The char is one of the most beautiful – and elusive – fish on the British list. Once found and hooked, it will put up an electrifying struggle, often to the death
After the last Ice Age, a number of arctic creatures were left behind in the habitats they had colonized when the ice moved south. One of these is the char, Salvelinus alpinus. It is essentially a marine species but in cold climatic areas land-locked colonies survive in inland lakes, including some in Britain. Because the char is a remnant of earlier arctic fauna, temperatures of less than 24°C (75°F) are essential for it to be able to survive.
In Britain and Ireland, a number of discrete populations of alpinus survive. The Highlands of Scotland, Galloway, the Lake District and the mountain regions of Wales contain about 30 lakes in which the arctic char may still exist. Ireland has a number of lakes, chiefly in the mountainous regions of the West, that are said also to contain small numbers of this fine fighting fish, but only in the most northerly countries of
Europe and the Americas can you be certain of catching char nowadays.
Char are members of the salmon family, Salmonidae. They are closely related to the American brook trout, Salvelinus fontinalis. Except for land-locked colonies, both char and brook trout, like salmon, spend most of their lives feeding in the sea and migrate to inland waters only to spawn. Such migrations are called runs. Land-locked char migrate from the lakes in which they normally live into small streams to breed.
The brook trout in America
The Americans have made massive introductions of the brook trout to many waters. It is the leading game species of North America and breeds prolifically there. There have also been a number of attempts to introduce it into Britain and at least two stockings are said to have been effective. But so far little is known or has been heard of these fish.
Char (and brook trout) are similar in body shape to the brown trout, although there is a marked difference in coloration between the two species. The marine form of char is a flashing, firm-bodied fish with a brilliant silver scaling and sometimes a purple tinge to its upper parts and along its back. The leading edges of the ventral, pectoral and anal fins of the char have a distinct white stripe which is clearly visible in clear water.
The colour of marine arctic char changes, however, as spawning time approaches. Both male and female fish then adopt a brilliant display dress. The males becomes a deep red on the belly and flanks and at the same time a pronounced, hook-like projection, the kype, appears. Female fish do not grow a kype and are more gentle in colour. They have a creamy-orange belly which fades into the silver-green of the sides and flanks. Both sexes develop a green-mottled upper body soon after they enter freshwater.
Salvelinus alpinus ft
Char that do not spend a feeding period in the sea and are either landlocked or elect to remain within rivers and lakes are generally smaller in size than the marine variety. Indeed, within the enclosed water?, of. The British Isles, the few char present are regarded as dwarf specimens. There are colour differences between marine and inland char as well. The breeding coloration of inland fish is muted, lacking the richness that marine feeding fish adopt, and throughout the rest of the year the fish are less silvery, ten-ding to be a mottled green with brown spots.
Fish of the far north breed in the summer – about August to October is normal – and this early spawning is conditioned by temperature. The fish cannot spawn until the freshwaters are free from ice which, if there, denies access to the gravel bed in which spawning occurs. Like salmon, the females form shallow depressions, redds, in the gravel into which the eggs are laid. The char of temperate waters, however, like all other Salmonidae, spawn not in the summer but in the coldest months of the year, December through to March. Land-locked fish leave their feeding lakes to enter small streams where gravel beds are more readily available, together with the more strongly oxygenated water so essential to egg and fry development.
Inland char, particularly those of the British Isles, live in deep lakes formed during the Ice Ages by glacial action. Because they are deepwater dwelling, the food available to them is poor in both quality and quantity. Consequently, they do not attain remarkable weights, fish of a few ounces being the norm. Nevertheless, anglers can and do catch small arctic char in British lakes.
Perhaps the most successful method is to troll colourful spoons at depth, but although it catches the odd fish, this angling system leaves much to be desired. The heavy weight necessary to get depth masks any fighting ability that the .species possesses.
Char do occasionally rise to the surface during periods of warm weather, eating the small fry of other species. In arctic waters, they are quite free risers when there is a little warmth in the air, and are commonly fished for with spoon or dry fly. A twitched wet fly or nymph often initiates a taking response. Taken on fly or spinner, the char enjoys a superb reputation as a fighter. The fight of a good marine specimen can only be described as something between a freshwater sea trout and a grilse on greased line, summer tackle.
Some idea of the energy used by such fish in their attempts to escape is demonstrated by the number which die before being netted. Played for five minutes or more, gradually being worked towards the landing net, fish can give a last spirited, thrashing effort when seeing the net, and then die. The power put into the fight is just too much. 353 3ft
If you do try spinning or fly fishing for char, remember that they like to see the lure, and coloration is all important. A flash of red is a par-ticularly good feature to have. Otherwise normal trout tackle is perfectly satisfactory.
It is difficult to suggest where to go to catch char within Britain, however. In Wales, Llyn Cwellyn had a minimal reputation a long time ago and Ffynnon Llugwy was recently stocked with 3,500 char up to 8in long.
This introduction follows the development of a hydroelectric scheme which will prevent them spawning in one of their traditional habitats, Llyn Peris near Llanberis, Gwynedd. The Lake District has at least a handful of waters that did once produce the char.
In Scotland, the deep waters, such as Loch Ness and Loch Mares, also provided the species. The fish are probably still in these and other lakes, but anglers have now turned their activities to the more certain fishing of the brown and rainbow trout that abound in most British waters today.