I’ve previously written about Trout and True Trout. The last post of this “trilogy” is about Char. For clarity, it will help us to keep in mind that scientist categorize the living world first by family, then genus, by species, and so on.

Char or Charr (genus: Salvelinus), are made up of over 60 species. I could write for a year if we tried to discuss each one, but then again, there are very few differences that the average guy would really care about among many of these species. Since I’m not interested in preparing you or myself for a PhD, we’ll just take a look at the most common species that I (here I go again) assume you have heard of.

Lake trout (Salvelinus namaycush) is a freshwater char—also called togues or mackinaw trout —are the largest of all trout. The normal maximum is about 60 pounds (27 kg), but some individuals weigh more than 100 pounds (45 kg). They are native only in the northern United States and Canada, but they have been introduced into cold lakes in Europe and South America (25% of all Lake trout are found in the province of Ontario, Canada). In the northern part of their range lake trout inhabit streams connected to lakes. Lake trout are gray, greenish-blue, or bronze, with pale spots on their bodies and fins. The female does not make a redd.

Trout Lake

In 2007, nearly 30 men and boys, all friends (same genus, most of them) and family (same species, although in some cases there may be reason to question if this is true) of mine, spent a week at Trout Lake in Canada. My godfather (yes, but he’s a good guy) was the master of catching Lake trout that week, but I must say I find Lake trout to be rather boring compared to other species of trout, let alone other fish. They’re generally down quite deep and you really just “still fish”, which isn’t the kind of “active” approach I like to take when fishing. My godfather was happy though, and as you probably know, if the Godfather isn’t happy, nobody is happy… 😉

By 1961, lake trout in the Great Lakes had been almost totally destroyed by the sea lamprey, which had entered the lakes after completion of the Welland Canal in 1829. Efforts to control the lamprey population met with some success, but trout are still killed in large numbers. Lake trout are regularly released from hatcheries into the lakes to replace those killed by lampreys.

Brook trout, native to the American coast from near the Arctic Circle to Georgia, have been introduced to suitable habitats in other parts of America and the Old World. These trout are olive-green or brown on the back, which is often marked with dark, wavy lines. The sides are mottled with pink or red spots surrounded by pale blue. At spawning time, the fins and bellies of males turn orange or red and the leading edge of each lower fin is white followed by black. Brook trout are also called speckled trout or squaretails. Sea-running varieties are often called salters. Brook trout weigh an average of 1 to 4 pounds (450 g to 1.8 kg), with record weights of about 14 pounds (6.4 kg).

Dolly Varden

Dolly Varden: note the small head and snake-like body.

Dolly Vardens, and Bull trout, used to be considered the same species, but in 1980 were separated. Bull trout are a threatened species in America. They range from Japan to Alaska and south to northern California, but are native to North America. Sea-running varieties are silvery with dark, wavy markings on the back. In mountain streams Dolly Vardens are spotted with red. Large lake-dwellers are silvery with yellow spots. The average weight in streams is generally less than one pound (450 g), while lake-dwellers and sea-runners often weigh more than 15 pounds (6.8 kg). Dolly Vardens feed on spawn and small fish, rodents, frogs, and birds, and are regarded as destructive to other trout and salmon. Bull trout can be differentiated from brook trout (S. fontinalis) by the absence of distinct spots on the dorsal fin, as well as yellow, orange, or salmon-colored spots on the back as opposed to red spots with blue haloes on the brook trout.

Bull trout identification

Bull trout lack the deeply forked tail fin of lake trout. Bull trout have been recorded measuring up to 103 centimetres (41 in) in length and weighing 32 pounds (14.5 kg).

If you want to learn more about these varieties of trout, and even other sub-species, it may be helpful in your research to know that trout belong to the family Salmonidae. (Since there are lots of “experts” out there, it’s easy to get confused since although they claim to be experts, their opinions differ… go figure!)

True trout are of the genus Salmo. The rainbow trout is O. mykiss; steelhead are Salmo gairdneri; the cutthroat, S. clarki; the brown, S. trutta; the golden, S. aguabonita. Chars are of the genus Salvelinus. The lake trout is Salvelinus namaycush; the brook, S. fontinalis; the Dolly Varden, S. malma.