Sparctic Char: Strange Nighttime Saltwater Spawners from Europe!

Spawning pair of Sparctic Char in Holland's Lake Oostvoorne (Janny Bosman photo)

Okay, I though about doing this one as a “Name that Fish,” but I’m pretty sure nobody would get it (including me), so let’s just instead tell the tale of strange hybrid char that spawns in saltwater: The Sparctic Char.

Our field reporter from the Netherlands, Franklin Moquette, introduced me to these interesting critters as they spawned in a saltwater lake in western Holland.

Handsome devils aren't they? (Janny Bosman photo)

According to Moquette, the Sparctic Char is a fertile hybrid between a female American brook trout (Salvelinus fontinalis) and a male European Arctic char (Salvelinus alpinus), called the ‘Alsacian char’. This cross is sometimes referred to as ‘Sparctic trout’ or ‘Sparctic char’ in the USA and Canada, a combination of the names of the parents (‘Speckled trout’ and Arctic char).

The scene of the action is Lake Oostvoorne, a salt water lake in the Netherlands. This artificial lake resulted from the shutting off (with three dams) of part of the Rhine estuary from the North Sea. This was done as a kind of flood protection for the Dutch Delta. This produced a lake with brackish water. After a couple of years the sea fish had all died, with the exception of some brackish water species and – interestingly – shoals of herring that had become ‘landlocked’.

Because the population of sea fish was dwindling, the regional angling federation decided to stock some rainbow trout in Lake Oostvoorne. And with great success! The rainbow trout grew very quickly in the salt water of the lake and reached ‘steelhead-sizes’. Later on also brown trout were stocked that were a great success too and they turned into ‘sea trout’. For about 20 years the fishing in Lake Oostvoorne is ‘catch and release’, mostly with a fly rod, but spinfishing with lures with a single hook is also permitted.

Either they are digging redds...or break dancing! (Janny Bosman photo)

Since 2006,large number of Sparctic char have been stocked and then, last year, a couple lady divers discovered that the sparctics were trying to reproduce in the salt water of the lake! And they started to photograph the courtship and spawning of these fish. Then November 2011, the fish again returned from the deep to the gravel beds in more shallow water and started their courting ceremonies. Among them at least one big female char that was recognizable by a deficient gill cover. The lady photographers started to wonder if the spawn was legit — or just a kind of ‘dummy spawning’. They observed no eggs and no milt.

Because there are many sharp mussel shells between the gravel, the tails of some females are torn to shreds! (Janny Bosman)

When Moquette looked at the photos of the redds, he suggested that these fish — like Arctic char — do the real ‘act’ only at night.

A husband of one of the divers then carefully start to dig in one of the clean gravel beds and found eggs! It then became apparent why the spawning of these chars can never be successful. In the salty water the eggs had not swollen normally, but had shrunk more or less and showed all kinds of ‘wrinkles.’

Successfully laid Sparctic Char eggs won't hatch in the salt (janny Bosman)

After the spawn, some of the Sparctics became crab food (Janny Bosman)

And, here’s a little video shot by Linda Engels and Karin Brussaardshot…


  1. Franklin Moquette says

    What I especially like in this video is the threatening gesture (mouth wide open) of the male towards the camera.
    For the rest these chars don’t seem to take any notice of the divers around them.

  2. fishbird says

    Interesting Sunday Morning reading JD .It however raised some”chicken or the egg ” questions at the Fishbird household???

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