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Char - the information

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In his previous article John Bailey tantalized us with his descriptions of char around the Northern Hemisphere. Now he tells us how to catch them…

If you haven't experienced char yourself, then you should. They are worth it and, as the dreadful advertisement says, you're worth it. To live the life of a fly fisherman and never fish for char is a travesty. But, for most of us, the opportunity to fish for char involves travel, time and expense and you've got to get it right. I don't know everything about char - who does? - but here is what I know.

The destination

Choose this very wisely indeed. Remember many char venues are hugely difficult to reach, on the very fringes of civilisation itself in many cases. Are you up to one of these demanding locations? It might involve long-distance walking. Probably camping. Perhaps endless midges. Decide, too, what sort of fish you want to catch. Do you want big fish? in that case, you've probably got to travel for sea-run char that visit the rivers to spawn. If you're content with smaller fish, then landlocked char will probably do you; though remember that some of the landlocked fish in Central Europe are massive. So are those up in Scotland where they've grown to their full potential on food from fish farms.

Your window

Remember that in many cases, the char season is a short one, especially for migratory fish. Arrive too early and the fish might not have entered the river. Arrive too late and they might have made it back to sea. So check your timing meticulously.


Don't go too light for char. These are the wildest of fish, nearly always inhabiting clear, cool, well-oxygenated water and the combination makes for scraps you'd barely believe. Eight, nine or even ten-weight gear is not out of the way for sea-run fish that can easily exceed ten pounds in weight. Six / seven-weight gear is fine for char in the two to six pound category. For smaller, landlocked fish, a four or a five-weight is probably fine.

Fresh-run fish

For big fish, just in from the sea you can't do much better than shrimp and small streamer patterns. Favourite streamer colours of mine are silver and pink. A quick retrieve is often necessary, especially with the streamers. These are big fish and are often extraordinarily aggressive.

Longer term residents

These same big fish that have been longer in the river need different techniques as they become more and more cautious. Firstly, you've got to get the depth exactly right which isn't as easy as you'd expect in crystal-clear water. On some of the pools, especially in tumultuous rivers, you might need a sinking line to get down to ten feet or more. And the longer the fish have been in the river, the more careful your approach must be. You need to use smaller flies. The same patterns, just smaller. You will also need to rest the pool often and remember that in Iceland and Greenland in particular, they are just tiny pots of water that get disturbed early and take an age to settle down.

Quick water

Check out fast water carefully. Remember there will be pods of fish constantly making their way up from the sea as the season progresses. Read that water carefully and fish around rocks just as you would for salmon. Do take care wading water as quick and cold as this. It might look shallow but, being crystal, looks are deceptive.

Landlocked char

These are generally smaller than sea-run fish but not always. The further north you travel, the more likely you are to be in for a serious surprise. Remember that dusk and dawn, and through the night if that's possible, are by far the best times. These, again, are wary fish so you will probably need long leaders. Buzzers sometimes work as do emergers. You can even pick them up on small dries. The best fishing is in calm conditions, using anything tiny in and around the surface film.

Feeder streams

Remember as spawning time approaches, generally in the early autumn, landlocked char leave the stillwater and make for the feeder rivers in preparation for spawning. These fish can be targeted legally towards the end of the season but do be careful how you handle them and don't take them from the water, even for a second. These are very aggressive fish and the males, especially, hammer into big flies.

Daytime fishing

If you're restricted to a daytime session, then the char will frequently be down very deep. An electronic fish finder can pinpoint the depths that they are hanging at. Sometimes, they can be reached with a fast sinker but often they'll be just too deep even for that. Personally, I have found that small orange and black flies work as well as anything. But be warned. Your fish finder might show you shoals of fish the size of a football pitch but it's easy to work even hundreds of thousands of char for hours without a sign of a take. Just one of the mysteries of these extraordinary fish.

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