Fishing for Arctic Char 101: A Fly Fishing Guide

Arctic Char are some of the least targeted and highly respected members of the salmon family. Arctic Char are the northernmost freshwater fish in the world and are found in …

Arctic Char are some of the least targeted and highly respected members of the salmon family. Arctic Char are the northernmost freshwater fish in the world and are found in arguably the most beautiful places on planet earth. Landing Arctic char isn’t overly complicated due to their aggressive nature, so as long as you can locate them, you can catch them.

Throughout the article, we’ll talk about the best flies and the gear you need, and how to land Arctic char.

About Arctic Char

Fishing for Arctic char shallow lake
Arctic char are a salmonid fish similar to both trout and salmon, known for their strength, beauty, and aggressive feeding habits. They vary greatly in size and appearance, have a unique spawning behavior, and are often caught while fly fishing using bright and obnoxious-looking patterns.

As a salmonid fish, Arctic char are very similar to both trout and salmon. They have similar appearances as well as tendencies. They’re beautiful, strong fish with legendary features.

Size

Depending on where you’re fishing for arctic char, you’ll find them in a variety of sizes. Throughout Alaska, it’s not uncommon to find Arctic char that weigh upwards of 25 pounds. It’s also normal to find Arctic char that weigh around 1 or 2 pounds. These are considered the “dwarf” version of Arctic char.

Scientific Name

Arctic char are known as the Salvenlinus alpinus. Their bright spots on dark skin are what make them so unique. However, their appearance varies greatly depending on where you find them. Some anglers catch them with entire blaze-orange bodies and others find them in bright silver. It’s what makes them so unique.

These fish also look quite similar to dolly varden in their appearance, but the top fin on the dolly is what separates the two.

Reproduction

Arctic char are known to spawn every other year. They are an anadromous fish and spawn in the fall. They enter rivers and streams where they were born and lay their eggs in gravel bars and rocky areas to ensure they survive the winter. These fish don’t spawn for long due to the harsh weather they reside in.

Habits

Arctic char are opportunistic and aggressive. They eat insects, mollusks, crustaceans, and smaller fish, so they’re eager to pounce on anything that looks like a good meal. When fly fishing for them, make sure you have a bright and obnoxious-looking pattern. They want to strike out of aggression!

Arctic Char Fishing

Fishing for Arctic char Fly Fishing For Artic Char
To fly fish for Arctic char, an 8-weight, 9-foot fast action fly rod, and the appropriate line type are recommended. Focus on shallow and slack water and use techniques like swinging or dead drifting streamers in moving water or short, aggressive strips in lakes to entice these strong, aggressive fish.

Fly fishing for Arctic char is an absolute treat. Anyone who is fortunate enough to target these fish gets to swing streamers and large nymphs in moving water for hungry fish. In still water, tossing flies near cover and structure and aggressive strips will entice the fish to strike.

As soon as the fish strike, it’s game on. Expect long runs, aggressive leaps, and one of the best fights of your life. These fish are going to give you everything you have as soon as you hook into them.

Rod Type and Size

When targeting Arctic char, you’re going to want an 8-weight 9′ fast action fly rod. Odds are, you’ll find yourself fishing in some challenging weather, so you want the power to cast as well as fight the larger fish. It’s not impossible to tie into char that weigh over 20 pounds, so it’s best to be prepared with a strong rod.

Line Type

The proper line for Arctic char fly fishing also depends on where you’re fishing. If you’re fishing in a river or stream, a weight-forward floating line is generally your best bet. Make sure whatever line you choose matches the weight of your rod and reel. For example, if you’re using a 9-weight rod and reel, use a 9-weight weight forward floating line.

If you’re fishing a lake or deeper water, then stick with a sink-tip line. You can still match it to the weight of your rod and reel. Sink-tip lines allow you to fish deeper. When you cast and your line hits the water, it will immediately begin dropping a few inches every second. So, if the fish are holding deep or if you’re fishing streamers, then go with a sink-tip line.

Type of Water to Target

If you’re hoping to catch arctic char, spend time in more shallow and slack water. Both Arctic char and salmon want to save their energy for feeding, so they won’t always be in aggressive currents. Stick to the gravel bars and deep pools when fishing in moving water.

When you’re fishing the cold glacial lakes, look for cover and structure. They’ll still sit in shallow water in lakes. They’re also known to sit by the mouths of rivers and creeks that empty into the lakes. They’ll feed on the small fish and insects that empty into them.

Technique

You don’t have to use overly different techniques than you would if you were fishing large rainbow trout, brook trout, or salmon. In moving water, swing, or dead drift your streamers through the “fishy” areas. Make sure you don’t have too much drag from your fly line pulling your fly downstream. Keep the rod tip high and let your fly do the work.

In lakes, stick with short, aggressive strips. Cast near cover or structure or where you see fish and begin working your fly back towards yourself. Vary the retrieve pattern if you’ve found one that isn’t working.

Arctic Char Fishing Flies

Fishing for Arctic char holding a big char
When choosing fly patterns for Arctic char, stick with streamers and egg patterns if in areas where salmon are running, and a mix of weighted and unweighted patterns in different colors is best.

Stick with streamers for when you’re choosing fly patterns for Arctic char. Egg patterns also can work if you’re in an area where salmon are also running. Flies like Egg Sucking Leeches, Woolly Buggers, Deceivers, Clouser Minnows, and Bunny Leeches are some of the best patterns you can use for char. Make sure you have a mix of weighted and unweighted fly patterns in plenty of colors.

Arctic Char Fishing Tips

  • Arctic char are spooky- Pay close attention to where you’re walking and make sure your shadow isn’t covering too much of the water.
  • Reel in extra slack- As your fly is drifting downstream, strip in any extra slack. You don’t want to get a strike and miss it because you had too much line out.
  • Don’t be afraid to go smaller- If your flies don’t seem to be working, try a bit of a smaller pattern. Sometimes those large, buggy-looking flies are overwhelming.
  • Stick to shallow water- Arctic char are willing to sit in groups in shallow sections of water. You can easily sight fish for them.
  • Drifted egg patterns- Fishing char with drifted egg patterns is a great way to test and see if they’re hungry.
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Danny Mooers is a passionate fly fishing and angling writer from Arizona. Danny loves sharing his passion for fly fishing for trout and other species through his work for Tackle Village.
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