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Arctic Char/Dolly Varden
Posted by bakerb on Mar 31 2005

There are very subtle differences between Arctic Char and Dolly Varden.  Size and Color do not distinguish the two.  The Alaska Department of Fish and Game has a Wildlife Notebook that describes the differences, similarities, and locale of these species that is as good an explanation as any I have seen.  I have included the links:^char.php

In general, the fish that migrate to sea are considered Dolly Varden.  Those that inhabit lakes are usually Arctic Char.

As noted in the AKDF&G Site, scientists still do not completely agree on the differences/relationship of these two species.  I certainly cannot tell the difference, so I simply call them all Char (which is correct, but would technically include Lake Trout and Brook Trout).

There are some runs of Char on the North and West Coasts that are anadromous and can reach very large size.  The state record was caught on the Wulik River (North of Kotzebue) about 5 years ago and weighed 27 LBS.  The largest I have ever seen is about half that.

The dark fish that you mention are spawning Char (both species).  These can be found throughout Alaska.  

The Anchor River has a good population of anadromous Char (or Dollies)that spawn throughout the river in Aug - Oct.  These fish will acquire the brilliant colors.  There are 25 inch Char in the Anchor.

The Sagavanirktok River and tributaries also hosts a run of anadromous Char that reach quite large sizes.  I have taped Char out of this drainage at 32 inches.  

The Wulik, Kelly, and Noatak Rivers also have strong runs of Char.  These are the largest Char in the State, but they are very remote locations (fly-in from Kotzebue).

If you can find Char they are generally quite aggressive.  The ubiquitous Egg-Sucking Leech works as well as any fly I have used, but I have taken them on Streamers, Nymphs, and even #16 Dry Flies.  In general, your best success will be deep with a bright Streamer.

I have some photos of some beautiful Char caught on the North Slope on my personal WEB Site if you are interested.  No laughing at the music is allowed.  At the time, I thought it was cool!

I hope this helps.

Benjamin K. Baker

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