 right here to be ready when the fun begins. I’ll let you know!!!

Fly-Tying Materials Sale!!

I’ll be offering lots & lots & lots of fly tying materials (feathers, hooks, threads, fur,) etc. at a sale at the Alaska Fly Fishers monthly meeting on the February 4th meeting at BPEC ( British Petroleum Energy Center) starting at 6:00p.m. Some real deals!!!!!! (you don’t have to be a member of the club to join us).

Compliments to Mid-Current

Hats off to Mid-Current, the web’s original news site for the fly fishing community and its new website’s tips, techniques, videos, art, photography, gear, books, and expert advice for fresh and saltwater. Experts from my book, Rookie No More, the Flyfishing Novice Gets Guidance from a Pro also appear in the “How To” section. Check out –“Nymphing Techniques,” “Steeple Cast,” and “Reading Water to Find Fish” among others. You can buy the book on Mid-Current’s site as well as Amazon, If you haven’t already subscribed, Do It Now!!!!!!!! Daily & weekly on Wednesday)

January/February 2019 Fly Fishing Show Dates

  • The fly fishing show in Edison, NJ is – January 25, 26, & 27 at the New Jersey Convention & Expo center. Get demonstrations, the chance to win guided trips, opportunity to see new gear, get fly tying tips and more. Don’t miss it.
  • The Atlanta Fly Fishing Show will run Feb 1-2 at the Infinite Energy Center (formerly Gwinnett Center) 6400 Sugarloaf Parkway. Duluth, Georgia 30097. Lots of presentations, new items from waders to rods & reels and much more.
  • The Lynnwood, Fly Fishing show will be in Lynwood, WA – February 16 & 17 in the Lynwood Convention Center. One of the best fly fishing shows in the Northwest. You can see all of the vendors from other shows in a small & friendly environment.
  • Pleasanton, CA – February 22, 23 & 24 at Alameda County Fairgrounds. A casting pond inside and also out enable twice the # of demonstrations. Californian shops have lots of room for displays and gives some of the best-known names in fly fishing show you their skills.

  Fly-Fishing & Tying Journal

One of my articles appears in the Winter issue of the “Flyfishing &Tying Journal.” It is titled “Grayling Fishing with a Dry Fly.” Get some tips about techniques, presentation, and taking proper care when releasing grayling are the highlights.
Get my book titled “Alaska’s Arctic Grayling—Sailfish of the North” at Amazon or from me at

!!! Used Fly Fishing Books on Sale !!!!!

February 8, 4:00-7:00 p.m.
 Fishewear 4011 Arctic Blvd Ste. C

More than 65 of Pudge’s slightly used fly fishing books (that ended up on the floor in the recent earthquake) will be on sale from 4:00p.m.-7:00pm at Fishewear on Arctic Blvd. All of the books will be sold for 1/2 price!! Take a peek at some of the new items at the shop while you are browsing. Appetizers will be available. All of the proceeds go to Trout Unlimited. Join us! (p.s. please bring cash or check only. We can’t accept credit cards!!!!) (Guys are certainly welcome too.)
Also sign up for the 2nd Edition of the Gold-Medal-winning book “RIVER GIRLS” which will be available in May 2019.

Articles for My Blog!

I have another classic article from Fish Alaska Magazine for you, rescued from my archive and now in the articles section of our web site! Go straight to my website at
to read about fly-fishing the Aniak River in 2006. It’s amazing!!
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OK! That’s all for now.