After an unbelievable week in Bend, Oregon chasing big rainbows on the Deschutes and Crooked Rivers, I woke early to catch a flight to Anchorage to meet up with my wife and in-laws for a 10-day land/ocean cruise. I knew that this was a rare occasion to be in this part of the country, so I did a little research and tried to find a guide outfit that would make the most of my time while I was in Alaska. The only real time that I had to get some serious fly fishing in was going to be Denali, and my search led me to Rick McMahan and the Denali Fly Fishing Guides. I contacted him and after a couple conversations with him on the phone, I knew he understood what I was looking for and we arranged for me to get picked up at the hotel for a full day of grayling fishing in the interior of Alaska.
After a cup of coffee and one of the greatest cinnamon rolls of my life, I met up with my guide, Terry Boyd (who took most of the photos used here), and we headed out on the Denali Highway to wade in some of the arctic streams looking for a big grayling. The streams that we fished all fed into the Nenana River which is north flowing glacier river. The Nenana River was a slate gray due to all the sediment from the glacier and only when it clears up do fish actually move into its flows. The feeder streams though do hold arctic grayling in the spring and early summer months, and as the sun stays in the sky most of the day, these fish gorge themselves trying to fatten up for the long dark winter months.
We hit the water and were met my clouds of mosquitoes who feasted on our flesh as we rigged up our three weights. Terry advised dry flies as these grayling are fairly aggressive eaters, and I therefore tied on an orange mini-hopper. Within moments of stepping into the water and casting to a couple of likely spots I was hooked up with my first native arctic grayling. The fish fed heartily and I the mini-hopper worked wonders in these streams.
Most fish were between 12 and 16 inches and Terry put me in some really prime runs that held tons of fish. I added a #16 copper john behind the mini-hopper in hopes of picking up one of the bigger fish hanging out on the bottom. We fished one section of the stream and must have picked up 30 fish between the two of us. As the bites were starting to dry up, I laid a cast near the opposite bank and as the mini-hopper slowly drifted within inches of the bank, it dipped beneath the surface indicating that something had happened under the surface. As I lifted the rod, I saw the deep purple and turquoise of a bigger fish. I played him closer to shore and landed the biggest arctic grayling of the day.
The fish were out all day and we switched to a couple of different streams to change up the scenery. By the time we were done, I must have landed over 60 fish in the 6 hours on the water and about half came on the dry and the other half on the dropper. It was an unbelievable day in some of the most beautiful country that I have ever fished in. Terry Boyd and Denali Fly Fishing Guides were spectacular and put me on some great untouched water that took me into the heart of the Denali Wilderness. I highly recommend this outfit if you ever get a chance to get up into Denali.