February 16, 2018

Dolly Varden vs. Rainbow Trout

With approximately 40 species of fish in the world famous Kenai River, it’s no doubt that identifying your catch can be a challenge. For example, Dolly Varden and rainbow trout are often lumped together, requiring cause for a closer peek before releasing. Although both are beautiful and protected species of fish, they have many differences.

Rainbow Trout

Dolly Varden

It is important to handle both the Dolly Varden and the rainbow trout very carefully, since there are not hundreds of thousands coming in each year from the ocean. The Kenai River (and Kenai and Skilak Lake) is their life-long home. Once you have experienced the fly-fisherman’s dream of challenging and reeling in this spectacular fish, take a closer look.

  • Does it have light spots on its dark sides? It’s most likely a Dolly Varden.
  • Does it have dark spots on its light sides? It’s most likely a rainbow trout.
  • Does its mouth reach past its eye? It’s most likely a Dolly Varden.
  • Does it have beautiful colors of pinks, oranges and greens? It could be either!

In fact, many people are curious as to how Dollies got their name. As it turns out, they were named after a pattern of clothing from the 19th century. This pattern was used on women’s dresses and contained similar colors to the Dollies we see on the Kenai today. The cloth pattern was named after the Dolly Varden from Charles Dickens’ book, Barnaby Rudge.

The best part about catching Dollies and rainbows is that the fun doesn’t end after you’ve carefully netted your fish. Although their colors and patterns can vary greatly due to their maturity, habitat, sex and age, the trends that these beauties are flaunting will never go out of style. That’s for sure!