The Dolly Varden offers the angler a great battle on light tackle and is one of the finest of fishes for the dinner table. Like the Grayling, the Dolly Varden is often overlooked but those who have enjoyed these members of the charr family are happy with the disinterest and ready to have them all to themselves.
The ferocious strikes and powerful runs rival any of the trout family and their need to feed after the long winter makes for a fly reel screaming day if one is able to locate an area stacked with these beauties. Dollies almost always winter in freshwater and therefore offer excellent ice fishing opportunities.
Once old man winter releases its grip on the last frontier and the lakes become free of ice the Dolly Varden becomes very active and begins to feed aggressively on alevins, fry, smolt, insects and crustaceans. It is at this time that the angler is in for a treat both in fun as well as in table fare as the Dolly Varden is delicious but remember it is easy, when the fish are biting this well, to remove too many fish from a particular fishery which could hurt the population for years to come.
Dollies tend to school at the inlets and outlets of lakes waiting for the spring migration of young salmon. The hungry dollies will attack schools of alevins, fry and smolt frothing the waters surface as they hurry to devour the young salmon stunned by the attack. When an angler in the know sees this they can’t get their lure or fly into the mix fast enough and will have to calm down before they are able to make an accurate cast.
The season is short here in Alaska and spring turns to summer before you know it. Summer means salmon and lots of them. As the Kings, Chums, Sockeyes and Pinks make their way up the many rivers and creeks the Dollies follow. Their diet shifts from young salmon to unborn salmon, the salmon egg.
The salmon egg is high in protein and becomes a vital part of the Dollies diet as winter is fast approaching. Anglers, at this time, should focus on gravely areas of creeks and rivers. Deep pools may hold several good Dollies but don't overlook pockets in fast moving waters. Dollies like to hide in fast water, even in the shallow runs, waiting for an egg to drift by. Dollies are quick and it may surprise you where a Dolly may be hiding as they materialize from a very small pool. To check a run just drift an egg pattern through the fast runs. If a Dolly is there it will move to take the egg if it come anywhere near him. I know it is hard to fish some of these runs as you probably, like me, prefer the big deep pools. This is fine but remember everyone else likes the big deep pools as well and you might find that these runs may be your secret weapon to landing several Dollies especially on a crowded stream as anglers pass these runs for the deeper pools.
Fresh water Dollies, during spring and summer, are an olive green or light brown in color. They average 18-24 inches in length but do regularly reach much greater size. In the fall, anglers fortunate enough to land a Dolly may wonder what they had in their net as the coloration is spectacular, to say the least. The bright red body and multicolored spots rival any trout and has often been confused with the Bull Trout in places where they share the same fishery.
Dollies can be caught with fly rod or spinning gear. The Dolly Varden can be found in open water or up creeks and rivers throughout Alaska. If using spinning gear nearly any spinner or spoon will do. I have found that the Dolly loves greens and blues and you can cast a spoon like a crocodile or a spinner like the vibrex a mile even when the wind is blowing in.
Fly gear is used most often on creeks and rivers but can also be great fun and very effective at catching Dolly Varden off shore in the salt provided the wind cooperates. A 9 foot 5 or six weight is my choice for all but the tightest areas. The longer rod will help in the wind but when fishing small creeks and rivers for Dollies I prefer a 8 foot 3 weight outfit and this is my favorite way to catch Dollies. Dollies in the salt will hit just about any dark colored streamer like a wooly bugger or Clouser and again green and blue seem to do well when fly fishing for Dolly Varden.
When fly fishing for Dolly Varden in fresh water it is hard to beat the salmon egg pattern anytime of the warm season even before the salmon run begins Dolly Varden know salmon eggs and will devour any that drifts by. Dolly Varden, in most places, are not highly pressured so you might think you don't have to present a perfect drift but you will notice a big increase in takes when the drift is natural.