Arctic char fish identification, its habitats, characteristics, fishing methods.
Arctic char is closely related to both salmon and trout and has many characteristics of both. It is distributed throughout the polar regions and is the most northerly distributed of char and its closely related cousin, the Dolly Varden. The most northerly ranging fish, 800 kilometers below the North Pole. During the spring thaw, seagoing char migrate to the ocean where they spend the next few months. While most char live above the arctic circle, relic populations of landlocked char are also found throughout northern Europe and in parts of North America and Asia, stranded in glacial lakes at the end of the last ice age.
Arctic char, Salvelinus alpinus, also known as also known as Arctic charr, Alpine char, Alpine trout, Salmon trout, Sea trout, is both a freshwater and saltwater fish native to Arctic, sub-Arctic and alpine lakes and coastal waters across the northern polar regions. They widely distributed in pure and cold rivers and lakes from the northeastern United States north and west across northern Canada, Alaska, and the Aleutian Islands, and from northern Russia south to Lake Baikal and Kamchatka, as well as in Greenland, Norway, Iceland, Great Britain, Scandinavia, Ireland, Spitsbergen, the Alps, up to an altitude of 2600 m., and the islands of the Barents Sea.
The Arctic char has an elongated fusiform slender large body with a small, pointed head, an adipose fin, an axillary process at the base of each pelvic fin, and a slightly forked tail that almost appears squared. It also has very fine scales, so deeply embedded that the skin has a smooth, slippery feel. Unlike the trout, it has teeth only in the central forward part of its mouth. Most of the soft rays in the fins are branched. The pelvic fins are situated far back on the body. They have adipose fin and crude type of air bladder. Arctic charr may live up to 30 years and grow to 3 feet in length. Sea-run arctic charr range up to 10 pounds and average 7 pounds. Landlocked fish normally weigh a few pounds.
The arctic charr is silvery in nonspawning individuals, with deep green or dark blue shading on the back and upper sides, and a white belly. Like all members of the Salvelinus genus, the arctic charr has light-colored large pink, red or cream spots on a dark background of its body, including below the lateral line, and the leading edges of all fins on the lower part of the body are milk white. Fish returning from the sea are often silvery with very light spots or no spots at all. The back is dark with a brownish or olive cast. The sides are lighter, fading to a pale belly. The overall color may be brown, yellow, gold, orange, or red. Belly in the Arctic char usually gray-white, and only during spawning becomes bright red or orange, white or orange throat, chest, pelvic and anal fins are pink or red, except for the anterior rays, which are usually petty-white.
Spawning males exhibit brilliant red, reddish orange, or gold cast coloration on the spots on the sides, belly, and lower fins. Also lower fins take brilliant white leading edges. Their backs became muted, sometimes without the blue or green coloration or possibly with orange to olive hues. Spawning males of some populations develop a kype, and some have a humped back. Spawning colors are more exaggerated in males than in females, however females are also colorful. The entire body may become golden or orange, although the red is less intense and present only on the flanks and belly; the back remains bluish or greenish.
The fresh water Arctic char has a deep green or blue-green back and a bright orange-red abdomen and sides.
There are some external characteristics which can be used to differentiate between Arctic char and Dolly Varden. Spots are larger on the arctic charr than on Dolly Varden. Arctic charr have about 25 to 30 gill rakers on the first left gill arch. Dolly Varden have 21 to 22 gill rakers. Arctic charr have 40 to 45 pyloric caeca (wormlike appendages on the pylorus, the section of intestine directly after the stomach), whereas Dolly Varden have about 30. Arctic char generally have a shorter head and snout, a trait particularly evident in spawning males. The tail of an Arctic char has a slightly deeper fork than that of a Dolly Varden, and the base of the Arctic char's tail is narrower.
In their ocean life, arctic charr remain in inshore waters. They spend their winters dormant underneath the thick ice covering lakes. In rivers, they locate in pools and runs. The fresh water Arctic char lives in the cold water of deep lakes. In some lakes, pre-spawning char congregate near inlet streams or waterways connecting lakes, but they move back into the lake to spawn. In the summer it moves down to depths that may reach 80 to 100 meters, seeking out the lowest temperatures. This explains why it is very rare in summer and more often found on the market in spring and fall. The lakes inhabited by anadromous and landlocked charr are cold year-round, so the fish remain near the surface or in the upper levels. When food is plentiful, the fish tend to remain near the mouth of the river from which they emerged. In times of scarcity, however, they move into offshore waters, sometimes traveling long distances, 30 to 50 km from their river of origin, up to 1,000 km.
The charr does not eat in winter, when its metabolic rate slows in tune with a cooling environment. Instead, it lives on the fat it has accumulated during the summer. Insects, mollusks, and small fish constitute the diet of arctic charr. Also ninespine sticklebacks are important forage in some places.
Arctic char reach sexual maturity at an age of 6 to 9 years in Labrador, around its 10th year in the Arctic, when it has reached a length of about 65 cm. Arctic char are thought to spawn every second or third year. Nonanadromous or landlocked charr tend to reach maturity when they are smaller and younger. Often it does not migrate to the sea during its reproductive years. Spawning usually occurs from August through October, in September or October in colder regions and later if it lives farther south with a water temperature of around 4°C. The spawning female seeks out a suitable bed of gravel or broken rock over steep, broken substrates or gravel shoals. It will choose a stretch of river or lake bottom deep enough to keep the eggs safe from the winter ice, or it will choose the bottom of a rapid, where ice does not form.
The female using her fins scoops out a nest, or redd, in the loose gravel size about the length and width of her body. After the nest is ready she releases some of her 3,000 to 7,000 eggs as the male releases milt. Then, the female lightly fans the gravel over the fertilized eggs, and digging another nest nearby.
The eggs hatch sometime in the first week of April, depends on light and water temperature. Temperatures above 8°C at any time will kill the eggs. The alevin remain hidden in the gravel for many weeks, emerging as free-swimming fish or fry only around the time of ice breakup, in a mid-July in the most northerly regions, when their emergence coincides with the renewed growth of plankton, when the food reserves are used up.
The anadromous charr lives in its birth river for at least 4 years and is about 6 to 8 inches (15 to 20 cm) long when it migrates to the sea for the first time. When spring comes, the rivers break free of ice, and the 4- or 5-year-old charr going down to the ocean for its first trip. It will return anywhere between mid-August and late September, before the ice begins to form again. The larger fish return first, even as soon as mid-July in some cases. Unlike other salmonids, all arctic charr leave the sea and overwinter in rivers and lakes, although not all are spawners; some go back and forth several times before they first spawn.
The charr grows slowly, at the age of one year, the charr is often less than 2 inches (5 cm) long. Growth rates vary greatly among individual fish within a given habitat.
The magnificent coloration of spawning fish, the excellent quality of the flesh, its terrific fighting spirit, and its relative inaccessibility combine to make the arctic charr a highly desirable quarry for those relative few who have the time and means to venture to the far north. They are as royal a fighting fish as is found in freshwater, known for blistering runs and salmonlike leaps, especially in river environs, and great tenacity in swift rivers.
Sea-run arctic charr are the main interest of anglers, although landlocked charr are caught in lakes, usually incidental to fishing for lake trout or when they are the only sportfish present. Most of the better fishing for larger charr occurs far north and in a very limited time window, mainly in mid- to late summer. Some areas have just a six-week season before the weather becomes cold and possibly snowy. The end of this period, however, is usually when the largest and most colorful spawning fish are available, although this varies with location.
Arctic charr range along coastal shorelines and estuaries in summer prior to migrating upriver, however, and can provide some excellent action. Shore-based anglers usually find it necessary to wade out on extensive, shallow, nearshore flats to make long casts with heavy-bodied spoons into deeper water. Long spinning rods and light line are well suited to this, and the fish that are caught are chrome-bright, faintly spotted, and very vigorous. It is not possible to sight-cast to these charr, so blind casting is the norm.
River fishing is more dependable than lake fishing, with the charr often holding at the head of a pool. Where current drops over a gravel bar and dumps into a deep pool is a particularly good location. In lakes, anglers concentrate on inlets, where the river dumps into a lake. Early in the season, charr in lakes can be seen and caught as they wander along the edges of ice floes that are breaking up; a spoon, jig, or streamer fly will take them.
Light to medium spinning tackle are best for arctic charr, and 6- to 10-pound line is the standard. Fly anglers need a reel with ample backing, and usually fast-sinking or sink-tip 7- to 9-weight outfits. In swift, high water it is necessary to use heavy-bodied spoons, which sink below the surface turbulence; a touch of red or orange on the spoons is helpful. Weighted spinners and some plugs may also do the job, and heavily dressed flies on fast-sinking lines are necessary for fly anglers. Fly fishing is better when the water level is lower; many different wet flies and streamers are appropriate, also with some bright color for appeal, and dry flies may catch fish when there is a hatch (often mosquitoes) in progress.