The Dolly Varden is a species of salmonid native to cold-water tributaries. It is in the genus Salvelinus of true chars, which includes 51 recognized species, the most prominent being the Brook, Lake and Bull Trout, as well as Arctic Char. Although many populations are semi-anadromous, fluvial and lacustrine populations occur throughout its range. It is considered by taxonomists as part of the Salvelinus alpinus or Arctic Char complex, as many populations of Bull Trout, Dolly Varden and Arctic Char overlap. Although the name "Dolly Varden" was originally given to the Bull Trout of the McCloud River, Bull Trout and Dolly Varden were considered the same species until 1978. Thus the common name "Dolly Varden" gained acceptance for S malma for over 100 years. Additionally, the Arctic Char and Russian subspecies have been referred to as Dolly Varden.
The back and sides are olive green or muddy gray, shading to white on the belly. The body has scattered pale yellow or pinkish-yellow spots. There are no black spots or wavy lines on the body or fins. Small red spots are present on the lower sides. These are frequently indistinct. The fins are plain and unmarked except for a few light spots on the base of the caudal fin rays. Dolly Varden is extremely similar in appearance to the Bull Trout and Arctic Char, so much so that they are sometimes referred to as "native char" without a distinction.
The estuarine nature of a lot of Dolly Varden fishing calls for tough, saltwater-resistant gear. Good quality, sealed-bearing reels are a "must-have" for the corrosive environment of the river mouth. Matched to a 4, 5, or 6wt rod, this setup will be a good fit for Dolly Varden of all sizes. Depending upon the method of presentation, fly line choices include full-float weight-forward lines, clear tip lines, sinking tip lines, and multi-tip systems to deliver your offering to the proper depth. Fly patterns for Dolly Varden are dependent upon the primary food source at the time. In spring, minnow and fry patterns are the ticket. As the salmon start to spawn, beads and glo-bugs are the fly of choice, and as the spawning salmon die off, the flesh fly comes into its own.We recommend 4 weight to 6 weight medium to fast action rods capable of casting split shot with a strike indicator, and dealing with the occasional big rainbow or sockeye. Good quality reel and drag that matches rod. Floating lines are best and up to 12 feet(3,6m) of 6 to 10 pound(3-5kg) monofilament.
The Dolly Varden is one of the most widely-distributed salmonids in Alaska. It occurs throughout the coastal areas of the state from Southeast Alaska across the Gulf of Alaska and the Bering Sea into the Beaufort Sea to the Mackenzie River in northern Canada. It also occurs in streams in Interior Alaska and the Brooks Range. Elsewhere, their range stretches along the Pacific coast of North America from Washington State to the Arctic coast of Canada, and along the Pacific coast of Russia south to Japan and Korea.