Welcome to episode #10 of the Deadly White Jig Fishing Challenge. In this round, I’m once again on Kodiak Island, Alaska, fishing the Deadly White Jig on the Dolly Varden that inhabit the many rivers around the island. While dollies are often confused with trout, they are actually a species of char of which there are two different kinds in Alaska. According to the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, the Dolly Varden of Northern Alaska have 66 to 70 vertebrae while the dollies of the southern regions of the state, such as Kodiak, have 62 to 65 vertebrae. There can also be a substantial size difference between the two, as northern dollies can get up to 30 inches long and 27 pounds, while dollies of the south typically max out at 28 inches and 10 pounds.
Whether from the north or the south though, Dolly Varden grow slow in Alaska. It takes a Dolly 5 to 9 years to reach full maturity and they can live 8 years or so for southern fish, and up to 16 years for those of the north. Some Dolly Varden remain in freshwater rivers and lakes year-round, while others, much like the steelhead trout, go back and forth between the ocean and freshwater.
Similar to the various species of Pacific salmon that inhabit the waters of Alaska, adult, sea-run dollies are bright silver in coloration when they are fresh in from the ocean and they darken in color as they begin to spawn. Also like salmon, male Dolly Varden develop a pronounced lower jaw or “kype” as is called while they are spawning. Unlike salmon, however, Dolly Varden are capable of spawning multiple times during their lives, but they rarely survive to do so more than 3 times.
Spawning dollies are commonly confused with a similar species of fish, the arctic char, which generally has a bronzish-yellow body with fewer and larger white or orange colored spots. The arctic char also has much more of a forked tail than the Dolly Varden.
Dolly Varden are carnivorous predators and feed on many different food items including insects, crustaceans, salmon eggs, and smaller fish. Due to the variety in their diet, dollies can be caught on a wide range of fishing tackle, from tiny dry flies, nymphs, and streamer patterns, all the way up to large spinners and crankbaits. Dollies are typically quite aggressive and are attracted to fast-moving flies and lures, however, they’ll also hit a fly, lure, or bait that’s dead drifting along through a riffle, deep pool, or other section of river where they’re hanging out. In this sense, dollies are rather similar to trout, which makes them a great fish to go after with a lightweight fly rod and tippet, and the Deadly White Jig! Check out the video below to see more…