Welcome to Eye of the Guide

Part Thirty-two


Arctic Grayling in Alaska

Part 2

Text and Photos by Bob Fairchild
Grayling drawing by Clive Schaupmeyer

Kenai Lakes

Grayling occur in two settings in Alaska: clear, clean, cold rivers & streams and high mountain lakes (very similar to lakes that have been stocked in the lower 48 states). The grayling in these lakes were stocked, but are now naturally self-sustaining. This week, I'll take you to some of those mountain lakes on Alaska's Kenai Peninsula.

There's no closed season there, but remember that the lake is a couple thousand feet up and will be covered with ice later than some of the lower lakes. We went in July.

These are trips that are easy to go on and you don't need a guide. The fishing can be fantastic at times, even though they're not big! And, you will truly enjoy "the Alaska experience". While everyone else is chasing salmon on the Russian or the Kenai, you can have the place to yourself.

In 1952, 240 grayling were planted in Crescent Lake. Since that time, the population has flourished. The fish from Crescent Lake have grown to trophy size and have been used to stock other lakes in the area, including Paradise Lakes and Lower Fuller Lake.

These lakes now all offer great grayling fishing, but three different experiences. Fuller is a day hike: about 2 miles up hill. Crescent Lake requires more of a commitment: 6 1/2 mile hike or bike or can be accessed by float plane.

Paradise Lake - Note: Fish rising right in front of Margaret! You don't have to cast that far!

Paradise Lake is a fly-in trip, although relatively inexpensive (as Alaska fly-in's go). The other thing they all have in common is me! I've fished them all and loved it.

Looking down at Skilak Lake from Fuller Lake campsite.

I first visited (Lower) Fuller Lake about 20 years ago. I've averaged about a trip a year since then. Fuller Lake can be reached from the trailhead at mile 57.2 of the Sterling Highway; just a mile or so beyond the confluence of the Russian & Kenai Rivers. While people are shoulder to shoulder chasing salmon, Fuller offers solitude and often a lot of action. Along with the fish at Fuller, you can expect to see sheep on the hillside just above the lake, beavers, moose and eagles.

In the past I've thought of Fuller Lake as an "automatic". I took my wife there to catch her first fish. The best man at my wedding caught his first fish there. But in 1998, it was a challenge. In two trips, I caught maybe a dozen or so. The good news is, it was still beautiful! (In 1997, I took a friend there and we each caught over 50 in a day! We finally had to leave because we were cold & tired).

Crescent Lake is a large lake in the central Kenai Peninsula. The 6+ mile hike is fairly easy (only a 900' elevation gain), but a little long for a day trip! The trail is good enough for mountain bikes (a trip I plan to take in 99!) and planes are allowed to land there, as well. (Air charters run about $150-200 per person from Kenai Lake or Moose Pass areas.)

The best way to experience Crescent Lake is to rent one of the Forest Service Cabins (about $35 a night - includes a row boat & oars). Sign up early, though! The cabins book about 6 months in advance. Since it rained most of the weekend, the cabin was great!

They were this big!

I didn't catch any of the "monsters" in the lake, but a friend & I caught dozens of nice sized fish (up to 15") in Crescent Creek (the outlet of the lake). If you're headed there, be aware that the lake and creek don't open until after July 1st. (Not even for catch & release.)

In 1996, five of us flew up to Lower Paradise Lake. (2 "full-time" fishermen, 1 part-time and two just along for the trip.)

There is also a Forest Service Cabin there.

In the 3 days/2 nights there, we caught over 300 fish! And, the average fish was right around 14" - none smaller than 12" and none bigger than 16". (Good sized for a grayling.)

Approaching Paradise Lake from the air

Upper & Lower Paradise Lakes both have grayling and cabins), but are only accessible by air. (It is technically possible to hike there, but it's 9 miles and only a trail for about 4 miles. So, if you REALLY want to try it.....).

Waiting for the plane

In 1996, it cost $185 per person on Scenic Mountain Air (Moose Pass).

Paradise Lake - Scenic Mountain Air arrives.

And if you want, they'll rent you a motor for the rowboat! At the outlet of Paradise Lake (either of them) there are also some nice sized rainbows that migrate up the Snow River.


Living in Alaska, I've grown a little jaded about scenery. I've seen enough of it, I start to take it for granted. But, the scenery around Lower Paradise is gorgeous!

Next week, we'll take a road trip up north and fish for grayling on some interior Alaska streams.~ Bob Fairchild

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