Once Upon a Time a Beautiful Fish Lived There

In the colder waters of North America lives what is perhaps the most beautiful freshwater fish, the Arctic Grayling.

What an elegant animal!  Sometimes called the “sailfish of the north”, this species is best known for the large dorsal fin that exhibits gorgeous colors!

The arctic grayling is circumpolar in distribution, with stable populations across northern North America from Alaska to Newfoundland Canada, and across northern Asia from westernmost to easternmost Russia.   So, while there is no danger of extinction across the worldwide range of the species, one population in Michigan was extirpated, and the only other known, native population in the contiguous United States, in Montana, was almost extirpated as well.

Once abundant enough to “walk across the river on the backs of the fish”, native populations of the Michigan grayling are extinct.  Their demise resulted from logging that removed the large trees along the banks of the rivers and streams that served to cool the waters along with the practice of sending the cut logs downriver that destroyed habitat and impacted the eggs and larvae in the rivers, and unrestricted fishing during the spawning season.

Arctic grayling were successfully stocked  a few years ago in privately owned Brookhaven Lake Brookhaven Lake (brookhaven-lake.com) near the south-central portion of the Upper Penninsula Michigan, and can be fly fished there with reservations.  But there are currently collaborative efforts underway to stock nearly identical subspecies of the arctic grayling in the Manistee River that flows into Lake Michigan.

We have two specimens from Michigan, one a skin mount from a grayling caught in 1880 from the Au Sable River in Michigan, the other caught in 1938 by longtime OSU-MBD curator Milton B. Trautman (huh…”Trautman”…figures eh?) from Ford Lake in Michigan, where the species was stocked.  The Au Sable River heads up near Grayling, Michigan (of course!) and flows into Lake Huron through (what could be more appropriately named than) Au Sable, Michigan.  A total of 15 arctic grayling vouchers are cataloged at the OSUM (Ohio State University Museum of Biological Diversity) from Alaska, Michigan, Montana, Ohio, and Ontario Canada.  One of those vouchers represents one specimen caught in 1968 from Lake Erie near Cleveland Ohio, but this specimen either was stocked by the ODNR or from a private lake, or strayed from Ontario (where it was stocked and is listed as an exotic species), or southern Michigan.

References: California Academy of Sciences Catalog of Fishes, Hubbs and Lagler Fishes of the Great Lakes, Scott and Crossman Fishes of Canada

Arctic Grayling (Thymallus arcticus) – Species Profile (usgs.gov)


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