In this fishing breakdown, we’ll be partnering with Colorado’s Rawah Guest Ranch, to talk about one of the more unique fishing opportunities in the Western region of the lower-48: Fishing for Arctic Grayling in Colorado. In this article, we’ll be covering the background of these fish, how they got here, and some tips for fishing for them.

grayling in hand

What Are Arctic Grayling?

Arctic Grayling, or Thymallus arcticus for the Latin purists out there, are a coldwater fish classified alongside trout, salmon, and whitefish in the family Salmonidae. These fish are famously known for their presence in Alaska and Canada, as well as some regions of Northern Europe and Asia (Not to be confused with their cousins, European Grayling (Thymallus thymallus)). There are also small pockets of Arctic Grayling populations in the lower 48, specifically in Montana, and a small pocket in Colorado (which is what we’ll be talking about below). These spring-spawning fish spend most of their winters stacked up in large bodies of water, then make their way up feeder streams and rivers to spawn once warmer weather comes around. Once the spawning process is over and the summer turns to fall, they move back downriver to repeat the cycle and wait for new arrivals.

fishing for grayling

Arctic Grayling are most commonly recognized for their vibrant dorsal fin, usually boasting a translucent color scheme of a reddish-orange and a glassy blue. For US anglers, their most famous location is in Alaska, often a bycatch when on the hunt for trophy rainbows and salmon. However, while most people usually don’t book an international trip just to target Grayling, these fish are extremely beautiful, and can put up a fun fight – often times landing them on a majority of fly angler’s bucket lists.

grayling in sweden
An example of a larger Grayling in it’s native range.

Why Are Arctic Grayling in Colorado?

While on most angler’s bucket lists, a trip to Alaska, Sweden, or Nunuvut aren’t necessarily easily-attainable trips. For those who can’t necessarily dedicate a large portion of time and money to fly across the country, or over the pond – a jaunt to Colorado is one that is far more realistic. It was this thinking that initially inspired CPW to figure out a way to ethically and responsibly introduce Arctic Grayling to a concentrated area in CO.

A juevenile Grayling in Colorado…

Stocked in a few lakes around a concentrated area of the state, these fish are now semi-self sustainable, with just a little help from CPW with egg fertilization come spawning time. Its because of the care provided by Colorado parks and Wildlife, as well as the cold, healthy water they currently reside in that healthy populations have been able to grow and thrive in the state of CO. Remember, it’s the actions of anglers purchasing fishing licenses and making sure to keep their rivers and lakes free of trash and pollutants that make any of this possible…

Fishing Tips for Arctic Grayling in Colorado:

While they’re not necessarily the most difficult fish to fool with a fly, here are some tips that might make your trip to one of these amazing fisheries more productive.

Suns out Duns out:

Swedish nature and fishing author, Gunnar Westrin refers to the Grayling as the “Sunfish”. This is because, “On a sunny day, you can catch the biggest grayling of your life. On an overcast day without much angling success, a big grayling can light up your life” (Nordguide). Now, while this is more in reference to the massive Grayling available in Swedish Lapland, the first part is an important tip to live by.

a sunny day

During the late summer months, fresh off the spawn, these fish can be found gorging themselves on top water insects, repeatedly breaking the surface with their bright beautiful dorsal fins in the gleaming sunlight. So, if you’re out to catch some Grayling, check the weather report and pack some SPF.

Come out on top:

Speaking of Duns out, in terms of fly selection, think top water to start. There are few things more satisfying than watching a fish jet from the bottom of the lake to take a well presented dry fly. Small mayfly imitations, as well as caddis and emerger patterns are lethal on a sunny day. Earthy colors such as white, gray, tan, and olive are very effective colors, however, grayling are surprisingly aggressive for their size, and will most likely strike at anything if presented well while they’re feeding.

dry flies

This isn’t to say that nymphs floated under a larger dry fly, or a bobber isn’t going to be effective. Small to medium size midges and other larvae are a common part of a Grayling’s diet. A nymph fly with some flash, or a colorful/shiny beadhead can be a deadly combination if placed in the correct zone.

Don’t go at it alone:

While there is an abundance of information all over the internet, if you’re looking for the true Colorado Grayling experience, solicit some help from a guide. Our friends over at Rawah Ranch have a vast knowledge of Colorado Grayling fishing and are located just a few miles from some of the only spots to fish for Grayling in the state. Whether you’re new to fly-fishing, or are looking for a place to stay while you fish the West, we can assure you that you’re going to have a great experience, as well as many other fishing opportunities, with the guides at Rawah. CLICK HERE for more information.

partners on the water

Getting that Dorsal Shot:

For anyone who’s ever researched Grayling, you’ll notice a majority of the photos you’ll see of them with anglers feature an angler holding the fish with one hand, and holding up the dorsal with the other. This is understandable, as just like with a big buck’s antlers, the dorsal is the most coveted part of the fish for many. However, there’s a better, less awkward way to get that picture you’re looking for, and all it is having some patience.

dorsal fin

A common trick to get a Grayling to display its Dorsal by itself is to pick the fish up and turn it upside down or josttle it a little bit. The fish will often times lift the small spines to display it’s beautiful colors. However, this is a less-than-optimal approach when handling a considerably fragile fish, especially in the heat of the summer. The best way to get a Grayling to give you the shot you want is to keep it wet! Leave the fish in the net and keep it calm. This is a great way to capture a beautiful photo, with the most consideration for the fish’s well-being. We’re all here to share the fun, let’s do our part to support the populations we adore.

In closing:

Arctic Grayling are certainly a one of a kind species, and in our opinion, should be on every angler’s bucket list. While the size of the Grayling you’ll find in Colorado may not compare to the magnificent specimens to be found in frigid Alaskan rivers, fishing for them is a one of a kind experience, and is an attainable addition to any angler’s species list.

Thank you to our friends at Rawah Ranch for exposing us to this one of a kind fishery. For any questions about fishing for Grayling, or inquiries surrounding booking a stay or trip with one of their guides, Click HERE.


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