Dolly Varden (Salvelinus malma)

Dolly Varden

  • Size Over 30 inches, up to 27 pounds
  • Food Value Average
  • Game Qualities Excellent
  • Habitats Lake, River

Aggressive, fairly good-sized, and often mistaken for something else, the story of Dolly Varden fishing is filled with misinformation. For a long time this species has been identified as Arctic Char or Bull Trout, and though similar-looking, they’re not the same!

How Big

Dolly Varden are usually between 4.5” and 8” long and weigh in at 3 lb. The world record Dolly Varden was caught in Alaska (on the Wulik River) and it was measured at an impressive 40” and 20 lb 14 oz!

Where To Find

This is a very prolific fish that inhabits the coastal and fresh waters of Alaska, Canada, North Korea, Russia, and Japan. The species is actually split into Northern Dolly Varden and Southern Dolly Varden, which are divided by the Alaskan Peninsula.

During the winter and early spring, this fish stays in large lakes. As spring draws to a close they’ll head out for saltwater and spend the summer along the coast, mixing with Salmon species. Dolly Varden love to eat Salmon eggs and they’ll follow the Salmon upstream as they spawn. Dolly Varden spawn in the fall and as soon as the weather starts turning cold, they’ll head for freshwater lakes and rivers to winter there.

The even more interesting thing about this fish is that it doesn’t head to the sea every year to spawn, only every 3-4 years. Scientists still aren’t exactly sure why these fish behave the way they do.

How To Catch

Dolly Varden fishing is a challenging job, they’ll give you the same headstrong pull that Char species do. During the spring and early summer, you should focus on lake outlets and mouths of rivers to intercept migrating Dollies. If you’re fishing during Salmon spawning season you can find good numbers of Dolly Varden downstream from the redd (a hollow in the riverbed made by a fish to spawn in). This is the best time to try out that egg pattern! 5-8 wt rods work well, generally speaking, you can go with regular Trout gear. Keep in mind that they like to run deep into the backing after the bite and sometimes they’ll jump.

Good To Eat?

The flesh of Dolly Varden is a pinkish color and the taste is somewhere between Salmon and Trout – perfectly suitable for a fish that also fights, bites, and lives somewhere between Trout and Salmon. It works with practically all Trout recipes and there’s an ongoing debate between gourmet anglers whether you should enjoy Dolly Varden with or without any spices – a testament to the food quality of this fish.

Fish Species Similar to Dolly Varden

Brown Trout

Rainbow Trout (Steelhead)

Salmon (Chinook)

Salmon (Chum)

Salmon (Coho)

Salmon (Pink)

Salmon (Sockeye)


Top Dolly Varden Fishing Charters

Top Dolly Varden Fishing Destinations