Dolly Varden [Archive] - Fly Fishing Forum

: Dolly Varden

04-11-2002, 10:47 PM
Although the steelhead is the prize of the journey, it's good to stop and admire the simple beauty of the other species that inhabit these pristine waters...

04-11-2002, 11:13 PM
I've ever hooked. First was on the Salk. Had zip idea what the fish was, other than close to 8 or 9 pounds. Bagged up the beastie and took it to a hatchery to find out what the darn thing was.

Got a good answer and dinner for 6.

Nate Bailey
04-12-2002, 03:39 AM
In alaska I usta pull my fly out of the way of thease fish, dollys seemed to mess up alot of good salmon presentations. but they were a blast to fish for on the tailouts with my 5 wt.....Nate

04-12-2002, 11:09 AM
While often looked upon with distain by anglers, the dolly is a sign of a healthy ecosystem. Even more important than that, they have saved many a day on the Sauk and Skagit for me. Sure I go up there to chase steelhead but I treasure my encounters with these fish. Jeff Johnson and I floated Howard Miller to Faber's yesterday after determining the Sauk was just too dirty. No steelhead found but both of us had the pleasure of cnr'ing a nice bright 20" range dolly. Somehow when the steelhead are no-shows, these little encounters become even more special.


Scott K
04-12-2002, 08:23 PM
Is that a Dolly Varden or a Bull Trout?

It has been proven that the simple lay person can not identify the difference between a Dolly Varden and Bull Trout, they are almost virtually indistinguishable through look alone except through DNA tests.

It has also been proven that most of the char that are being caught here in Southern BC in places such as the Lower Fraser River, Squamish River, Upper Pitt river and many others are actually Bull Trout with a smaller percentage than we think being Dolly Varden.

It's interesting to note that Bull Trout and Dolly Varden are seperate species, yet they occupy the exact same niche. They look the same, are both from the char family, spawn at the same time of year, feed in the same voracious manner, etc, etc.

What I learned was that they descended from different areas into the niches that they do now, the Dolly Varden from the Arctic circle and the Bull Trout from accross the Pacific (I think, this is what I remember from reading).

So is it a Bull Trout or a Dolly Varden?

04-12-2002, 09:58 PM
A good freind of mine is quickly becoming a local Dolly Varden/Bull Trout expert. Among our many discussions about these very intreseting fishes, he told me that it has become general belief that actually the anadramous forms in the Puget Sound basin are Bull Trout and the landlocked versions are actually Dolly Varden.

I was pretty surprised as I, along with many others, always though it was the exact opposite.

old man
04-12-2002, 11:07 PM
Nice try Sparky. There was quite a healthy debate on another web site on these fish. They are very hard to tell apart. You have to be a fish biologist to tell them apart.
Jim :)

04-12-2002, 11:29 PM
Like all rules, there are exceptions and that holds true with my aforementioned post but many biologists believe, based upon DNA analyst, that in Puget Sound, anadarmous forms are Bull Trout and residents are Dolly Varden.

And at the same time, the river populations consists mostly of anadarmous Bull Trout and a few landlocked Dolly Varden.

These two species exhibit fascinating behaviors that have confused many a fisheries scientist and have created many debates.

The farther North you head, the higher percentage of which become Dolly Varden untill at a certain point you lose all Bull Trout and the population consists 100% of Dolly Varden.

And then once you hit a certain point...the Arctic Char kick in.

It is not simple and contains a large amount of variabilty which is complicated by the fact that Bull Trout and Dolly Varden can only be distingishued by DNA analysts. Side Note: There are certain biologists who claim to be able to distinguish Bull Trout and Dolly Varden based upon physical charceteristics (I forget what those characteristics apologies).

Scott K
04-13-2002, 02:46 AM
Dolly Varden and Bull Trout are both anadromous.

04-13-2002, 11:38 AM
I did a fair bit of char survey work through the 1990's in southern B.C.

The lower Fraser River/Howe Sound and Puget Sound are the only major areas on the coast where the ranges of bulls and dollies overlap: to the north, dollies are coastal and bulls are inland; to the south it's pretty much bulls everywhere. Vancouver Island has dollys only. In the area of overlap, dollies are generally headwater resident populations. The two species very rarely cross-breed, but it does happen. A headwater population above falls in Boise Cr (Pitt R trib) shows genetic characteristics of both species, and I expect more extensive genetic surveys would result in other such discoveries.

Bulls and dollies are both anadromous at times and wander extensively. Several years ago, I Floy tagged a bull in the upper Squamish River in April. It was recovered by an angler two months later in the lower Skagit.

Both species are amazing fish: certainly now the "wildest" of our salmonid species, never having seen a hatchery (except in the Kootenays where some bull trout propagation has been toyed with). They do best in very cold, often glacial, steep streams where there is no competition with other salmonids that can't hack such an extreme environment. They can ascend waterfalls at least as well as much larger summer steelhead (I think a bull trout's flattened head works a bit like a planer and somehow lets them "squirt" up a falls) -.


04-13-2002, 04:29 PM
Although I have gone out of my way to avoid catching DV/BT (generally considered threatened throughout much of their WA habitat) I did get one today on the Upper Skagit. It was fun and a real reward after several recent skunkings.

Sinktip, et al,

I finally got the 7 wt. line cut and a type-6 sink tip one line size smaller rigged to drown my marabous. It kinda worked, my flies no longer hang around on the surface. It also casts pretty nice unlike the WC on my 9140. I see some light at the end of the tunnel.

I have also come to the conclusion that the water I am fishing is rather swift. How swift? Dunno, but at waist high it wants to knock me over. Is that swift or regular-like? Think I will try tying some weighted flies while contemplating a dredger sink tip. Any pointers out there?


I'm glad you enjoyed your short stay here and met with some success on the King of Rivers (down, boys); I live about 3 miles upriver from the "bunny motel". Sure wish I could have seen you "real men" fish the long rod as mine sits in a corner, intimidating me on a daily basis. When I get the single-hander with sink tips zeroed-in, I will revisit the beast-in-the-corner.

Hey all, keep posting the steelhead stuff for us non-striper guys.:D

04-13-2002, 07:50 PM
The simplest non DNA approach and is not allways fully correct

Bull Dolly

Head Flatish head Small overall in relation to body

Body More flat on underside Almost oval in shape

All othe markings almost identical.

My .02 saltRon

old man
04-14-2002, 11:29 AM
saltRon. I like your discription of these fish. I've caught fish in the freah water that were full bodied and I've seen fish come out of the salt that looked like a tube. Long and skinny.

Watersprite,I see that you finelly woke up, long time no see. I kinda think that the water where you fish is kinda fast. You cast your fly out and it's down stream before you can make one mend. And if your fishing where we went I wouldn't wade out past my knees. Jim

04-14-2002, 04:23 PM

If you think you are fishing water that is too fast, you probably are. Now there are exceptions to every rule but in most winter fishing cases you will want to look for water that is moving about as fast as you can comfortably walk and with a depth of 3-6'. Try and look for current speed similar to the Mixer at normal flows.

Also in most cases, if you are wading waste deep, you may be wading out too deep. Steelhead will hold tight to shore especially in dirty water or at first light. By wading out waste deep, you are actually wading past holding fish. We are all guilty of it from time to time.

Steelhead also like soft currents so you will often find success fishing the slow seam at the edge of the fast water. Remember that these fish are lazy and will move along the path of least resistance.

One final note, as long as you don't overcast your spey rod and by this I mean cast it farther than you can effectively fish it, it will allow you to get your fly deeper than with the single hander. The reason for this is the larger initial mend that it allows. The initial mend, the size of fly, the sinktip used and the angle of cast all determine depth of fly. One of the beauties of the long rod is the ability to really set a huge upstream mend thereby giving the fly time to sink before it comes under tension on the swing. One other trick that will help a bit is to step downstream AFTER the cast rather than before. This gives the fly another couple of seconds to sink.

Keep at it and you will get it for sure.


04-14-2002, 11:47 PM
dash board of their car...... they're part of the 10% of the 90%.:o

You've nailed it, period. After the Spey Clinic a couple of the fellows were fishing the upper part of the Rogue. Guy 1 has to retie his boots so goes to shore. While retieing he's watching guy 2 standing/fishing in three-four'ish feet of water off the beach. Sees dark shapes moving through water ... between #2 and the beach he's sitting on. You can guess the rest.

04-15-2002, 03:33 PM
My current single-hander is a ten footer, which allows for a fairly decent mend, but I get the point about the spey rod. As for wading out to waist-deep water, it's necessary so that I can clear the brush, etc., behind me. This is where the wonder pole will be most advantagious I think.

Yeah, the beast-in-the-corner is the answer once I try getting on again (I'm a "former" horse owner - been bucked off a few times). With the horsey, it was simply broken ribs which heal fairly quickly. With the spey rod it's been a shattered ego which still suffers a slow burn. Soon I'll strap on the old rusty steel ones and give the 9140 wonder pole another try.


Back to the DV/BT, it was the still water (Dolly hole) that yeilded up the fish. My fly bumped bottom easily, there. Hmmm, all this property and the water is too fast to fish - bummer. Maybe if I dress up a spark plug with some feathers and such I'll be in like Flint?

The guy who fishes (wastes time) in the fast lane