Grayling Paradise in Southwest Alaska
Blog Post by Peter Goodwin
Few places rival the spectacular fishing on offer in southwest Alaska. Most of the anglers who travel here focus on the largest salmon run in the world and the record-size rainbow trout that lay behind them; however, southwest Alaska, particularly in and around Lake Clark National Park, offers some of the best grayling fishing on the planet. With little to no pressure on these freshwater sailfish, the area is the perfect balance of solitude and sport.
This article will investigate several drainages around Lake Clark National Park and the tactics for catching these dry-fly aggressors.
The first body of water to talk about is Lake Clark. It is a glacial-fed lake carved between high mountain peaks and is the center of the National Park. I find it the final destination for the Kvichak salmon run, as they splinter from its large water to creeks and drainages flowing in. It is picturesque and second to none for pure beauty.
On just about every creek, brook or river flowing into Lake Clark there is a healthy population of Arctic grayling waiting for your fly. If a fisherman were to simply spend 30 minutes at each outlet around the lake they could feasibly catch 50 to 75 grayling per day. The only downside to this open-water fishing is the wind that oftentimes is blowing swiftly down the lake.
The Kijik is the pinnacle of Alaska grayling fishing. Not only is the fishing great but the scenery is breathtaking. Sockeye salmon arrive in the Kijik starting the third week in July and the small stream turns silver then red with their changing bodies.
The Kijik is primarily accessed via floatplane from Kijik Lake. Kijik Lake is a deep, mountain lake filled with lake trout, Dolly Varden and grayling. The lake drains into a small connecting stream that runs parallel to the mountain before emptying into the main Kijik River. This connecting stream is where the magic happens!
Crystal clear and FULL of hungry grayling, it is a fly fisherman’s dream come true. Sight-fishing is standard procedure as you stand in the knee-high water pulling in fish after fish after fish. Our clients routinely catch 30 fish per day here. We strictly practice catch-and-release with small, barbless hooks, which ensures this stream will produce for years to come. Large grayling are caught here every year. No world records to date but 2- to 3-pound fish are a regular occurence.
The Kijik receives little pressure, which is understandable since it doesn’t host any rainbow trout. However, if grayling are what you are targeting there is no better place.
The Tanalian river flows from Lake Kontrashibuna through Tanalian Falls and empties into mighty Lake Clark. The fishing here is great in two spots, the mouth and below the falls.
The mouth of Tanalian is swift and wide. Salmon congregate here to spawn starting the second week in July. The fishing is great before and after the salmon arrive but like everywhere in southwest Alaska, different tactics apply. Standing on the eastern side of the Tanalian the fishing is good from the mouth back upstream about 100 yards. Beyond this the river is deep and swift and we have never had much luck.
The Tanalian Falls are accessed by a National Park trail that runs 2.3 miles from the center of Port Alsworth. The falls are a spectacular and make for amazing pictures with your catch. There are millions of gallons of water spilling down the falls, which can make for a challenging drift, however. Wet flies, Woolly Buggers and leeches work great here. Don't be surprised if you pick up a lake trout or two here. It is odd we agree but for whatever reason these feisty lake trout like this fast-flowing river.
The Tazimina River, located in the Six Mile Lake drainage, is primarily accessed via jetboat. Its clear, cold water hosts not only good rainbow fishing but great grayling fishing. Near the mouth, the Tazimina is slow flowing and can be sight fished. The water is deep and wading can be a challenge. Upriver the current flows through boreal forests, rock gardens and slow, deep pools.
As the salmon arrive in July, the fishing remains dry-fly and leech-oriented but by August, beading is the name of the game. Find pockets of red-colored salmon and the grayling and trout are there as well. Egg-sucking Leeches work here as well. The Tazimina sees a little more traffic due to it having rainbow trout and its proximity to many lodges.
Far upstream and past Tazimina falls are the two Tazimina lakes. These lakes are spectacular in beauty and the fishing can be great. The falls cut off any salmon from reaching the lakes so the grayling can be caught on the dry fly all season here. The best place to fish is the connecting stream that joins the two mountain lakes together. Tazimina Lakes is a great stop on your grayling excursion and offers great dry-fly fishing even into September.
Upper Talarik Creek
The upper end of Upper Talarik Creek is an amazing place to fish for grayling. The Talarik is world-famous for huge rainbow trout, as the lower half of the river packs full of these monsters following the sockeye salmon as they spawn. However, as the stream narrows down, some 10 miles upstream, the fishing is world-class for another species, grayling.
The stream is but knee-high-deep, flowing slowly over golf ball-sized rocks. Ripples and small pockets are the name of the game here with multiple fish in each. The fishing is wonderful and seclusion is guaranteed.
Things to note about Talarik. Upper Talarik is surrounded by Native-owned land. You must make sure to have permission or be confident of the land ownership before you venture here. Also, mosquitoes can be thick here so be prepared. Can you guess what dry-fly pattern to use?
Grayling fishing is usually wonderful year-round, even ice fishing in winter. Early season the grayling are feasting on salmon smolt leaving for the ocean.
Another event to be aware of is the caterpillar hatch in June. If it is a strong caterpillar year then you better watch out. These grayling won't touch anything else. Properly colored Woolly Buggers seem to be the best option here.
Dry-fly fishing is usually great season-long unless there is a peak of other food, such as smolt or caterpillars. The tried-and-true combo for us at our lodge is the Renegade and Mosquito. These are our first picks, especially for novice fisherman. Other great flies are any caddis imitations, Stimulators and mice.
Mousing is one of the most exciting ways to catch grayling and can be effective throughout the season. The challenge is finding a mouse pattern with a small-sized hook that won't damage the fish. The larger sized hooks typically in mouse patterns are almost too large for the small-mouthed grayling. What these fish lack in mouth size they make up for in aggression, though. We regularly have a grayling hit the mouse 3 to 5 time on the same drift! It might not be the most effective way to catch a huge amount of fish but it is by far the most fun!
Overall the Lake Clark National Park area is an amazing place to visit, fish and explore. It does host world-class fishing for grayling but also other species such as rainbow trout, northern pike and lake trout. The scenery here, along with the adventure offerings, make this region second to none for the Alaska traveler.