What Bugs do Arctic Grayling Eat?

Written by Dane in Fishing
Image Credits: Wikimedia Commons

Countless insects and critters fall into the water, ready to be picked up and swallowed by the food-motivated Arctic grayling. Even though they'll eat anything, graylings do have their preferences and you may be surprised at what they will really eat once they get their hands on it!

What Bugs do Arctic Grayling Eat? Do they have a preference? Arctic grayling are partial to blackflies, mayflies, caddisflies, and stoneflies. Their preference will be determined by their age, as different stages of their development come with different eating habits.

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Larger grayling take advantage of their size and consume both large and small insects before their smaller peers have a chance. The large selection of types of insects enables a number of attempts, so if the little ones are persistent, they may get a few chances for a meal.

Arctic Grayling Insect Preference

Insect Preferences:

  • Mayflies
  • Blackflies
  • Dipteran
  • Cladocera

Age plays a significant factor in the diet of graylings. When graylings are very young, in the initial stages of their growth, they are commonly are restricted to larvae and plankton only.

This is due to the fact that they are not even able to open their mouths wide enough to swallow entire insects whole like they will in their adult years. As they grow older, depending on how far north their habitat is, Arctic graylings enjoy various insects that happen to make their way into the water.

When discussing their insect preference, mayflies, blackflies, dipteran, and cladocera can be identified as the Arctic grayling’s favorite delicacies.

During the cold winter months, the standard selection of bugs can be too scarce for a steady diet. Arctic grayling dive to deeper depths of water to eat plankton and larvae while they conserve energy under ice through the winter.

The northern habitual Arctic graylings only experience a brief summer season. In this short time, graylings are ravenous eaters. Their appetite isn't picky, as they will feast upon whatever moves.

As mentioned before, Arctic graylings are partial to blackflies, mayflies, caddisflies, and stoneflies, basically, any aquatic insect. Occasionally, graylings will impose upon territory and eat salmon eggs in the process of incubation.

Arctic graylings are also known to eat smaller fish and any edible biology from land that falls into the water. Researchers in Alaska found that some graylings even ate voles, finding up to seven voles in a stomach of one well-fed grayling.

In the wintertime, the Arctic graylings lessen their appetite and conserve energy. In more frigid climates, graylings may wind down in lakes and low current rivers. As the weather gets colder, and a freezing habitat lessens nutritional opportunities, graylings are known to live passively under ice until spring.

Interestingly, despite enjoying the well-oxygentated waters, in Alaska, the graylings reportedly survive in low-oxygen water underneath the ice. Because of that ability alone, Arctic graylings survive habitats and seasons that other fish cannot.

Arctic Grayling


  • Colorful scales that are reflective
  • Versatile - can survive in different conditions
  • Hunt and eat almost anything

Arctic graylings are a unique species of fish, to say the very least. With shockingly beautiful and colorful undertones in their scales, the best time to view these swimmers is when the sunlight is reflecting on them through the water.

After the testing months of sub-zero winter, grayling spawn in spring and summer. They are a non-guarding fish, so once the eggs are spawned the adults immediately head to a safe place where they can resume hunting and eating.

Most often, you will find the grayling in rivers, lakes, and more often streams now that the warmer temperatures can help sustain life in more shallow depths. After learning more about their hunting habits, you’ll notice that Arctic graylings sit toward the top of the food chain in the habitats.

Fully grown Arctic graylings usually graduate to the head of a pool in order to catch the most desirable prey. They migrate to this position from the other end of the current, where the smaller graylings try to gain access to a more accessible meal.

Arctic Graylings are also a desirable species to fish for, and can be lured away from underwater vegetation by using an attractive spinner as bait. Toward the end of the fall season, the Arctic graylings migrate towards the depths of rivers and lakes to live passively through winter.

Arctic graylings are some of the only aquatic animals that can survive the low oxygen levels in the depths of freezing lakes. The evolutionary feature makes them unique, and fit for the habitat.

Arctic Grayling Hunting Patterns

Arctic Grayling - Hunting:

  • Travel across Arctic to find food
  • Begin hunting within 4 days of hatching
  • Will migrate to different areas when grown to find more desirable prey

If a grayling wants to live and grow, it has to know how to forage for food and outgrow its peers, so it doesn't fall short in its natural domain. During their lifetime, Arctic grayling travel across the Arctic to find a comfortable place in which they can hunt for food and complete their full growth cycle.

Grayling larvae, after hatching from their eggs, begin feeding within four days of birth. Many grayling begin foraging the day they hatch, while others will not eat for the firstt time until approximately 96 hours later.

At this point in their life, feeding is such a desperate act that half of the consumptions aren't even suitable prey. In other words, they will try to eat anything in their path, which can sometimes end very badly.

Within the first 3 years of their lives, foraging and hunting for food often end in their own fatality. The small size of a juvenile grayling makes it easy prey for larger fish like the brown trout to gorge upon.

Even though mortality rates are quite high, the grayling larvae feed on drift in surface layers of rivers and streams.

Maintaining a 5 centimeter distance from the surface, they wait patiently in an uncluttered pool breaking the current of a river channel. As suitable prey drift along the surface of the water, the small grayling intercepts to eat anything that it can fit in its little mouth.

As young Arctic graylings grow in size and age, they can begin feeding and foraging in even lower depths of a river. Deeper in rivers and streams lie a more dense food supply, which caters towards the initial growth spurt of graylings.

However, Arctic graylings will still commonly forage on the surface as they did when they were young, even in later years. Within one summer, you can anticipate a highly successful grayling growing to about 6 inches in length in some cases.

As the Arctic grayling grows, the mouth rises wider in capacity as well, increasing the amount of food that can be eaten. The most intense appetites are found at dawn and dusk, as the hungry graylings compete in the pools for the best bites. There is plenty of daytime feeding, though anticipation of night time and entrance to daylight come across as natural motivators for a grayling's appetite.

Arctic graylings do not hunt so much as they forage, however. The predatory behaviors do occur in October, as throughout fall, graylings will be particularly hungry and gorge upon the recently spawned eggs of salmon.

In general, Arctic grayling will not hesitate for a moment to prey upon smaller fish and any swallowable mammals that fall into the water, such as shrew and vole. This is an important factor in their ultimate survival.

What Kind of Lure Should I Use to Bait Arctic Grayling?

If you're fly fishing, go for a caddis fly, or a mayfly grayling have fond appetites those invertebrate. Dark earth tones and black work exceptionally well in their clear pools of water. If your using spinners, try equipping a 1-1.5" spinner using black or brown jigs.

Do Arctic Grayling Eat Worms?

Yes, they absolutely do. Arctic grayling will eat anything, worms included, though it's not their preference. They still, above all, feast on insects and salmon eggs most frequently.

About Dane
Hi, I am Dane. I am one of the regular contributors to BonfireBob. I Write about all things, that I find Interesting. I live in Texas with my wife and 5 kids, and love everything outdoors, especially activities where I can spend time with my kids.

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