Arctic char is a fish found in cold water areas that is related to salmon and trout. It is common to parts of Alaska, Canada, and Nordic countries where it can be fished recreationally. If you’re going to be targeting arctic char on your next fishing trip, read this guide and learn how to catch them.
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Arctic Char Identification
Since arctic char is related to both salmon and trout, it can somewhat resemble both species. They are often a dark color with lighter spots, though they can vary greatly in color. The edge of their fins are usually white and they have small heads with a slender body. The skin on an arctic char feels very smooth because of its fine scales.
Your average arctic char will weigh around 7 pounds, though larger char can reach upwards of 30 pounds and reach over 3 feet in length.
Where to Catch Arctic Char
Arctic char are found in cold rivers, lakes, and oceans. They spawn in freshwater but can spend a considerable amount of time in oceans and seas. In North America, they are commonly fished in Alaska around the Bering Sea and in certain parts of Canada. They can also be found along the Hudson Bay and parts of New Hampshire and Maine.
In the ocean, arctic char will stay inshore, where they can be fished. In rivers, they will commonly be found in pools and runs, while in lakes they tend to stay near the surface or near river mouths when the area is full of food.
What Do Arctic Char Eat?
The diet of an arctic char will vary greatly depending on the waters they inhabit. Freshwater char often eat snails, salmon eggs, plankton, caddis, and smaller fish. In saltwater, arctic char will often eat sculpin, lance, cod, and amphipods. If you’re using live bait when fishing for arctic char, it is a good idea to understand what they are eating in the waters you are fishing, and try to use that to target them.
Arctic char will spawn between September and October when the water is cold enough (usually around 40 degrees Fahrenheit). They spawn in rivers in areas with gravel or rock beds. They will often live in the rivers for years before migrating to the sea.
Arctic Char Equipment Recommendations
Rods and Reels
Spinning rods and reels are great for fishing arctic char. Light or medium action tends to work well. Since most arctic char you will catch will weigh around 1 to 10 pounds, 8 to 20 pound test line is recommended.
You can also catch them with fly rods. If you’re going to be fishing them with a fly rod we recommend a 5 to 10 weight rod around 9 feet in length.
Baits and Lures
Classic lures like spinner and spoons work well for arctic char. They tend to feed near the surface, which is where these lures can work wonders. If you’re ice fishing for arctic char, we recommend using live bait or jigs.
If you’re fly fishing, use dry flies, streamers, or wooly buggers.
Arctic Char Fishing Tips
Fish Near the Surface
Arctic char tend to feed near the surface, so when targeting them in their feeding season make sure to bring your lure to their level. This can be an excellent time to work a spinner at a shallow level to entice them to bite.
If you’re fly fishing arctic char in rivers and oceans, try working a stripping retrieve. Experiment with different speeds and lengths on your retrieve until you get a feel for what is working best.
Follow the Cycles
Match the hatch is relevant for any time of fishing, and it holds true of arctic char as well. But if you want to truly master catching arctic char, you have to develop an understanding of how they feed. Arctic char feeding in many rivers follows the cycle of their food. Their food choice follows the life cycle of insects and the spawning cycle of salmon. If insects are plentiful in the waters you are fishing, a dry fly is probably your best choice. If there are spawning salmon in the river, you want to use an egg pattern.