The Arctic Grayling is actually a member of the same family as salmon and trout although it is a freshwater only fish meaning that it never migrates to the ocean as the rest of the salmon and some of the trout families do. Arctic Grayling populations are quite widespread throughout Alaska, Canada, and Siberia. They are also found in some of the headwaters of the Missouri River in south-western Montana.
The Arctic Grayling is identified by its grey to silver to greenish-blue coloring and its huge sail-like dorsal fin. The body and fins may have spots ranging from black or red to blue or purple. Their fins are tipped in bright, iridescent pink or orangish colors giving them a unique set of markings unlike any other fish. It has been said that the clearer the water where the grayling is found, the brighter the coloring will be. The Arctic Grayling in Alaska will reach up to 23 inches in length and may reach over 5 lbs. in weight although the majority of those caught range from 12 to 18 inches in length and are under 3 lbs. They have been known to live as long as 30+ years of age.
The Arctic Grayling prefers to live in mid-sized rivers and lakes but will return to the small creeks and streams in the spring to spawn, although not necessarily the same places where they were born. Almost all freshwater in Alaska will have grayling present except in the Aleutian Islands on the western end of Alaska and on Kodiak Island in south-central Alaska.
Grayling will eat other fish and aquatic life if necessary but by far their preferred diet is bugs and insects. This makes them a fly-fisherman’s dream. It has been said that they will investigate anything and everything that floats on the water’s surface. They are especially fond of mayflies, caddis flies, and stone flies. They will also eat salmon eggs found floating in the water and many grayling have been found with birds and mice in their stomachs.
Normally, grayling are fished with light tackle. They commonly are caught on flies but traditional spoons, spinners and bait are all successful as well. If using lures or bait, a cast and retrieve method will work better than letting the bait or lure sit and settle. They can be very picky at times, wanting only a certain type or color of fly and so it may pay off to try a variety of flies or lures until the “perfect” presentation is found. When you find a lure or bait that works, stick with it.
According to research done by the Alaska Dept. of Fish and Game, the larger grayling are more commonly found at the headwaters of the drainage where the waters are cooler, the middle-sized fish that are in the late juvenile to the early adult stage will commonly be found in the middle stretches of the drainage or river, and the younger and smaller fish will more commonly be found in the lower parts of the river system where the warmer water temperatures will help them to grow faster. Of course, that being said, any size or age of grayling can be found anywhere that the grayling is present.
The season on Arctic Grayling generally runs year-around and they are quite often caught through the ice in winter. Bag limits vary from 2 to 10, depending on the area fished so be sure to check the latest regulations before heading out.
The ADF&G’s information page on the Arctic Grayling can be found HERE.
Categories: Fishing, Salmon Tags: Alaska, Alaskan fishing, Alaskan fishing regulations, Alaskan salmon, Alaskan Steelhead, Arctic Grayling, bait, family fishing, fishing, fresh water fishing, grayling, Jim Kell, Salmon Fishing, trout
Alaska has a reputation for its salmon and halibut fishing but less well-known is the excellent trout and steelhead fishing that is to be found in Alaska. In fact, Alaska is a very popular destination for trout and steelhead fishermen who come from all over the world seeking the thrill of the fast-moving, hard-fighting trout and steelhead that are found in Alaska’s waters.
Rainbow and Steelhead trout are considered to be the same species. In fact it appears that the only difference between the two is where they choose to make their home. The rainbows choose to be home-bodies and laze around in the freshwater lakes and streams of their birth while the steelhead are the more adventuresome and choose to go out and see the world by traveling out to the ocean for a part of their lives.
There are a few physical characteristics that seem to be different between the two varieties of trout. The steelhead develop a slightly different coloration and pattern that seems to become stronger the longer that they spend in the saltwater. In fact, it appears to be a result of environment more than genetics. Some of their spots, bars and background coloring changes, perhaps to better camouflage them in their chosen oceanic environment. Steelhead will grow to be much larger than their rainbow counterparts almost entirely due to the better diet that they will find in the ocean.
The Alaskan steelhead is born in the clear freshwater streams and lakes. They will typically spend three years living and growing in those streams and lakes before traveling to the ocean. Once in the ocean they will live there another 2+ years before returning home to spawn. Steelhead aren’t like Alaska’s salmon that spawn and then die. Steelhead will spawn and then return to the ocean repeatedly, sometimes many, many times over the next few years of their lives.
Steelhead are grouped according to the time of year when they migrate back upstream to spawn. The groups are spring-run (March-June), summer-run (July), and fall-run (August-October). The majority of the steelhead are fall-run. Regardless of when they choose to return, they will all spawn the following spring.
Steelhead will live up to 10 or 11 years of age. They can grow up to 45 inches in length and 55 lbs in size. They are a prized catch for their fight and for the meat.
When fishing for steelhead fishing in rivers and streams, concentrate on deep holes surrounded by fast-moving currents as well as the swift whitewater areas. If using flies, steelhead prefer bright colorful flies. Also popular and effective are the spoons, spinners, and egg-like imitations.
Alaska, unlike other places, has a very sustainable steelhead fishery. Fish numbers seem to stay within normal patterns and cycles. As with other species in Alaska, regulations vary as to bag limits and size specifications. Be sure to check the current regulations for he particular region and water body that you plan to fish.
Current Alaskan fishing regulations can be found HERE.
For more information on Alaskan steelhead, check out this pdf from the Alaska Dept of Fish and Game.
One of the newest fads in Alaskan fishing is shrimp catching. If you have ever eaten fresh shrimp in Alaska, you will understand why that is. Alaska’s shrimp have gotten themselves quite a reputation among the locals and the visitors.
Alaska has four species of shrimp that are recognized by the Alaska Department of Fish and Game. These four species are:
- Coonstripe Shrimp. Coonstripe shrimp are medium to large in size. They are the second largest of the shrimp found in Alaska, usually averaging 4 to 7 inches in length. They are identified by a dark striped pattern on their abdomen.
- Northern Shrimp. Northern shrimp are a medium sized shrimp, slightly smaller than the coonstripe. They are a solid pinkish color with no other markings. They are also known as pink shrimp or spiny shrimp due to extra spines not found on other varieties of shrimp. They are a different species than the pink shrimp found in the Atlantic Ocean.
- Sidestriped Shrimp. Sidestriped shrimp are slightly larger than the coonstriped shrimp. They are a pinkish-orange color. They have white stripes running the length of their bodies. They are slightly skinnier than the coonstripe variety. They have extremely long antennae on their heads.
- Spotted Shrimp. Spotted shrimp are by far the largest of the Alaskan shrimp, reaching up to 12 inches in length. They are identified by their dark red to tannish color and have a white spot at the beginning and at the end of their body section on each side.
Shrimp are caught in “shrimp pots”. A shrimp pot is basically a cage or trap. They come in various sizes and shapes. A rope is attached to the pot and the pot is filled with bait and then dropped out of the boat. It is weighted so that it will sink to the bottom. A buoy is left attached to the top of the rope so that the pot can be located later. After a few hours the pot is pulled up, hopefully full of tasty little shrimp.
The bait used can be anything from cat food to salmon carcasses to store-bought pelleted bait. Herring oil or other strong smelling fish oils can make your bait work better.
Shrimp pots are generally placed between 400 and 700 feet deep and near rocky outcrops. underwater pinnacles and rock-slides. The experts suggest that an extra 15% to 25 % of length be left on your rope to be sure that your pot doesn’t get lost with the tides and the currents.
Catching shrimp in Alaska requires an Alaskan fishing license and a shrimp permit. The regulations and limits vary widely from area to area with some places being closed entirely so be sure to check the current regulations from the ADF&G before you go. The season on shrimp runs from April 15 thru Sept 15.
As with fish and crabs, shrimp can be flash frozen and transported home but be sure that you try some fresh cooked shrimp right out of the water. You will be glad that you did.
As with crabs, Paralytic seafood poisoning could potentially be a problem with shrimp although it hasn’t been found so far. Shrimpers are encouraged to read the latest warnings about PSP from the ADF&G. That warning sheet can be found at PSP Warning.
Categories: Alaskan Tourism, Bottom Fishing, Fishing, Halibut, Salmon Tags: Alaska, Alaskan attractions, Alaskan Bottom Fishing, Alaskan Crab, Alaskan fishing, Alaskan fishing regulations, Alaskan halibut, Alaskan Rock Fish, Alaskan salmon, Alaskan Shrimp, Alaskan travel, Alaskan vacation, bait, family fishing, fishing, Jim Kell, saltwater fishing
Today’s post comes from some information that just recently passed across my desk. It has to do with an undesirable species of fish that is currently running rampant in Alaskan waters. The species of which I speak is the northern pike. Pike are top-level predators in aquatic food chains and are highly piscivorous (fish eating).
Northern pike are a native species in a big part of Alaska but they never existed in South Central and South Eastern Alaska until they were illegally introduced into these waters around 50 years ago. They have adapted very well and by 2010, they have been found in almost 100 different lakes and in over 30 different rivers and streams. They are decimating the native trout and salmon populations in these areas.
In the parts of Alaska that historically had the native northern pike, there are many species of fish and these species are more adapted to living with and being preyed on by the northern pike while in the new areas, trout and salmon are the main species found and they are being wiped out by the pike. The Alaska Fish and Game website goes so far as to say that the pike have totally wiped out the trout and salmon in some of these waters.
In 2010, Alaska declared war on these out of area pike by removing bag limits on them, adding new catch methods including spearing and bowfishing, and by creating public awareness about them. They have created brochures such as the one linked below and even have created a 34 minute video outlining catch methods and locations where pike may be found in abundance in South Central Alaska. They sell this video for $10 at Fish and Game offices in Anchorage, Palmer, Soldotna, and Homer.
Currently there are few options for getting rid of pike once they have invaded an area. The methods available are public fishing and netting. Netting is not an extremely effective method of control because the areas that pike prefer are the shallow weedy type areas that are hard to net. These two methods combined help to keep the numbers of pike low enough that the trout and salmon have a chance to compete.
The only other methods of control are to completely drain a lake which is almost never a possibility, or to use a chemical called rotenone which kills ALL fish in the water treated with it. This also is not a preferable option although it is used at times as a last resort.
All transport of live fish from one area to another has been outlawed in Alaska, including the use and possession of live minnows in all fresh water fishing. Herring and other non-sport fish may still be used as bait in salt-water fishing in the same water in which it was caught.
Use the links below for more information on these topics.
The truth is that the fish isn’t thinking… really. But you can get inside of your target fish’s head. Doing so will make you a better fisherman and a more successful one too.
Most animals, including fish, at their core, run purely on instinct. Put the stimuli in and the instinct sends the appropriate action back out. I read an article recently about the bald eagle. The bald eagle is well-known for its excellent eyesight. The eagle has an extremely small brain. In fact, most of the space in its skull is actually filled with processors for its eyeballs. When the eagle sees movement far below, it doesn’t think “I wonder what that is down there?” or even ”Is that food?” In fact, the entire brain of the eagle is full only of instinct. When it sees that movement down below, there is no thought process. If the eagle’s stomach signals that it is empty, instinct automatically sends the eagle swooping down for the kill.
I believe that the fish that we target work on the same principle. They have senses that trigger actions based on instincts. When they are hungry, instincts tell them to feed. When they are threatened, instincts tell them to fight or to flee. Instincts tell them when to mate, when and where to migrate, what temperature of water to seek, what types of food or prey to pursue and a myriad of other things that are necessary in their daily lives. We could say that they are creatures of habit but I say they are really creatures of instinct.
Many people believe that luck is involved in being a successful fisherman. I personally believe that luck is when preparedness meets opportunity. I believe that if we prepare ourselves properly, we will put more fish in our coolers at the end of the day.
Have you ever noticed that the avid, all-the-time fishermen seem to be more successful? Some guides can always put you on the fish? These people always seem to be able to catch a fish, no matter the day, the time, the conditions, or the weather. This is because they are able to get inside of the fish’s head. They have learned to think like a fish. They have prepared themselves by studying their target fish, its habits, and its reactions to various stimuli. They have learned by study and by experience where a fish will go and what it will eat and how it will act under certain circumstances or conditions. They use this knowledge to catch fish while the rest of us scratch our heads and watch.
It is true that we can all “get lucky” once in a while, but if we really want to be successful as fishermen, we must prepare ourselves by studying our quarry and its habits. We must learn to truly “Think like a fish”.
Categories: Bottom Fishing, Fishing, Halibut, Salmon Tags: Alaska, Alaskan fishing, Alaskan halibut, Alaskan Rock Fish, Alaskan salmon, bait, family fishing, fishing, Jim Kell, Salmon Fishing, saltwater fishing, trout
What The Heck is a Halibut Rig?
Of course there are many fish caught on lures in Alaska just as there are anywhere else and it is also quite true that there are as many different lures as there are fishermen. In fact, I have a fishing buddy who insists that lures never were intended to catch fish. He avidly maintains that lures were invented to catch fishermen. Never the less, today’s topic will deal with natural bait rather than lures or man-made bait.
By far the most commonly used bait in ocean or saltwater fishing in Alaska is the herring. A herring is a small fish caught out of the ocean. They are mostly found in great schools of tens to hundreds or more of thousands. These little fish are an average length of 6-9 inches long. They are caught commercially and frozen to be used for many uses, bait being one of them. Many of the guide services and fishing lodges have them delivered weekly or more often. They come frozen in boxes just the same as beef or pork is handled in the Lower 48 States.
These small fish are threaded on to the hook of the Salmon or Halibut line and lowered into the water to do their job. It is a job that they perform well. They may also be caught and used live or fresh and will always perform better fresh than frozen.
Also used as bait for halibut are the heads of salmon and the bellies of the salmon left over from the filleting process. The Salmon bellies are extremely tough and leathery and will stay on a hook almost indefinitely. We quite often use a mix of several or all of the above on the same hook. The salmon head is one bait that is hard to steal off of your hook. Insert the hook inside of the mouth and then bring it out through the top of the head, through the bone of the skull and it is almost theft-proof. It is true that its size may appear intimidating, but I can assure you that a large halibut will make short work of it. Sometimes a brightly colored plastic jig-skirt is also added to the mix. Some fishermen also have their own favorite artificial scent that may be added.
Halibut are fished below the boat, usually at anchor and the bait (or lure) is dropped to the bottom and then jigged. Jigging means that one would let the bait settle to the bottom and then occasionally jerk the pole and line up to raise he bait a couple of feet, then let it settle back to the bottom, repeatedly. The idea it to simulate movement and to attract the attention of the target fish, in this case halibut or rockfish.
For salmon, quite often the herring is cut in half with either half then having a hook threaded through it to be trolled for salmon. Flashers are usually used with this setup, again to attract the attention of the salmon. I usually use a double hook rig with the both hooks embedded in the herring.
One of the big disadvantages to frozen herring is that when it thaws it gets a little bit soft which makes it harder to keep on the hook. The lines must be checked more often to be sure that he bait is still intact.
The bottom feeders like the rock cod, the lingcod, etc will also eat all of these different combinations. All of the bottom feeders including Halibut, Cod, Rock fish, etc are scavengers and that prefer their food come to them rather than to go out and hunt it down.
We will address lures in another post.