The Dolly Varden Char of the Pacific Northwest
Often confused with trout, Dolly Varden are really a char. To tell a char from a trout, look at their spots, char have light spots on a dark body, while trout have dark spots on a light body.
Dolly Varden usually spent a portion of their lives at sea but some may choose to remain in fresh water if they have access to a large, productive lake or river, in which they may grow to a similar size as sea run Dolly Varden. While in the ocean and for a short time after entering fresh water, sea run Dolly Varden are silver with a faint green sheen overlain with light orange spots. Once they reach fresh water, this silvery appearance transitions into greenish brown with dark orange to red spots.
There are several different types of Dolly Varden exist. Some reside in their natal drainage for about three years, before migrating out to sea to feed for the summer. Others never leave the streams, rivers and lakes where they hatched. Some of these fish remain small like the ones that live in streams while others can grow quite large, l used to fish them in the Horsefly/Likely area east of Williams Lake when l lived there, some of the fish we caught were upwards on 8 kilos.
As spawning season approaches, males become brilliantly colored with red, black and white bellies, black gill covers, orange to red spots and orange and black fins with a white leading edge. Males also develop a strong hooked jaw. Spawning occurs in the fall in head water streams where the females bury their eggs in the gravel. Fry emerge in May or June. They remain in their freshwater drainage’s for about three years before undertaking their first migration out to sea. In the fall, they return to freshwater. Some never go to sea and remain in freshwater their whole lives.