Post date: Monday, March 5, 2012 - 14:45
Updated date: 9/5/17
Dolly Varden  Salvelinus malma


The dolly varden is a member of the Char family, like the brook trout and lake trout.  The species was named after a flamboyant character from a Charles Dickens novel.  It is very closely related to the  bull trout and arctic char, and is often mis-identified by anglers.  Adding to the confusion is the fact that Southern and Northern strains of dollies exist, each of which have different habits.  The range of the dolly varden includes most of Alaska and extends Southward into a few rivers in Northern Canada.  They also exist in the Kamchatka region of Russia.  Wherever dolly varden are found, they offer fantastic fishing in late Summer and Early Fall.




Dolly Varden Darker Coloration

In freshwater, Dollies are greenish-brown with light orange, white, or reddish spots.

Bright Ocean-Run Dolly Varden


In saltwater, they appear silvery, with faint white spots.  As spawning approaches, their colors intensify.





Dollies are anadromous fishes, meaning they migrate from saltwater into freshwater to spawn.  In reality, they may make several migrations between different feeding areas in fresh and saltwater, beyond their freshwater spawning run.  They live throughout Alaska and westward into portions of Canada, living in rivers and streams connected to the ocean. 







Dolly Varden are aggressive char, and not very selective unless food is abundant.  However, when keyed in on a very abundant food source they can seem almost fussy.  When sockeye or chinook salmon are spawning, dollies will stack up to feed on drifting and unfertilized eggs, and eggs or egg imitations are deadly.  After the salmon spawn and die, their rotting carcasses litter the stream.  Dolly Varden will rip and tear at the big dead salmon, gouging out chunks of flesh and filling the stream with drifting blobs of rotten meat. This is when the Flesh Fly works wonders. Dollies will also take a wide variety of insect and minnow imitations, including small spoons, spinners, and jigs.






This species was once maligned by sport anglers because it was believed that they accounted for the majority of predation on valuable salmon eggs and smolts.  From the 1920’s through the 1940’s, a bounty was in place that paid good money for dolly tails brought into the fish and game department.  Toward the end of this program, it was found that the majority of the tails brought in were from coho salmon and rainbow trout, and the program was eliminated.  Studies had also been done showing that salmon predation by dolly varden was no more significant than other species.



The Dolly Varden is very similar to the arctic char; in areas where they occur together, this image might be useful in telling them apart:


Range Map

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