White-spotted char (Salvelinus leucomaenis)
Compared with Dolly Varden, the white-spotted char (in Russian – kundzha) is more thermophylic (“warmth-liking”) species. This char lives only on the Pacific coast of Asia, from Kamchatka and the Sea of Okhotsk to Japan. The northernmost population of the species was found in the upper part of the Penzhina River (64°N). White-spotted char do not like strong current and prefer the lower parts of rivers, estuaries, and lakes. Only in rivers with low gradient you can expect to find this species farther than 150 km from the sea. It is most numerous in rivers with gradients of about 1/1000 or less; such streams often flow through marshy plains and have dark, colored water.
White-spotted char have very remarkable and characteristic coloration — the “negative of a leopard.” This is a yellowish or brown fish with big white dots on its back and sides. In the sea they get much lighter — almost as bright silver as Dolly Varden or Arctic char.
In the rivers, the anadromous white-spotted char are light olive or yellow. Landlocked fish are much darker, dark yellow or brown. Spawning fish become dark gray (almost black) or the chocolate and white dots on the sides become more difficult to see. The first rays of the pectoral, ventral, and anal fins turn white; the skin becomes coarse, and a hook appears on the lower jaw.
Like Dolly Varden char, anadromous white-spotted chars spend the first three to five years in freshwater, and then they start to migrate every summer into the estuaries or sea for feeding. A lot of fish stay in brackish water and do not go out far from their home river. The downstream run into the sea occurs simultaneously with Dolly Varden and they return to fresh water from July (mature fish) through October.
The landlocked stocks inhabit many lakes and also some streams with low gradient. The spawning occurs in the end of August and first week of September. Anadromous fish spawn in rivers, in the pools of side channels with slow current and pebble bottoms. Spawning grounds of lake-resident fish are situated in brooks that flow into lakes.
The white-spotted char is a predator. In rivers it feeds on fingerlings of Pacific salmon, sticklebacks, and sculpins; in lakes it eats sticklebacks and pond smelt; and in the sea smelt, herring, saffron cod, and other species. Young fish smaller than 30–35 cm also eat insects and salmon eggs.
White-spotted char are one of the biggest of Asian chars. In many river drainages of the Far East, where there are no taimen or Chinook salmon, this species is the biggest freshwater fish. A good area to fish for trophy white-spotted char up to 12 kg is the north coast of the Sea of Okhotsk on waters between the Urak and Yama Rivers. Good kundzha rivers are the Yama near Magadan and the Ulbeya near Okhotsk. The biggest kundzha, up to 20 kg, are found in the Eastern Kamchatka, in such rivers as Nalycheva, Vakhil, Zhupanova, Kronotskaya, and Storozh.
The white-spotted char lives much longer than Dolly Varden and other anadromous chars: a 9-kg fish is normally more than 20 years old. In the north of the species’ range, 5-kg specimens are at least 15 years old.