Fly Fishing for Arctic Grayling on the Chena River


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The upper Chena River is one of the best catch-and-release fishing stretches in the entire Tanana River region near Fairbanks, Alaska. To help you make the most of a fishing trip there, here’s a quick guide on fly fishing for Arctic grayling on the Chena River.

Let’s get started.

What You’ll Need: Equipment and Provisions

Because Arctic grayling is a great fish for beginners at fly fishing, you can make do with very basic gear. Here’s a full list of what you’ll need:

  • A lightweight fly rod, ranging from a 4 wt to 6 wt. The rod should be outfitted with a weight-forward floating line. Leaders should be between 5x and 7x, depending on the size of your fly.
  • You might want to bring a canister of bear spray since this is grizzly country. This “weapon” might come in handy, especially if you lose track of time and find yourself trekking back to your vehicle after a late afternoon wade.
  • Other supplies of course should include a good pair of polaroid glasses with amber lenses that work well in low-light conditions. Bug repellant is also a must-have.


As for flies, be sure your box is stocked with mosquito, mayfly, elk hair caddis, or streamers. And while you’re at it, throw in a few Parachute Adams, as they’re one of the best dry flies for fly fishing

Although dry flies are recommended by most experienced anglers, the dark-colored (black or brown) nymphs with a bead head work well.

Salmon egg patterns will also draw the attention of the Arctic grayling, which is a member of the salmon family. Use these when the salmon are spawning, but remember not to fish for salmon, as they are off-limits when spawning.

Getting to Chena River

The Chena Recreation Area is the preferred starting point for the fishing trip. It’s accessible via Chena Hot Springs Road. There are access points for waders as well near the four bridges that cross the river, as well as miles 27, 28, 28.6, 31.6 along the road. If wading, use rubber-soled waders. Felt is no longer allowed. 

Arctic grayling, which can grow up to 16-18 inches long, are catch and release only. These elegant creatures with their sweeping dorsal fin can be found near rocks or other structures, such as piles of wood. They also hang out in deep pools.

The coloration can vary, but most have dark backs, and their sides are black, silver, gold, or blue. Their eyes are often gold. Keep your pliers or hemostats handy to assist in the safe release of these fish.

The season for Arctic grayling runs from May 1 through September 30. You are required to have a license in your possession at all times while fishing.

Boating Tips

The best way to experience the river is via jet boat or canoe, although you can also go for raft floating. The river has several sections of class I or II, and there are many logjams that occur.

If you’re not experienced at jet boating, be sure to secure the services of a guide to avoid harm to you or other anglers. Letting someone else do the driving also gives you more opportunity to take in your surroundings, maybe from the shade of a Bimini top, and perhaps catch a glimpse of a moose resting on the river bank.