I made an off-hand comment on a friend’s Facebook post this morning — he uploaded a great photo of a Dolly Varden in Southeast Alaska and I quickly opined that, should some higher power ever dictate to me that I could only catch one salmonid for the rest of my life, it very well might be a Dolly Varden.
It was kind of silly declaration, honestly — one meant to simply show my deep appreciation for the sea-run char of the Northwest. I’m a pretty solid plane flight away from the nearest readily available Dolly Varden stream, and I might get to spend a week or so every couple of summers chasing them as they move into fresh water as the days start to get longer in pursuit of salmon smolts and, later, salmon eggs and then decaying salmon flesh. To say I’d pick Dollies over, say, the cutthroats I can reach just a few minutes from home … well, that was foolish.
That said, my friend, TU employee and Juneau fishing guide Mark Hieronymus, aptly declares the Dolly Varden to be “the people’s fish.” That’s not to say that Mark is the Che Guevera of Southeast Alaskan fishing guides, but he’s spot-on about the Dolly. This is a dependable fish. Salmon come and salmon go in the rivers and streams of the Tongass National Forest — Dollies are almost always there, and they’re almost always hungry. You can try to time the silver run or the king run, and maybe you’ll get lucky and hit it just right. Odds are, you’ll time your date with Dolly perfectly — she’s rarely a no-show.
And then there’s the wallpaper — the rainforest backdrop of the Tongass is primal, just like the Dolly Varden that moves through the piscine environment, harassing salmon from the cradle to the grave. And damn, they’ll hit a fly, be it a smolt imitation in the estuary or an Egg-sucking Leech five miles from the salt beneath the spruce and hemlock canopy.
So, silly as it sounds … I might, indeed, choose the Dolly if I ever had to make that choice. That, of course, would mean I’d have to stock up on airline miles or, better yet, move to some island along the Inside Passage and tie the bulk of my flies in purple and pink.
Maybe it’s not such a bad idea, after all …