Salvelinus Malma



Lake, River

3 - 27 pounds

30" - 50"

Dolly Varden 

Dolly Varden (Salvelinus malma) Fish Description

The Dolly Varden is commonly mistaken for the bull trout but these two species of fish are different; the former has a more rounded body, a smaller head, and a less prominent lower jaw. Both the Dolly Varden and bull trout belong to the char genus. The Arctic char species once went by the name of Dolly Varden.

The body of the Dolly Varden is typically olive green or muddy gray in color, fading to white on their belly part. They are known for their red-orange and pale yellow spots beautifully scattered along their sides. During their spawning period, the mature males would grow a bright orange streak along their black and white bellies. The male Dolly Vardens also develop a kype or a strongly-hooked jaw at this point.


Dolly Varden Diet and Size

Dolly Vardens love salmon roe. They also content themselves with aquatic insect naiads. During dire circumstances, they even feed on flying insects. Crustaceans like crayfish, amphibians, and some other smaller fishes are also part of their diet.

Dolly Vardens are large and boast up to 27 pounds of weight. They grow up to 24 inches in length. They start to mature when they measure 3-6 inches. Dolly Vardens can live for up to 16 years.


Interesting Facts About the Dolly Varden 

  • The name dolly varden is used for other species of fish including some char found in England, and another species located in Japan.
  • The Russians call the Dolly Varden belyi golets.
  • The Dolly Varden was named by German naturalist Johann Walbaum in 1792. The name malma means fish in the local Russian language.
  • Dolly Varden is originally a character from Charles Dickens’ novel Barnaby Rudge; she wore very bright, splashy clothing which accounts for her association with the Dolly Varden fish. 
  • Interestingly, there are two kinds of Dolly Varden found in Alaska; they differ in terms of the number of chromosomes and the number of vertebrae.


Dolly Varden — Fishing Techniques

Dolly vardens are highly abundant and far from being vulnerable. They spawn nearly every year and produce large populations so fishing them would not be a problem. They can be caught in many places especially in the US, Russia, and Canada. Anglers also use them as a game fish; thus, the Dolly Varden is regulated in the US and Canada. 

The best bait anglers can use to lure the Dolly Varden is salmon roe. Thus, it is best to catch Dolly Vardens during the salmon spawning season. Before the salmon spawning period, the Dolly Vardens are usually found at the mouth of rivers or lake outlets. Anglers should arm themselves with regular trout gear when catching the Dolly Varden. Anglers should be careful because they are fierce fighters who are known for breaking fishing lines.


Dolly Varden Habitat and Distribution

Dolly Vardens thrive in the Northern Pacific waters. They are also found in British Columbia, Alaska, Russia, Japan, North Korea, the Arctic Sea, and the Bering Strait, among others. They are a migratory species. During winter, they live in saltwater and move to the nearshore waters during summer. In spring, they thrive in large lakes. They spawn during fall, returning to the streams where they were born.