The Arctic char or Arctic charr (Salvelinus alpinus) is a cold-water fish in the family Salmonidae, native to alpine lakes and arctic and subarctic coastal waters.
The spectacular spawning colors of the male make the Arctic char one of the most photogenic game fish, but you must head to the far north or the high country of Europe to find them.
The northernmost freshwater fish in the world, the Arctic char (Salvelinus alpinus) is found across the arctic, which may explain why not much is known about its life history and habits. Most fish are lake-dwelling, but there are also sea-run populations that offer spectacular fishing when they return to their native rivers in places such as Canada’s Ungava Peninsula. There are few trophy pictures as colorful as those of a double-digit male Arctic char in full spawning regalia.
The Arctic char is closely related to the Dolly Varden, and their ranges overlap more than most people think, which means you may find both in the same region. However, distinguishing between the two species by sight is very difficult. In general, Arctic char have a shorter head, a more deeply forked tail, and larger spots. In males, the Arctic char will develop a less pronounced kype than a Dolly. To verify identification, it is necessary to count gill rakers, fin rays and pyloric caeca (parts of the intestines). Ultimately, however, anglers have no way of being certain which species they’ve landed.
The range of the Dolly Varden extends from Puget Sound north, around the coast of Alaska, to the McKenzie River in the Canadian arctic. In the eastern Pacific, the species inhabits waters from Japan north to the Bering Sea. Attempts have been made to introduce Dolly Varden in California, Colorado, New Mexico, and Wyoming, but none of these attempts succeeded in establishing a sustaining population.
The range of the Arctic char is wide and varied. They are found across the polar region, with the largest populations from northern Canada to Scandinavia, where they were an important food source for native peoples. They are also present in isolated populations throughout the United Kingdom, where they live in deep, cold lakes, and in the high Alps as far south as Italy. Because of their value as table fare, they have been widely introduced and successfully farmed, as well.
North America is home to three subspecies of Arctic char. Salvelinus alpinus erythrinus are anadromous and range across Canada’s northern coast. The legendary Sunapee trout or the “blueback” trout, Salvelinus alpinus oquassa, inhabited lakes in eastern Quebec and northern New England, although it is now extinct in most of its eastern United States range. Dwarf Arctic char (Salvelinus alpinus taranetzi), also called Taranets char, often inhabit the same lakes as the larger species, but they feed on different forage and live in different habitats.
Not much is known about the habits of the Arctic char, though they are thought to spawn every other year after reaching maturity at the age of six to nine years. The fish are slow-growing in the frigid arctic; specimens often live longer than 20 years, and the oldest fish ever recorded was believed to be 40 years old. Like all chars, they spawn in the fall, entering rivers from the ocean or large lakes or depositing their eggs along rocky shoals deep enough to survive winter ice. The spawning run is not long, and most fish remain in the lower reaches of rivers.
Arctic char feeds on insects found on the water's surface, salmon eggs, snails and other smaller crustaceans found on the lake bottom, and smaller fish up to a third of its size. During the autumn and winter months, it feeds on zooplankton and freshwater shrimps that are suspended in the lake, and also occasionally on smaller fish.
July - August