Kenai angler lands world-record Dolly Varden

Well hello, Dolly

Posted: Friday, October 25, 2002

"I wanted to go fishing, and I caught this world-record Dolly," said 18-year-old Mike Curtiss of Kenai.

Sometimes, it's as simple as that.

Curtiss was fishing above the Arctic Circle on the Wulik River, which flows into the Chukchi Sea near Kivalina, about 80 miles northwest of Kotzebue.

Curtiss was in the Kotzebue area working as an assistant hunting guide with his stepfather, Matt Owen, and he and a few companions decided to take a break for a few days of early-October fly-in fishing.

On his first day out, Oct. 9, Curtiss found a deep hole in a shallow, slow-moving section of the river -- just the sort of spot in which a lunker would hold -- and after warming up with a few smaller fish, he hooked into what turned out to be a 27-pound, 4-ounce Dolly Varden char.

Curtiss said he wasn't sure what he had on his 10-pound test line until he got the fish out of the water.

"I didn't realize how big it was until I got it up on the bank," Curtiss said.

Coincidentally, the old record for Dolly Varden and arctic char was set by Robert W. Thompson, the father of another member of Curtiss' fishing party.

Thompson caught a 20-pound, 12.5-ounce Dolly in the same river in 2000.

Curtiss said it took about 30 minutes to land the fish, and at first he thought it was an arctic char, a very close cousin to the Dolly Varden.

"The main difference is that there aren't any arctic char there," said Alaska Department of Fish and Game area biologist Fred DeCicco, who had an opportunity to check out Curtiss' catch at the Fish and Game office in Kotzebue.

DeCicco said that in Western Alaska, all anadromous, or sea-run, char are Dolly Varden.

"In Alaska, we don't know of any rivering populations of arctic char," DeCicco said.

Curtiss' catch was impressive -- four pounds is considered a large Dolly, and a 10-pound Dolly Varden or arctic char qualifies for trophy status in Alaska.

Curtiss' fish measured 41 1-2 inches long and was 21 3-4 inches around.

"I've never seen one that big before," DeCicco said.

"Fish over 20 pounds are really uncommon. North of the Bering Strait, that group gets to be much larger than ones farther south, that's one of their characteristics. They do almost all of their feeding at sea."

DeCicco said Dolly Varden spend winters in rivers before returning to the sea.

Fall is a good time to fish for Dolly Varden as they enter river systems in August and September to spawn. Though Curtiss' catch was a non-spawning fish, all Dolly Varden overwinter in rivers.

Curtiss said that the first day of his fishing excursion, when he landed his trophy, was pleasant, though by the end of his three-day trip, the weather had turned for the worse.

"It got pretty snowy," Curtiss said.

Curtiss said that by the time he returned to Kotzebue, the Alaska Department of Fish and Game office had closed for the day, so he took the fish to a local grocery store and weighed it on a deli scale -- making sure to save the price stickers printed out by the machine noting the weight of the fish.

Curtiss said he hadn't received any kudos for his catch just yet, but DeCicco was impressed.

"It was just an exceptional fish," DeCicco said. "It either lived a few years longer than most, or something."

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