Arctic grayling belong to the salmon family and comprise five subspecies. They are widespread throughout the Arctic and Pacific drainages in northern parts of North America, Europe, and Asia. In the United States they were originally native to Michigan and Montana, but have also be stocked in Colorado, Arizona, Wyoming, Washington, Montana, and Utah.
Arctic grayling live primarily in cold, mid-sized to large rivers and lakes. Three life history populations exist; live and spawn in rivers (fluvial); live and spawn in lakes (lacustrine); live in lakes and spawn in tributary waters (potamodromous). Typically grayling don’t do well with other species that they didn’t evolve around, cutthroat trout being an exception.
Grayling sport a large sail-like dorsal fin covered with pale spots. Their tail fin is deeply forked and they sport an adipose fin. The body is silver-gray with black spots with a pearly iridescence hue. The lower jaw has a black slash on each side. Most grayling are smallish, in the 8-15 inch range, although is parts of the world they can exceed 24 inches and five pounds. They have a higher tolerance to lower oxygen levels which allows them to survive winters in harsh climates where other species cannot.
Spawning occurs in the spring and is similar to that of other salmonids. They seek out shallow, sandy areas with moderate current to lay their eggs. Male are territorial. They flash their colorful dorsal fin to attract females and then embrace females by wrapping the fin over them as they release eggs and milt. The eggs are not guarded and are left to settle into the substrate. Embryos typically hatch in two to three weeks. Grayling are fast growers the first couple years, reaching sexual maturity within three to four years. Maximum age is generally five to ten years, but they have been recorded living to eighteen.
As omnivores, grayling feed on crustaceans, insects and insect larvae, and fish eggs. Large grayling are known to feed on other fish and even small mammals. Due to their insatiable appetites, anglers can catch them on bait, lures, and flies, just about anything will work at one time or another.