C is for Char

C is for Char

Harps | Tuesday, 10 March 2015

There are a couple of char native to Alberta. Char are a type of salmonid, a type of "trout" that spawn in the fall. Included in the family are bull trout, lake trout and the brook trout (introduced in Alberta).

Char in Alberta have been the subject of contriversy though out the history of fisheries management. First, bull trout, although large (+30inches), were considered a poor sportfish because of poor fighting ability and pale flesh. The recent European imports to Alberta would much rather catch a feisty rainbow trout or a beautiful brook trout. That lead to mass wasting of bull trout - fish tossed on banks, buried in gardens, fed to dogs. It was a shame. With the over-exploitation came industry. Logging that changed stream hydrology, roads and dams that blocked migrations, work that caused sediment to pour into the rivers. To make matters worse, people stocked non-native rainbow trout and brook trout into the rivers. Rainbows, known for their fight and Bookies known for their beauty were prefered over the big bull trout and the small cutthroat trout. 

Brook trout, or brook "char" are a beautiful fish that has become part of the ecosystem. Despite roving bands of anglers on a mission to eradicate them (they are non-native invaders!), they are here to stay, a jewel found in the smallest of trickles and the farthest backwoods beaver ponds. Current fisheries managers would love to see them removed and I often (even today) hear of desires to poison whole lake ecosystems to re-start the system.

My opinion flops on the invasive species topic. Some invasives seem to intergrate and are accepted in our ecosystems, yet others are mercilessly persecuted, with millions spent on removal efforts, often at the expense of ecosystems trying to find a balance. There is a great book "Where do Camels belong" writen by Dr Ken Thompson that discusses some of the concerns with our modern ideals of invasive species management. It is possible that not only are humans responsible for a number of extinctions, we are also responsible for ecological stagnation, which will diminish ecosystems adaptability - a trait that is necessary with changing climate trends. Given, there are unwanted species that should be controlled, and species that need to be protected from invasive competition before they are lost (westslope cutthroat trout are very threatened in Alberta).

The last char in Alberta is the Lake trout, an often sought after species but difficult to target with a fly (function of accessibility). They are a large species, a deep lake habitat species, but can be found nearshore and in rivers at certain times of the year. THey are a heavily pressured fish in the lakes where they can be found.

There are other chars nearby - Arctic char stocked in a few places, dolly varden holding on in others. But none available like buls, brookies, and lakers; Alberta's wonderful char!

Maybe char hunting this week,

Brook trout

Bull Trout