Arctic Grayling (Thymallus arcticus)

Arctic Grayling (Thymallus arcticus)

Grayling belong to the Salmonidae family and are related to trout and whitefish. They are distinctive-looking fish, with a sail-like dorsal fin, and are a superb sportfish known primarily in the cool- and coldwater northern regions of North America. Their firm, white flesh is good table fare, although it is not on a par with that of the wild trout and the charr that inhabit similar ranges. Grayling are excellent when smoked, however.


With its graceful lines, large fin, and dramatic coloration, the grayling is a striking fish. Most striking is its large purple to black dorsal fin, which extends backward and fans out into a trailing lobe, speckled with rows of spots. This fin may look bluish when the fish is in the water. Grayish silver overall, grayling usually have shades or highlights of gold, lavender, or both, as well as many dark spots that may be shaped like an X or a V on some fish.

Young arctic grayling can be distinguished from similar-looking young whitefish by narrow vertical parr marks (whitefish have round parr marks, if any). When the arctic grayling is taken from the water, a resemblance to the whitefish is especially apparent, as the beautiful colors fade to a dull gray. It has a small, narrow mouth with numerous small teeth in both jaws. The arctic grayling also has a forked caudal fin and relatively large, stiff scales.


A small fish, with maximum lengths to 30 inches, the grayling can reach a maximum weight of about 6 pounds. The all-tackle world record for arctic grayling is a 5-pound, 15-ounce fish from the Northwest Territories in Canada, but any arctic grayling exceeding 3 pounds is considered large, and a 4-pounder is a trophy.

Life history/Behavior

Adult grayling spawn from April through June in rocky creeks; fish from lakes enter tributaries to spawn. Instead of making nests, they scatter their eggs over gravel and rely on the action of the water to cover the eggs with a protective coating. The eggs hatch in 13 to 18 days. Grayling are gregarious and flourish in schools of moderate numbers of their own kind. Arctic grayling of northern Canada may be especially abundant in selected areas of rivers.

Food and feeding habits

Young grayling initially feed on zooplankton and become mainly insectivorous as adults, although they also eat small fish, fish eggs, and, less often, lemmings and planktonic crustaceans.

Other Names

American grayling, arctic trout, Back’s grayling, bluefish, grayling, sailfin arctic grayling; French: ombre artique, poisson bleu


Arctic grayling are widespread in arctic drainages from Hudson Bay to Alaska and throughout central Alberta and British Columbia, as well as in the upper Missour River drainage in Montana. Previously known to inhabit some of the rivers feeding Lakes Huron, Michigan, and Superior in northern Michigan, arctic grayling have been considered extinct there since 1936. They have been widely introduced elsewhere, especially in the western United States.


Grayling prefer the clear, cold, well-oxygenated waters of medium to large rivers and lakes. They are most commonly found in rivers, especially in eddies, and the heads of runs and pools; in lakes, they prefer river mouths and rocky