Ninety Six, SC
Cruising the cold, clear waters of northern-most North America, the Arctic Grayling (Thymallus arcticus)
is a modest-sized game fish on many an angler’s bucket list. While the
largest specimens max out at roughly 30 inches and 8 pounds, the
average adult will be somewhere between 6 and 14 inches and weigh
So if it isn’t their size, what is it that attracts sportsmen and
women to this fish? Well, for starters, they are spunky fighters. What
appeals to so many people though is that this is a beautiful fish found
in beautiful places. Many game fishes are just plain ugly when they get
big (I’m looking at you, Largemouth Bass). Others get wicked
looking(Hello, Sockeye). But no matter what size a Grayling may be,
even at its plainest it is a pretty fish. When feeling their best they
are some of the most beautiful fish on the planet. Lucky are the
regions that call them native sons and daughters; the Arctic and
Pacific drainages of the US and Canada, as well as several central
Canadian waters and portions of Wyoming and Montana.
Arctic Grayling sporting chevron-shaped splotches. (Photo by Andrew Gilham, USFWS)
Subtle differences. (Photo by Jim Mogen, USFWS)
Western Hemisphere range map for Arctic
Grayling from Montana Field Guide (Montana Natural Heritage Program and
Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks. http://fieldguide.mt.gov/speciesDetail.aspx?elcode=AFCHA07010
For being so consistently attractive, they can be rather variable in
appearance. Arctic Grayling flaunt a trout-like build, long but
muscular. Their mouths are small and their jaws are toothed. A
Grayling’s sides can vary from a silvery-gray, to blue, to almost a
pinkish color. The front half of its body is splashed with black spots.
Sometimes these spots are actually more chevron shaped. Depending on
lighting and mood, an Arctic Grayling may seem to meld all these
characteristics together at one time.
What really sets the Grayling apart is its fins. Adding to its
trout-like appearance is a forked caudal fin and a fleshy adipose fin.
Pelvic fins sport orangish stripes. Distinguishing it from the trouts
is it gorgeous, long, flowing dorsal fin. Female dorsals tend to be
rounded while males are more pointed, but they are all quite
spectacular. Like their body coloration, Grayling dorsal fins can be
variable in coloration. They may be of a purplish to black background
color, with reddish spots occurring between the rays. Towards the end
of the dorsal fin electric blue spots morph into streaks shaped much
like drops of rain that grow and spread as they run down the windshield
of a car.
Like many animals, this fish has seen its fair share of drama. On
one hand human activities have extirpated it from portions of its
original range, such as Michigan’s Great Lake drainages, while on the
other it has been introduced into at least 25 states! Some of those
efforts have had a measure of success but most have not. Yellowstone
National Park is working to restore Arctic Grayling habitat while the
State of Alaska recently announced it was reducing Grayling husbandry
and stocking due to the relative expense of breeding them. The US Fish
and Wildlife Service recently ruled that Arctic Grayling in Montana do
not warrant an endangered species listing due to conservation efforts
in the area. Rising temperatures in the far north have led to concerns
that the water may be too warm to be healthy for them. In at least one
Alaskan lake this past summer there was a substantial die-off of large
adult Grayling due to white spot disease, ichthyophthiriasis.
A proper examination of this beautiful fish would take more space
than Fish in Focus has to offer. The following resources were used in
this brief sketch, consult them for more information.
Page, L.M., and B.M. Burr. 2011. Peterson Field Guide to Freshwater
Fishes of North America North of Mexico. Second edition. Houghton
Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Co. 663 p.