The Interior is covered with rivers and lakes filled with fish, including salmon, trout, grayling and pike. These Interior freshwater species are good eating, can be fun to catch and seldom require much equipment to bring in.
To catch grayling — the most common species in Interior Alaska — you don’t have to go far. They swim through Fairbanks on the Chena River, which is accessible in town and upstream in the Chena River State Recreation Area along Chena Hot Springs Road. Check Alaska’s fishing regulations before heading out. The Chena River is a catch-and-release fishery for grayling except for a new youth-only fishery on four summer weekends. However, several ponds and lakes are stocked with grayling, rainbow trout and other fish that anglers can take home for dinner. Complete fishing regulations can be found online at 1.usa.gov/1Dntb6s.
Fishing licenses cost $25 per day for non-Alaska residents. Discounts are available for multi-day licenses. Fairbanks has numerous stores that sell fishing tackle and licenses. They can also be purchased online at adfg.alaska.gov/Store.
A good place to learn about Interior fishing, and see where tens of thousands of fish are raised, is the visitor center at the Ruth Burnett Sport Fish Hatchery, at 1150 Wilbur St. The visitor center has a large aquarium with Interior fish and looks out onto the hatchery floor. It has exhibits about how the hatchery works and about fish stocking around the Interior.
Popular Interior Alaska fish
Salmon: Salmon can be found on some Interior rivers as they make their way to their spawning grounds. Alaska is home to five species: king (also known Chinook), silver (coho), red (sockeye), pink (humpback or “humpy”), and chum (dog). All five species live their adult lives in the ocean and return to fresh water to spawn. By the time they’ve reached the Interior, they’ve already swum hundreds of miles upriver, a trip they make without eating and while their bodies begin to decay. They can be caught here, but salmon are fresher closer to the ocean.
Arctic grayling: This trout relative usually grows to between 8 and 18 inches in the Interior but is known for its voracious appetite and a disproportionate fight for its size. Fly fishermen prize grayling for their willingness to respond to a dry fly. The fish is easily distinguished by the large fan-like dorsal fin along its back.
Arctic char: These salmon-shaped fish can grow to more than 3 feet. They generally have light spots on a dark background, but their markings can range widely based on season and habitat.
Northern pike: Pike are long, aggressive fish with a fearsome row of sharp teeth. Pike of about 20 pounds are common. The record northern pike is 38 pounds. They’re found in large Interior Alaska rivers such as the Tanana south of Fairbanks and in some lakes. They’re considered invasive in lakes south of the Alaska Range, where they’ve been illegally introduced.
Burbot: Ugly but tasty, burbot are a blotchy-colored eel-like fish in the cod family. They average 3 to 5 pounds but can grow to more than 10 pounds. They’re not known for fighting particularly aggressively but are valued for their meat.
In the summer, burbot, like pike, are often found near the mouths of sloughs.