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Discussion Starter · #1 ·
I have been told that the char that are being caught in the Skagit system are Dolly Varden by some people, and that they are Bull Trout by others.

So, I googled and found conficting information all over the place.

Curt, can you shed some light on this question of mine. I am talking about the majority of the fish that are being caught on a regular basis. Most from 16 to 28 inches.

Even though this thread is addressed to Smalma, good intened answers from others in the know are also welcome.
Thanks,
SA
 

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great question as my roommate and I were just talking about this a couple nights ago. The way I think of it is (though don't know if it is right) is if they have ready access to the ocean then they are probably Dolly Varden and if they really don't like in Eastern Oregon or Washington or way up high in a watershed they are Bulls. But I may have it backwards just they way I have been taught to think about the 2 fish.

JJ
 

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While smalma might know something I dont. I've always thought, prior to talking to you, that most or all the char in Puget Sound are bull trout. Unlike their fluvial (river resident) relatives in east of the cascades, they display an anadromous lifehistory, spending a few months every year in the sound eating out migrating salmon smolts and other marine food items, before running back up the rivers in the summer to spawn in early october or so. This would account for the more chrome color of the fish. I personally have never caught a bull that looked like the brown toad like sharks from the east side out of the skagit, and it seems like they're all pretty much the same coloration (except close to spawning time). I hear there are a few isolated populations of dollys in WA, mostly above water falls (above sol duc falls for example). Maybe Smalma could shed some light.

Will
 

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I have no firsthand experience, but I do have Bob Behnke's Trout and Salmon of North America in front of me.

It appears that the Dolly Varden exists in anadromous, stream-resident and lacustrine life histories, while the Bull Trout exists in river-reisdent, lacustrine, and sea-run populations (you tell me the difference). It also appears there is some distinction between a Northern and Southern subspecies of dolly Varden, although the distinction is definitely not absolute.

"Because of the confusion of this species with the bull trout, the southern limit of anadromous populations in North Ameria is not yet documented. Large, silvery char known from Puget Sound that run up tributary rivers are probably bull trout. Inland, Dolly Varden in the Puget Sound basin appear to be all stream-resident populations.

It also seems possible that Bull Trout and Dolly Varden both coexisted as far South as the McCloud River, in California.

Bull Trout and Dolly Vardens also occasionally hybridize, but maintaint their identities and do not homogenize.

Looking at the distribution maps, the Skagit system should have both Bull Trout and Dolly Varden. So, I don't have an answer for you, but I hope you found what I could pull out of Behnke's book interesting.
 

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I hope Smalma sees this and responds, I had this explained to me by a fisheries tech friend a while back. What I know is that it is very complicated, with the ranges of Dollies and Bull trout kind of overlapped in something of a patch-work manner along the coast and inland.

I will try to get a response from my friend here.
 

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Almost all of the char in the Skagit are bull trout. Above the impoundments are some Dolly Varden.

This is a very complex issue as there are a number of different life scenerios being played out by bull trout in the Skagit. Some are resident and do not migrate to the salt. Some migrate to the salt and there are even others that will start off as resident trout and then change to migratingbetween the river and the salt. And on and on. Some will also migrate between systems; Skagit bulls have been found in the Snohomish system and I would assume there are many other examples of these fishing moving between different river systems.

There are others here that can expand on this subject with much greater knowledge and with clearer detail then I am capable of but I believe what little I have stated here is farily accurate.
 

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I'd like to hitch hike onto this thread with a related question.

I really love having the D.V./bull trout in the Skagit system. Its great to increase your odds at a tug on the line in a long winter's day of swinging. Why don't we see comparable populations in other nearby rivers such as the Snohomish system. Yes I've caught a number, but not with the frequency or general size as the Skagit system.

Joe Smolt.
 

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Joe,

Good questions and I wish Smalma was here to respond. He is not a member but from time to time drops by to read posts and then usually e-mails one of us to post his thoughts.

I would like to know the answer to your question as well but wonder if it has anything to do witht eh relative health of the system.

'tip
 

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Northfork hit it on the head. Bull trout are fall spawners much like salmon. Usually in early to mid october from what I understand. Their eggs incubate best at low temperatures (I believe between 2 and 3 celcius) meaning they need consistently cold water to spawn in. Around here they find that in high elevation , often glacial tributaries. If you just think about the sky, it is a much lower elevation system, with only the North Fork historically providing the type of habitat anadromous bulls require. The South Fork has comparable habitat, but before trucking, was impassable. On the skagit you've got much more a much more extensive high elevation water shed, and they spawn in upper skagit tribs, the cascade and in the sauk river. Sadly with climate change melting many of our glaciers, I'm afraid they long term outlook for our bull trout is not very good.

Tightlines,
Will
 

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The anadromous char in the lower Skagit are almost certainly bull trout.

The upper Skagit above Ross Lake is one of very few watersheds that have both dollies and bulls. The mainstem has an adfluvial (migrate between lake and river) population of large bulls. A couple of smaller tribs have non-migratory headwater populations of Dollies, which mature at about 8" in length.

I would expect there are very few Dollies anywhere in Washington State, except some isolated headwater populations. Dollies are generally found well north of the Fraser on the coast. Inland populations south of the Arctic are bulls. South of the Fraser there are very few Dollies. Interestingly, Vancouver Island has only Dollies, no bulls. There is a relatively small coastal overlap zone within a 100 miles or so of the Fraser
mouth where you find both species, and (very rarely) some headwater populations that show genetic characteristics of both species.

Poul
 

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S. Addict,

I'm not surprised you found confusing information. When you consider that Dolly Varden and bull trout were only classified as separate species in 1978, and with rather little differentiating them then or now, I doubt it will ever be clear to casual observers. Among taxonomists, I doubt the "clumpers" ever would have split them into two species. The splitters, like Behnke, are always finding more species - that have very few differences. A main basis for species separation are separation in time and or space such that separate species don't reproduce together. In western WA and the lower BC mainland and VI, there's not much preventing the interbreeding of Dolly Varden and bull trout.

Smalma has reported on recent bodies of work which suggest that all or most native char in anadromous accessible waters of western WA are bull trout, while some populations that ID as Dolly Varden occur upstream of migratory barriers. Since there is a physical barrier, some credence is lent to the proposition that these are separate species. Although when one studies salmonid populations upstream of migratory barriers, one finds that it is completely normal that some fish each year migrate downstream of the barrier as summer low flows crowd some members of the population out of receding habitat, never to return upstream due to the physical block. Now, who do you suppose those Dolly Varden breed with?

I've just revealed my bias. I'm happy to call all these fish "native char." I feel like the Puget Sound basin and nearby areas happen to fall in a species convergence/divergence zone. When you look at the distribution of char globally (about 5 or 6 species), I think they all could interbreed except that most don't occur in the same place (spatial separation). However, a lot of them do. For instance, as you come down Alaska's west coast, the range of Artic char, you come into the range of Dolly Varden. On the north slope, Artic char look like Artic char. In southern Bristol Bay, Dolly Varden look like Dolly Varden. However, the Artic char begin to look more like Dolly Varden the further south you venture into Dolly Varden range. Is this making sense?

In SE Alaska, there are no Artic char, and all the Dolly Varden look like what a Dolly Varden should look like. Traveling further south on the global char crescent, if you will, you hit Puget Sound, where Dollys still look pretty much like SE Alaska Dollys. But if you follow that crescent around and up the Columbia River, the bull trout are fairly distinguishable from the PS Dollys. I think that PS and coastal WA just happen to lie in a species divergence/convergence zone. The fact that it is extremely hard to identify a char as either a Dolly or bull without looking at pretty detailed meristics suggests to me that these fish may be separate species in certain parts of their range, but that the major difference between them in this area is the stuff that keeps splitter taxonomists employed. The char certainly don't read the textbooks and don't care. They happily adapt to, and exploit whatever life history strategy best meets their needs to live, grow, and reproduce to perpetuate themselves - under any name.

Where the critters maintain significant reproductive isolation, like Swift reservoir and the upper N Lewis River, specie divergence is more complete, and these char appear more like interior bull trout.

Regarding the distribution of char in PS, they need cold water habitat to reproduce, so they are found in river systems with glaciers or permanent snowfields in their headwaters. They occur in the Snohomis basin, but spawn only in the Skykomish system. The Snoqualmie has the right watershed, but the presence of Snoqualmie Falls prevents access to the tributaries where successful reproduction could occur. They occur in the Lake WA drainage, but only in the upper Cedar River where habitat conditions are suitable. The Green River watershed is too low in elevation to provide suitable spawning area, even if they could get upstream of Howard Hanson Dam, which they could now with the fishway. They are present in the Puyallup/White River system, but absent in the Nisqually, and we don't understand why, as it's as glacial as they get.

It's fun stuff, and native char at least give a species to discuss without going into all the negative harvest allocation crap. I just hope they never become commercially valuable.

Sincerely,

Salmo g.
 

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Discussion Starter · #14 ·
Thanks to all

who answered my question here, and by email. I now feel that maybe I know a bit more about these beautiful fish. I do know when I catch a "Dollie on the Skagit" and am told it's really a bull trout, I will have to agree. But then Dollie sounds so much better than bull trout. :)
SA
 
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