Meet the Twins – Arctic Char and Dolly Varden

Can you see the difference? Can you tell the difference between the Arctic Char and the Dolly Varden? Both belong to the char clan but even the most perceptive angler may not be able to tell them apart. For a long time it was the belief that both these fish belong to the same Arctic Char (or Arctic Charr) species. While even scientists have been at odds for years as to whether the Arctic Char and Dolly Varden are of the same species; science has determined that they are indeed different species. But this has not stopped the arguments regarding their differences and similarities and whether or not they belong to different species.

The Dolly Varden and Arctic Char both inhabit Canada and the United States and have a lot in common. They are beautiful fish to look but don’t be deceived as they have a reputation for being among the hardest fighting game fish. They are identified by their bright flanks with pink and hot red stripes. On top there are green and blue and cream colored spots. Both the arctic char and Dolly Varden are anadromous in that they spawn in freshwater and go out to sea as adults. Both species spawn in freshwater from September to October with emerging fry in mid-July. In freshwater, they feed on shrimp and insect larvae.  At sea, snails and clams are preferred.


How to Tell Them Apart

fishing for arctic char

Freshly-caught Arctic Char

As difficult as it is to tell the Char and Varden species apart, you can certainly try but it will take some work and you may still have uncertain results. In larger fish, it is believed that the Dolly Varden can weigh 10 pounds or less while the larger Arctic Char can weigh up to 20 pounds. Counting the gill rakers can be useful in distinguishing between the two species. Dolly Varden has twenty two gill rakers while the Char has between twenty five and thirty.

The tail on Arctic Char is more deeply forked than the tail of Dolly Varden.  A closer look at the caudal peduncle, which is that area next to the tail fin – is narrower in the Arctic Char. You may also be able to observe some differences in pre-sea run fish by looking at their flank spots. The Dolly Varden has smaller spots than the Arctic Char.

Some differences can be seen between the spawning Dolly and Char. The Arctic Char usually has a yellow, rose, gold or orange color while the Dolly Varden can often be identified by a pink or red hue with red spots on the lower belly. When it comes to the spawning male Arctic Char and the spawning male Dolly Varden, another difference can be observed in the kype or hook on the lower jaw. The kype is larger in the Dolly Varden and smaller In the Arctic Char. There are also several internal differences that have been identified but finding them will require you to kill the fish.

dolly varden fishing tips

Spawning Dolly Varden

Fishing for Arctic Char and Dolly Varden is a thrill ride every angler should experience. These amazing species are highly sought after for their fierce fighting ability and their beautiful spawning colors. Their Spectacular jumps and impressive runs will amaze, delight and challenge the most experienced angler. These “twins” are without a doubt among the top sport fishing adventures and figuring out one species from the other only enhances the experience.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *