Montana Fish : Arctic Grayling

Arctic Grayling - Montana Fly Fishing Species

Arctic Grayling : Montana Fly Fishing Species

With vibrant dorsal fins that inspired their name, Arctic Grayling (Thymallus arcticus) constitute a one-of-a-kind Montana native. Today, Big Sky Country harbors the last surviving lower 48 river populations of this cold-adapted species. Though grayling historically inhabited waters as far south as Great Falls, habitat loss and competition from encroaching trout now endanger their fluvial stronghold – the upper Big Hole River.

Lewis and Clark first documented these “new kind of white or silvery trout” back in 1805. And while the lake-dwelling form persists robustly in 30-plus western Montana lakes, these deepwater refugees likely diverged from their stream-living relatives long ago.

The Bozeman fly fishing guides at Fins and Feathers occasionally encounter this native fish on Gallatin and lower Madison River fishing trips as the result of stocking efforts.

Quick to strike an angler’s lure yet fragile among salmonid rivals, fluvial grayling have struggled for footholds in their native range. Each spring they broadcast eggs over gravel to propagate the next generation. In lakes, overpopulation spurts frequently stunt grayling growth.

Exceptional grayling can reach 20 inches and 3 pounds. Generalist feeders, these unique montanans feed on varied aquatic insects and invertebrates. As fluvial populations cling to survival, the brilliant Arctic grayling remains a threatened gem of Montana’s heritage.