Everything You Need to Know About Dolly Varden

The bountiful waters of Alaska are not only home to beautiful and magnificent animals but are also rich in some of the best fish, including Dolly Varden. Sitka, Alaska, is famous for sportfishing, among many other things, and provides you with over 20 different species of delicious fish. Some of Alaska’s most popular sport fish are King Salmon, Chinook, Halibut, and Dolly Varden. In this blog, we will cover everything you need to know about Dolly Varden.

What Does Dolly Varden Look Like?

Often confused with trout, Dolly Varden is actually a Salvelinus species from the Salmonidae family. A trout has dark markings on a light body, whereas a char has bright spots (white or yellow to red) on a dark body.

The mottled olive-brown color of young Dolly Varden is contrasted by eight to ten wide, oval spots called parr markings. The dorsal surface of the sea-run fish is olive-green to brown in color, with numerous red to orange dots on the flanks.

As mating season approaches, mature males’ lower bodies turn a vivid red, and their lower fins turn reddish-black with a white tip. Mature females are comparable to mature men, although they are less colorful. Males develop a kype, which is an enlarged lower jaw that hooks upward and fits into a groove in the upper jaw. Females develop a kype as well, but it is much less developed.

Types Of Dolly Varden

There are two types of Dolly Varden in Alaska, a southern form and a northern form, which differ in the number of vertebrae and chromosomes. The southern form has 62-65 vertebrae and the northern form has 66-70. The southern form has 82 chromosomes, whereas the northern form has 82. Furthermore, northern-form Dolly Varden can grow significantly larger (over 27 lbs.) than southern-form Dolly Varden.

Both the northern and southern variants have sea-run populations and freshwater residents. Dolly Varden that live in freshwater are small (maturing at 3–6 inches) and can be found in small headwater streams with no easy access to the ocean, as well as in land-locked ponds and lakes. If they have access to a large, productive river or lake, Dolly Varden may opt to stay in fresh water and grow to the same size as sea-run Dolly Varden.

Origin Of The Name

Dolly Varden is the name of colorful fabric with a “pink pattern of pleasant looks” that was produced for dressmaking in the late 1800s. The fabric was called after Dolly Varden, a character in Charles Dicken’s 1841 novel Barnaby Rudge who donned brilliantly colored costumes. The peculiar name was first given to a vividly colored char in California during the 1870s.

Dolly Varden Sportfishing

Both types of Dolly Varden are highly sought after by fishermen across Alaska. The fish is rare because it has adapted well to the various small-to-medium-sized non-lake streams that flow into Alaskan saltwater environments. Because Dolly Varden migrates into freshwater and marine near-shore locations when salmon aren’t accessible, their position and popularity as a sport fish will continue to climb as angling pressure increases.

To be a good Dolly Varden angler in Alaska, you need to understand the migratory habits of Dolly Varden. Because sea-run Dolly Varden migrates from lakes to the sea in the spring, a stream mouth, a lake outlet stream, or a nearby beach should be fruitful from April to June. During the summer months (May – July), good Dolly Varden fish can be found in saltwater since Dolly Varden blend with and subsequently follow salmon movements upstream.

Most coastal streams in Southeast Alaska and through the Aleutian Chain provide good fishing opportunities as mature Dolly Varden return to their natal stream to breed and feed in August and September.

During the winter, ice fishing in lakes can provide splendid angling possibilities. A sea-run Dolly Varden caught on a light hook can be an unforgettable experience. Like that of other char, the pink, firm flesh of the Dolly Varden is full of flavor and is a delicacy that needs to be tasted to be appreciated.

Sitka, Alaska, is one of the best places for sportfishing. It is an angler’s paradise, and with a little bit of knowledge, you can experience the best of fishing throughout the year.