How to Catch Dolly Varden

Dolly varden is a species of fish found in cold-water tributaries of the Pacific Ocean. They are found in northwestern parts of North America and Northern Asia. Dolly varden are related to bull trout and arctic char and are often confused with them by many anglers. In this guide, we will cover everything you need to know about fishing for dolly varden.


Dolly varden tend to look like trout, except they have dark bodies with colorful spots. The spots are usually bright red or yellow, but can be other colors as well.

Dolly Varden

There are two kinds of dolly varden that are fished in Alaska, northern dolly varden and southern dolly varden. Northern dolly varden is larger than its southern counterpart. Northern dolly varden average sizes around 16 to 22 inches and can weigh around 26 pounds.

Southern dolly varden tend to reside in lakes, where the habitat causes them to only grow to be around 5 inches in length. Some can grow beyond 15 inches, but this is not as common.

Where to Catch

Dolly varden in North America are found in Alaska and parts of Canada. They are found in the sea, lakes, coastal waters, rivers, and creaks. They prefer clean waters with gravel bottoms and tend to stay near cover.

In the spring they migrate to the sea from the lakes so you can find them near outlet streams, mouths or beaches. They return to their freshwater homes to spawn around August. This is known as the best month to fish Dolly Varden as they make their runs.

Equipment Recommendations

Fishing Rods

Most anglers will either use a spinning rod or a fly rod to catch dolly varden. For a spinning rod, you want a light action rod. For a fly rod, a 5 to 6 weight rod is ideal.

Lures and Baits

Best Dolly Varden Lures

Salmon Roe

Salmon eggs are known as the most effective bait choice for fishing dolly varden. They are particularly effective during the salmon spawning season.


You can also use egg imitating flies when fly fishing. Other flies that are effective include insect imitations, egg sucking leeches, wooly buggers, and flesh flies.


Flashing spoons are effective when the varden are attacking smaller fish. If the fish in your area are commonly targeting smaller salmon and trout, using a spoon is a good choice.


Fishing with a spinner also works when the dolly varden are feeding on smaller fish.

Tips and Techniques

Fish the Right Location

As with almost any species, fishing the right location is the most crucial part of catching dolly varden. In early summer and spring, river mouths and lake outlets are your best spot to fish because you can catch the fish as they are migrating.

If you’re fishing in rivers, look for them near spawning fish. Typically, you want to fish downstream of spawning salmon redds.

Use Salmon Eggs

As stated earlier, salmon eggs can be the most effective bait when fished properly. If you’re going to be using salmon eggs, make sure to use them during the peak salmon season. The best tactic is to let it sink to the bottom just downstream of the spawning.

Use the Right Fly

When fly fishing dolly varden, it’s important to use the right fly in the right season. Egg patterns work when the salmon are out. Egg sucking leeches also work. In spring and summer streamers are often used. If the dolly varden are feeding on insects use an insect imitation. The key is to use whatever mimics what they are already eating in the season.

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