Arctic Grayling Project At Elk Lake (P2)

What has rainbow colored fins and is known as a premier sport fish? Arctic Grayling! I have never made any claims to fame (of any sort) when it comes to fish and fishing. However, I have to admit, this fish borders on fascinating. Of course, I doubt my interest would ever have been sparked had the FWP not started the Grayling reintroduction project on Elk Lake.

However, I have learned a LOT about Grayling - enough to really appreciate this unique fish. Here are a few interesting tidbits:

  • "The Arctic Grayling has graceful lines, a large sail like dorsal fin, and can have dramatic coloration"
  • "Arctic Grayling can reach a length of 30 inches and a weight of 6 pounds. Most angler caught Grayling are 3 pounds or less."
  • "For most sportfishermen, the Arctic Grayling is a rare freshwater game fish symbolic of the clear, cold streams of the northern wilderness."
  • "The Arctic grayling has almost disappeared from the northern United States because of over fishing, competition from introduced species, and habitat loss."
  • According to Landbigfish.com the largest Grayling caught in Montana was 20 inches long and weighed 3#. Only Alaska and Canada have produced larger fish - and, I have heard rumors Elk Lake used to produce fish which rivaled the state record. I bet we can do it again. Soon!

Thank you to: JustSportFishing.com for most of this Grayling information.

Last time we left the poor adult fish suffering the indignity of being milked of eggs and sperm for the Grayling incubator buckets. Once these eggs are collected, they are 'eyed up' (a dark 'spot' shows on each egg) at another location then transferred to our Grayling hatchery shown in the photo.

Last year's setup left much to be desired. As a result, while one always *hopes* to see success, the FWP really didn't expect much. It was a trial run - an attempt to figure out what they didn't know about our hatching conditions. And, while they were successful - eggs hatched and baby fish survived to show up in their survey this year - the greatest benefit, perhaps, was the lessons they learned which helped them prepare a very nice hatchery for this year.

Not only did they learn about the elevated nitrate (and its effects on the fish eggs), they also dreamed up a spectacularly effective setup which provided good control and nearly ideal conditions for the Grayling eggs.

Thus they turned this unimpressive series of buckets (there were two sets of 10 buckets) and gutters and PVC pipe into a well-thought out, laboriously constructed and carefully designed hatchery.

Once the bucket system (each bucket is called an RSI) was in place and functioning correctly, and once the Grayling eggs had eyed-up, it was time to put the eggs in the buckets. Here you see a bunch of fish eggs resting on a screen. The dark yellow are the eggs (and if you look close you can see the dark spot in each egg). The lighter particles are dead eggs.

Those dead eggs represent the labor of love (and backbreaking work) which goes into hatching these baby fish. Every day for the couple of weeks or so until the eggs hatch, a biologist and/or technician hand picks out the dead eggs to prevent bacteria from developing which could harm the live eggs. I can almost imagine their relief when their day didn't begin with 20 buckets of fish eggs to pick through!

And, of course, no one really knew how successful this undertaking would be. Would most of the eggs hatch? Some? A few? None? So - when the buckets began to look like this - bulging with baby fish - everyone felt like celebrating!

As one biologist put it - the baby Grayling look like grass with eyes. Yet, they are amazingly in tune with what is supposed to happen next. One day all the fish in the buckets decided it was time to migrate - and like a flock of birds, they mass exited the buckets, swam down the gutters and out the down spots, heading for the lake. There, according to FWP, they will grow quickly reaching 8 to 10 inches by this time next year.

Thus we are all hoping to see Grayling join these spawning Cutthroats within the next two or three years. Of course, the Blue Herons who have found the 'fish buffet' may have to be conviced to fish elsewhere as I doubt any of us want to watch all our hard work and hopes and dreams merely end up as a bird's lunch!

But, we'll worry about that next year. For now we are very happy to say the Grayling project looks to be moving ahead with much greater success than anyone dared to hope!

Lady of the Lake

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