Arctic Char: How to Catch Salvelinus alpinus

If you love catching salmon and trout, then you need need to try catching arctic char.

This fish is a cousin of those two. If you were to keep a few that you catch you’ll notice that the fillets have the same look as salmon. The deep red color and similar skin tone often has it confused with salmon. If you had to categorize the flavor, it’d be between what a salmon and trout tastes like, which means it’s good for a while variety of recipes.

large male arctic char caught by fisherman
A large male arctic char. Source: Nils Rinaldi

It likes cold water and they are popular to target up in Iceland and Canada. If you’re going ice fishing for rainbow trout, it’s not uncommon for you to take a few char during your outing.

Now that you’re amped to catch one, let’s dive into how you can do it.

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Arctic char or charr is a cold-water fish that can be found in arctic, subarctic, and alpine lakes. Considered to be the rarest fish species in Ireland and Britain, this species can be found in deep and cold glacial lakes and it is common in Nordic countries.

This fish is often confused for trout because it looks quite similar to it but it has light rather than black spots and it has a boat-shaped bone or vomer that has teeth in the front. It’s part of the trout as well as the salmon family but it has smaller scales in comparison. Plus, its skin is silvery and dappled with pink along the lateral line.

Arctic Char Facts

Scientific NameSalvelinus alpinus
Common Name(s)Arctic char
Identifying CharacteristicsIts skin is silvery and dappled with pink along the lateral line.
Depth Range1 – 16 m
HabitatConsidered to be the rarest fish species in Ireland and Britain, this species can be found in deep and cold glacial lakes and it is common in Nordic countries.
LimitsCheck your local regulations
Largest Recorded32 pounds 9 ounces

Where to Catch

Arctic char can either be landlocked, anadromous or semi-anadromous depending on its location. The arctic char fish is native to the subarctic and arctic coasts and lakes that can be found high up in freshwater sources.

However, during the summer the fish migrates to the sea where it spends time in intertidal and coastal areas and after the season ends it migrates back to brackish water and estuaries.

How to Catch Arctic Char 

a small arctic char in the water
A juvenile that reminds me of a brook trout. Source: Christa Rohrbach

Arctic char fishing can go easier if you have the right gear and know where you can find the fish. Head out to cold rivers and deep glacial pools for a good haul. By nature, the fish is quite aggressive and strong but they can be targeted by sight especially if you are fishing early in the day when the char is hunting for midges close to the surface.

The fish is an opportunistic feeder and consumes up to 30 different species of both vertebrates and invertebrates. This includes mollusks, small fish, crustaceans and even its own kind all of which can be used as live bait. However, the majority of char are caught on drifted egg patterns or streamers which should be as garish in color as possible.

Fishing Tactics

  • If you are fly fishing for char, use a rod that is between the 5 to 8 weight range. The fish is quite strong and aggressive and will take some time to reel in.
  • Use a reel that can accommodate 100m of line and can support the pound test and 100m of 20-30 pound test monofilament for the best hookups that prevent snags on the bottom.

Fishing Tips

  1. Spinners that work to lure arctic char include Blue Fox Pixies that have either orange or pink centers.
  2. If you are fishing for non-spawning char in a river or ocean, use a stripping retrieve. This draws the fly perpendicular across the current in short and erratic motions which will attract the fish.


Farmed char can be consumed across the year and is cultivated mostly in Iceland. However, there are only 2 seasons in the year when the wild arctic char can be found and both only last 2 to 3 weeks. The first is the spring run which spans from July to August and the second occurs in the fall between August and September.

How to Clean

You can follow the same method of filleting a trout when preparing char fillets.

  1. Gut the char with a sharp knife and remove the entrails.
  2. Make an insert cut behind the front fin till you meet the bone that connects to the vertebrae.
  3. Run the knife down to the back of the fish cutting through the bones as you go and run it down to the tail till it comes out in the other end and you have one fillet.
  4. Flip the char and repeat on the other side to remove the second fillet but be gentle with the knife at the point. The fish will be harder to cut at this point because you won’t have flesh supporting you underneath.

Arctic Char Recipe

Pan Seared Northwest Arctic Char

There are many arctic char recipes for you to try, but this one is simple for cooking and is consistently delicious for the home chef. People say arctic char tastes like a mix between trout and salmon.

  • Preheat the oven to about 400°
  • Line a baking dish with aluminum foil.
  • Season the arctic char red fillets with some salt and place in the dish and sprinkle some lime zest on top.
  • Use a food processor to mix some olive oil, rosemary, garlic, and sherry till the garlic is chopped finely.
  • Spread the mixture over the fillets and season with black and cayenne pepper to taste.
  • Pop the dish in the preheated oven and bake for 12 to 15 minutes or till the flesh starts to flake off. Baste with the juices from the pan when the fish is halfway done and when it is almost cooked through, switch the oven to broil till it turns brown.
  • Serve with lemon wedges and the drippings from the pan.

Frequently Asked Questions

Q: What do arctic fish eat?

A: Most arctic fish feed on zooplankton, krill algae, and other aquatic invertebrates. These fish can also start feeding on their kind when food supplies run short.

Q: Is arctic char healthy?

A: Arctic char is nutrient-rich and an excellent source of Omega-3 fatty acids which are good for the heart.

Q: Why is arctic char farming so famous?

A: Farmed Arctic char is available year-round compared to the wild variety which can only be caught twice a year. It also has a milder and salmon like flavor which is favored by seafood connoisseurs.

Insider Advice

Arctic char may look incredibly similar to salmon but you can rarely catch it using salmon fishing techniques. They will take a wide variety of spoons, spinners, streamers, and even the dry fly.

Catching them on the fly is fun when you have access to running water, otherwise going after them through the ice is another great method. Just make sure you have the right ice auger to get you through that thick ice and use bright colorful spoons to get their attention.

If those two methods aren’t for you, then try trolling. You’ll find them in both the deeper areas and in the shallows.

Don’t forget to keep a few for the dinner table!

The Anglers Behind This Article:

Jon Stenstrom

Johanes Godoy

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