The Sheefish is a species of fish sometimes found on the end of your line while fishing in Alaska. Called “Iconnu” by the native Alaskans, this large fish is a member of the Whitefish family.
Sheefish are a mostly freshwater fish found in the rivers of central Alaska’s Northwest and Yukon Management areas although they may occasionally be found in the marshy salt-water bays where the rivers dump into the ocean. The largest concentration of sheefish is found in the Kobuk and Selawik River drainages. The sheefish from these drainages are also much, much bigger than those found in Alaska’s interior drainages with fish there commonly caught in the 30 to 40+lb. range while sheefish in the Yukon and other drainages being around one half that size.
By description, sheefish are a silvery color with occasional blueish, greenish or purplish hue to them. They have extremely large scales. The scales on a large sheefish will be the size of a nickel in diameter. One of their defining characteristics is their large mouth which opens to the same diameter as their body. Sheefish are fish eaters and are said to eat anything that will fit in their mouths. They have extremely small teeth giving the inside of their mouth the feel of coarse sandpaper. They eat their prey by sucking it in.
As with other members of the whitefish family, sheefish have a very white flesh that gets even whiter with cooking. It is even preferred over halibut by some anglers in its texture and flavor. The native Alaskan populations have depended on the Iconnu to provide needed nourishment for their villages for hundreds of years. The sheefish starts running in the spring as soon as or even before the river ice breaks up, long before the salmon begin to make their way to upstream thus providing an early and welcomed protein source to the Eskimo villages. The sheefish will travel up to 1000 miles upstream to their head-water spawning grounds.
Sheefish prefer the bottom of the rivers and can be caught either through jigging on the bottom from a boat, or from casting a weighted line from the shore. When river fishing for sheefish, usually the deeper the hole, the better your luck will be for a big fish although occasionally one is caught near the surface on a fly. Sheefish are attracted to bright colors and to shiny things so take that into account with your lures. Because of the way that they suck their food in, they will generally be hooked very deep. Due to their large size, the sheefish provide an excellent fight.
Sheefish are also caught through the ice in winter or early spring by drilling a hole in the ice and jigging on the bottom.
The current bag limits are 10 fish of any size per day but be sure to check the current regulations before you go.
The Alaska Dept of Fish and Game has a fact sheet on sheefish that can be downloaded HERE. Why not go out and try something new next time you go fishing in Alaska?
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.