Eastern Brook Trout, Chars, Lake Trout, Dolly Varden

by Fly Fisherman

Eastern Brook Trout
Brook Trout were once found in nearly all of our cold upland streams from the arctic regions of Northern Canada south to the southern Appalachian streams of the Pisgah National Forest and west across the highlands of the Middle West up into Hudson’s Bay. As civilization swept virgin timber from the land, many trout streams became too warm for this cold-water fish. This change has been brought about in many streams, too, by floods that come with de-forested water sheds. These floods wash away much of the aquatic life upon which trout feed. In spite of this widespread change-over of many streams from trout to bass waters, Eastern and North Atlantic anglers who can go far enough into the mountains and woods can still get very enjoyable Brook trout fishing. In this successful “defense of our trout streams,” various state conservation commissions, the U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Forest Service have been and are doing splendid work that is becoming more practically effective every year.

In partial recompense for streams lost to warm water game fish, Brook Trout have now been planted so widely in the Western part of the United States in places where they never were before that they are probably now found in as many streams as they ever were.
Eastern Brook trout belong to the char group of trouts. The scientists claim that the chars are not true trouts at all—but for the common fly fisherman, Brook Trout are not only trout but the trout. Anyhow, I think you’d like to know how to tell a char from the other three kinds of trout. Nine out of ten fishermen don’t know how. You can tell any of the chars from the other trout (Rainbow, Cutthroat or Brown) by one simple thing. Look for a bone running lengthwise in the roof of the mouth of the fish. This bone is called the vomer. All chars have teeth only on the front part or crest of the vomer. The other three groups of trout(which belong to a family the scientists call “Salmo”) all have teeth extending well down the shaft of this vomer bone.

Eastern Brook trout are very easily recognized. Besides the vomer bone distinction, the brilliant red spots with purple surrounding coloring and the whitish spots on a darker background, combined with the olive, worm-like lines on the back
and the white front edge of the lower fins, make the Brook trout a fish you will know on sight. With almost every fisherman it is “love at first sight,” too.

Brook trout prefer shady brooks although they are found in the colder headwaters of larger woodland rivers of their range. Brook trout do well in cold ponds and lakes. They like colder water, not over 68°, but can stand a summer water temperature of 75°.
Eastern Brook trout move upstream in late summer seeking cooler waters and spawning beds. They spawn in the fall—from October to December, at the very headwaters of streams —and return downstream in the winter after leaving the spawning beds.

The Chars
There are three principal chars caught by fishermen in America. First, of course, is the Eastern Brook Trout (Salvelinus fantinedis) that I have already mentioned—the brook trout of most fishermen and American fly fishing writers.
Lake Trout
The second is the Lake Trout (Cristivorner namaycush). These are caught in the deep northern lakes of Eastern and Middle Western United States and Canada in the summer by deep trolling with metal lines. You can tell Lake Trout by the large, whitish spots on a background of dark grey. Lake trout have no red spots and the fins are uncolored. They are a fly fisherman’s fish only in the very early spring. Just after the ice goes out, they do come into fairly shallow water along shore lines and on bars. At this time they can be caught on wet flies, streamers, bucktails and on a spinner-and-fly. Even at this season, lake trout can be taken rather more effectively by bait casting with deep-running lures. So, at best, lake trout just aren’t much of a fly fisherman’s fish.

Dolly Varden
The third principal char is one the anglers of the East probably do not know—the Dolly Varden (Salvelinus malma spectabilis). This lusty trout is also called salmon trout and bull trout in Alaska and on the Pacific Coast.
Dolly Vardens range from Northern California up the Pacific Coast to Alaska and East to Alberta and Montana. They may easily be recognized by the size of the adipose or fatty fin ( that’s the small fin on the back between the dorsal fin and the tail). This adipose fin in the Dolly Varden is unusually large. The body is deep and thick with large red spots on the sides. The spots on the back are smaller and paler, something not seen in other chars. The Dolly Varden doesn’t have the characteristic wormlike markings on the back that are so well known in the Eastern Brook trout. These two differences give you a way to tell these two chars apart if you find them in the same stream, which you may easily do in the West where Eastern Brook have been widely stocked in streams native to the Dolly Varden. This latter type, incidentally, often drop downstream to the sea where they grow to a large ein—ten or twelve pounds—and turn silvery color with the red spots very faint or not showing at all. They take flies well.
Fins on a Trout

Minor Chars
There are a number of minor chars found in America. The better known ones are the Lake Sunapee trout (Salvelinus aureolus) in Lake Sunapee, New Hampshire; the Rangely Lake trout (Salvelinus oquassa) in the Rangely Lakes of Maine and a few lakes of northern Canada. It is quite likely that further study will show these to be merely local variations of the regular Eastern Brook trout.

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