On an overcast, summer day, Steve Terrill sat in a canoe on the Chena River with two of his friends. They hadn't caught a thing. The only critters biting were the mosquitoes that buzzed incessantly around their heads.
Discouraged with his lack of success, Terrill pulled on his chest waders and wandered through the braided arms of the Chena River with fly rod in hand. He waded into the shallows looking for evidence of feeding fish. In the distance he noticed a calm, deep pool lined with tall grass. He crept discreetly to the edge of the pool before attaching an elk hair caddis fly to his line. He had found the fish. With every cast he had a fighting grayling on the line. "It was a great day," Terrill said.
Arctic grayling are considered excellent sport fish because they are opportunistic feeders. During the winter they live in deep pools under the ice and don't feed much. When the ice melts, they go into a feeding frenzy on the abundant spring insects that live along the Chena River. The grayling's voracious feeding allowed anglers to pull in nearly 50,000 fish from the Chena River in the 1970s, seriously depleting the grayling population. To ensure a comeback for grayling, the Alaska Department of Fish and Game established catch-and-release regulations to protect arctic grayling in the Chena River. The regulations allow artificial, single hook lures only, no bait.
For people who enjoy angling, Chena River State Recreation Area has ponds stocked with rainbow trout and with arctic grayling. Fishing in the ponds is not limited to catch-and-release only - here comes dinner! The state recreation area has four road-accessible ponds open for fishing. These ponds are located at mileposts 30, 42.8, 45.5 and 47.9 on the Chena Hot Springs Road.
Overly large hooks can damage mouth or eyes. Hooks overly small are taken in too deeply by fish. Land your catch quickly with a strong line. Avoid removing the fish from the water. Do not let it flop in shallow water, over rocks, or on dry land.
Remove the hook quickly and gently. When the fish is hooked deeply, cut the line near the hook rather than injure the fish. Steel hooks rust out quickly. Cradle the fish gently with both hands, one under its belly, one near its tail. Keep fingers out of and away from the gills. Never squeeze the fish.
Point the fish into a slow current or gently move it back and forth until its gills are working properly and it maintains its balance. When the fish tries to swim, let it go.
Don't give up if the fish doesn't regain consciousness. A fish under stress goes into shock similar to fainting. Continue moving water over the fish in a natural way. The process can take several minutes.
For good fishing on the Chena River, try a stone fly or caddis fly. Imitation light-colored dry flies and small spinners also work well. Bait is prohibited on the river. Fishing stores in Fairbanks sell many local favorites too.