Arctic Char (How to Catch, Clean & Cook)

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To catch arctic char, gather the right fishing gear and head to cold rivers or deep glacial pools. Next, use a fly fishing rod within the 5-8 weight range since they’re aggressive and strong. Use a reel that can hold a monofilament line of up to 100m and support at least 20 pounds. We recommend lures such as Blue Fox Pixies with orange or pink centers. Use a stripping retrieve when targeting non-spawning arctic to attract it toward your lure. To clean it, gut the char using a sharp knife and remove the entrails. Next, cut it behind the front fin until you get to the bone that connects to the vertebrae. Flip the char and remove the next filet. When done, clean the filets with clean running water and store them appropriately. Arctic char tastes best when marinated with rosemary, olive oil, and garlic and then baked in an oven.

If you’re fond of salmon fishing, you might as well be interested in fishing for arctic chars. Arctic char is a delicious fish, and knowing how to catch and prepare it is essential. Here is a complete guide on catching, cleaning, and preparing arctic char.

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

Recommended Fishing Gear:

  • Rod: Douglas Sky 9′ 5wt
  • Reel: Ross Evolution R
  • Fly: Pheasant Tail size 14
  • Lures for Spinners: Blue Fox Pixie


Arctic char or Arctic 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.

Polymorphism is common in Arctic charr and often occurs in the same lake.

This freshwater fish is often confused for lake trout because it looks quite similar to it, but it has light spots (the color varies from white, pink, or even bright red) 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.

At the moment, climate change, invasive species, over-harvesting, and habitat degradation are potential threats to these fish. Little is known about the life history of Arctic char in Alaska lakes.

Arctic Charr Facts

Scientific NameSalvelinus alpinus
Common Name(s)Arctic char, Arctic charr (used to be called blueback trout, Sunapee trout)
FamilySalmonids (closely related to salmon and trout)
Identifying CharacteristicsIts skin is silvery and dappled with pink along the lateral line.
Spawning colors are more exaggerated in males than in females.
The fish’s color is highly variable depending on its habitat’s environmental conditions.
Its average size is around 6 inches.
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. Sometimes, they live in ponds and lakes with no other fish.

Unlike salmon who are raised in open net pens in coastal waters, arctic char are raised in raceways onshore and tanks.
LimitsCheck your local regulations
Foodzooplankton, insects, and even other fish
Largest Recorded32 pounds 9 ounces

Where to Catch

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

However, during the summer, you can find arctic char migrating 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.

The best places to fish for Salmon are the west coast of Canada, Alaska, and the Great Lakes. You’ll also find several populations of char in New England.

How to Catch Arctic Charr 

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 fly fishing rod that is within 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

YouTube video

There are many arctic char-related 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

What do arctic fish eat?

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.

Is arctic char healthy?

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

Why is arctic char farming so famous?

Farm-raised fish 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!

Jon Stenstrom
Founder & Angler
Jon Stenstrom is a fishing enthusiast. He has over 25 years of fishing experience, and 6 years of spearfishing experience, and is currently learning how to boat. Jon has his Open Water PADI Certification and FII Freediver Level 1 Certification. Jon has traveled the world to fish and dive, most notably in the Great Barrier Reef, Baja Mexico, Thailand, and Malaysia. More Articles
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