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AOJ References ADFG Regulations Book
ADFG Regulations Book
The Gypsies of the North - A Little Life History
The Dolly Varden life cycle in the Anchor River is a complex mix of living in freshwater as well as saltwater, thus our own little nickname as Alaska's spotted "steelhead." This species of fish is classified as a "char." All char are fall spawners and those which associate with the Anchor River and other Kenai Peninsula streams spawn in late September and October. Their timing couldn't be more perfect since these same streams are packed with spawning salmon at this time which provide a significant amount of nutrition in the form of loose salmon eggs and decaying salmon flesh.
Young Dolly Varden emerge from their gravel incubator in the spring and spend from 3 to 4 years growing to a length of about 7 inches. At this length they undergo smoltification which then allows them to survive in saltwater. These young fish migrate to sea in the spring and rear during the summer months in the marine environment. In the fall, these sub-adult fish will seek out a drainage which has a lake to overwinter in. The most common systems are the Kenai and Kasilof rivers, English Bay lakes and Packers Lake on Kalgin Island. They will repeat this nonspawning migratory cycle each year until they reach a length of 12 inches at 4 to 6 years old and are capable of reproducing.
Spawning is extremely hard on Dolly Varden and an estimated 70% of the males and 50% to 60% of the females die after completing the reproduction cycle. When Dolly Varden reach reproductive maturity, they seek out their home waters to spawn in that next fall. Those that survive will overwinter in the Anchor River and return to the ocean the following spring. Dollies that repeat the spawning cycle only do so two or three times before dying and they always spawn in consecutive years, thus the maximum life expectancy of the Dolly Varden is about nine years.
Please Handle With Care
Dolly Varden are a relatively fragile fish compared to species of trout. A high mortality on angler caught fish can occur if the fisherman is not careful. Dolly Varden in the Anchor River have a tendency to school in large groups when they first enter the stream from the ocean. This concentration often is so dense that anglers fishing large flies or lures with treble hooks will snag fish if casting into the school.
In the Anchor River, Dolly Varden that are wounded by snagging will nearly always develop an infection of the disease Furunculosis (present in the Anchor) and the vast majority will never recover from it and die. Anglers should always focus their fishing efforts along the edges of these concentrations to prevent inadvertant foul-hooking. You will catch no less fish for it.
Dollies also have an extremely soft mouth and should never be lifted out of the water by the line and hook which can cause tearing of the tissues and infection resulting in death. The angler should only handle these fish with a wet bare hand since landing nets and gloves remove the extremely thin protective slim coating on their skin. Since dollies have very tiny scales, their vulnerability is much higher than in trout.