Last week, a guest at Rapids Camp Lodge asked me what species I like to fish for the most. I told him I honestly don’t have a favorite. Although Alaska is known for its salmon and trophy rainbows and many people, including myself, desire those time and time again, I also love Char fishing. This led to questions about what a Char is, is it the same as a Dolly Varden, what time of year do we target them. I’ll save everyone the science lesson about the differences between Char and Dolly Varden. There are slight differences, but for the purposes of fishing and catching them they are one in the same. Our guest had never been fishing for Char, and I explained to him how fun it is but we rarely hear anyone say upon booking their trip or when they arrive “I want to target Char and Dolly Varden,” and it’s quite a shame because they are such fun fish to catch. They almost always take a backseat in desirability to the salmon and rainbows and are often under-appreciated, until the angler actually gets to experience an exhilarating day of Alaska Char and Dolly fishing.
It just so happened that my conversation with the guest took place the day before I had what I hoped to be an epic day of Char/Dolly Varden fishing planned. My husband Dan and I got a rare getaway together where we got to tag along with some other guests (not the one I’d had my Char discussion with the night before), but just like him these guests too had never fished for Char (I’m going to shorten my description to just Char for now and drop the Dolly since I think we all can look past the technicalities at this point). It was a typical Alaska late summer day – about 60 degrees, clouds in the sky with the sun barely peeking out from time to time. We headed off in the floatplane, landed at our spot, walked about 20 minutes and arrived at the small stream full of stacked up spawning sockeye and enough Char that six anglers could comfortably fish and all catch something on nearly every cast. After trying a couple of different beads to emulate the sockeye eggs and determine exactly what would get the fish’s attention, we were on a roll. Within two hours of fishing, I had stopped counting how many fish I caught. Our lodge guests said the same thing, and at one point they voluntarily stopped fishing and simply enjoyed the scenery with a celebratory cold beer because they had caught so many fish. I heard one of them exclaim “that is the most fish I’ve ever caught in one day!”
The fish ranged from small, medium to large, and most of the spots that we fished had enough Char in them that we could easily see and practically pick and choose which one we wanted to target. As one of the guests said, “you know it’s a good day of fishing when you can say I’m not even going to try for that one because there’s a bigger one over there.” And not only were the Char plentiful, but they were fun to catch and land, and very photo worthy. They don’t always bite aggressively – they were actually rather timid as they approached the bead to “taste” it before officially taking a bite, but the water was clear and the entire process of watching the fish chase the bead, approach and then begin to open its mouth could easily be seen, and once the hookset happened, the fish was on and you knew it. They are an acrobatic species, exhibiting multiple jumps and flips as they protested being brought to shore, and getting them to be still enough for a photo was like convincing a toddler to sit still for that magic moment – they are just so energetic and that energy didn’t stop even in the more shallow water near the shore. Once the quick photo op happened and they were gently released back into their home, we were able to pick up the rod and do it all over again – and again, and again, and again.
So next time you are planning a fishing trip to Alaska, certainly fish for salmon and rainbows. They are amazing and who doesn’t want to feel the tug of a big, aggressive Alaska trophy rainbow. And salmon fishing is the “bread and butter” of Alaska, but don’t forget about the Char. They too deserve a seat at the table of Alaska “bucket list” species. They’re not talked about as much. People don’t usually have the obsession for them as they do the other species, but they are a force to be reckoned with and can provide an exciting, fun-filled, more fish than you can count day of Alaska fishing.