About Artic Char
The Arctic char is a coldwater fish native to Arctic, sub-Arctic, and alpine waters. Some dwell primarily in fresh water, and are resident to coastal waters, though many populations are anadromous, migrating to sea. They reach farther north than any other species of freshwater fish, and their range extends across the northern polar regions. The Alaska Department of Fish and Game says the Arctic char’s habitat is the “lakes in the Brooks Range, the Kigluaik Mountains, the Kuskokwim Mountains, the Alaska Peninsula, Kenai Peninsula, Kodiak Island, and in a small area of Interior Alaska near Denali Park.”
Arctic char can sometimes live for over 20 years, and their growth is slow due to the cold waters of their natural habitat. Their sizes vary, and some lakes in other areas can be home to two kinds of char: “dwarf” and “normal”, which grow at different rates and ultimately mature to different sizes. The largest Arctic char in Alaska can be found in some of the large lakes in Bristol Bay, where they can reach up to 10 pounds or more. Many other lakes produce two-pound fish, though the char in the Brooks Range can reach sizes of 15 pounds or more.
Arctic char are salmonid fish, meaning they share the same streamlined shape as salmon. Their distinguishing features include light spots on dark skin, though their colors vary greatly depending on environmental conditions. The spots are pink or red and occur on their back and sides. Generally, they are brown or greenish-brown towards their upper body and lighter towards their lower body. Adult males have orange or red lower bodies, and their fins have a prominent white edge.
Dolly Varden are close cousins to Arctic char, and can be very hard to tell apart.
Arctic Char Fishing
Because the Arctic char is almost exclusively native to Arctic and sub-Arctic waters, they have become almost synonymous with far north marine life, and are highly sought after by anglers looking for an authentic and unique Alaskan fly fishing experience. The ideal season for Arctic char fishing in Alaska is from late May through early July, when they congregate to feed on salmon as they migrate to the sea. From July to September, however, they can still be found in many locations. The largest Arctic char occur in the larger lakes of Bristol Bay and the Brooks Range.
Arctic char are typically easier to fool than trout. They are eager takers, and generally congregate in shallow waters, so anglers often have good luck wading through the water and catching them. Like many other Alaska fish, Arctic char are aggressive and strong, so they make for a challenging yet exciting fly fishing experience.
Arctic Char Fishing Flies
Arctic char eat a variety of insects, baitfish, crustaceans and are also known to eat younger or smaller char. Their eclectic diet provides numerous options for choosing the perfect fly. Some of the most effective flies include leech and streamer imitations, smolt imitations, beads, and a variety of dry flies.
Arctic Char Fishing Tips
As with any fishing, it is important to be familiar with the waters you’re fishing, so you can ensure you have the proper equipment and so that you can gain an understanding of what you’re in for. Remember that the largest Arctic char are in the Bristol Bay and Brooks Range area. Outside of these spots you are likely to be fishing char between one to six pounds. In addition to familiarizing yourself with the help of a fly fishing guide, be sure to:
- Look for shallow, gravel-bottomed waters where Arctic char congregate.
- Mind your shadow. Because these are shallow waters, it’s easy to spook a fish if you lean in too far and they catch sight of your shadow.
- Cast your fly carefully in fast-moving waters, keeping in mind water conditions. Casting too much in one spot can scare fishes away, so move on if your first few casts don’t yield any fish.
- Cast your fly upstream of the fish so they see the fly and not the leader. This will scare them also, and the fly will look more natural if it passes easily into their line of sight.