Bull Trout


Trout Bucket List, Week Two: The Chars

By Debbie Kay

The char family of salmonids are often misnamed trout, though the two are in fact separate.  They’re known for being cold water fish that live either entirely in freshwater or have intermittent sea runs.  They are known for having dark bodies with cream, pink or red spots.  They’re also known to be some of the most sensitive species to temperature changes and pollutants in waterways, which has led to the extinction of some species, like the silver trout.  Their sensitivity makes them sentinel species for many areas.  Here’s a look at five of the char species, and how to fish them:

Brook Trout

This Northeastern native has been a popular introduced species in much of the country, and is the state fish of nine different states in the North.  Introduced populations live throughout much of the nation at this point, including – believe it or not – Hawaii.  They prefer the cold headwaters of clear streams, especially mountain streams.  They eat many aquatic invertebrates as well as crustaceans, amphibians and mollusks.  Mayflies, caddis flies and dipterans are three popular food choices.  Many regional brook trout populations are at low, threatened levels and are catch and release fish only.


This brook trout subspecies is native to two lakes in Ontario, Canada.  It was identified in 1923 and verified as a separate species at the Carnegie Museum in Pittsburgh.  The species almost went extinct in the 1950’s, and would be gone if it weren’t for a savvy hatchery manager who brought it out of the acidifying lakes into some safer, less acidic water bodies.  Since then, the original lakes have been limed to bring the water quality back to safe levels for the Aurora trout.  The fish average between 1 and 3 pounds, though historical stories exist of fish up to 8 pounds.

Bull Trout

This North Pacific fish used to be lumped into the same species as the Dolly Varden, but has since been separated.  This is one of the most threatened of all the trout species, and streams where they are

Photo Credit: Joel Sartore/National Geographic Stock with Wade Fredenberg/USFWS USFWS

known to live get special protection.  They cannot live in water over 55 degrees farenheit.  Bull trout have two different population types, migratory and resident.  Migratory bull trout are much larger than the residents, who rarely reach 4 pounds.  Bull trout feed most reliably on salmon eggs and fry.  In British Columbia, they were once a hated species, though now they are considered to be one of the most prized to catch.

Dolly Varden

This species is believed to be a close relative to the bull trout and the arctic char.  There are two populations of Dolly Varden, based on whether they migrate in and out of the Arctic Ocean or the Pacific.  The fish range from Puget Sound in Washington State northward to British Columbia and along the Aleutian Island chain to the Kamchatka Peninsula and South to Japan.  There are sea-run, lake, and riverine forms of the fish, and they are one of the most popular Alaskan river fish to catch after salmon.

Sunapee subspecies of the Arctic char

The Sunapee golden or blueback trout is a rare silver fish that is about a foot long.  It is believed to be a subspecies of the arctic char that evolved after a glacier trapped it in a New Hampshire lake with the same name.  The blueback trout of Northern Maine are another of these genetically isolated char species, and are essentially identical to Sunapees on the DNA level.  Today, sunapees are rare as they have been outcompeted by introduced lake trout.  However, they are still around in small population numbers, and catching one is definitely one for the bucket list.

What’s on your trout bucket list? As usual, leave a comment and let us know.

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