About this blog

This blog is all about fly fishing for native trout. On it I cover trip reports, fishing tactics, conservation, the latest news about native trout species and much more. This site provides a companion to my web page Nativetroutflyfishing.com.


Monday, October 14, 2019

Back on the Road Again: Native Redbands and Cutthroat of Eastern Oregon

With all of the changes that life has thrown my way over the last few years. For the first time in years I headed out on the road (along with my cousin Derek who has joined me on several other past trips) with some new native trout to target as well as some old ones to revisit. This trip was all revolving around the American Fisheries Society in Reno, Nevada at which I was presenting but I was able to add a couple of days on each side of the conference to target some native trout.  The main targets of the trip were the White River redband, John Day Westslope cutthroat, Willow-Whitehorse Basin cutthroat, Quinn River cutthroat, Eagle Lake rainbow trout and possibly some McCloud River redband trout.

Day 1: Friday September 27th 2019: Derek and I hit the road bright and early, heading south from my home in Olympia, Washington towards the White River watershed in north-central Oregon. The White River flows from the glaciers of Mt. Hood into the of the Deschutes River just downstream of Maupin, OR.  While the Deschutes River holds Columbia Basin redband trout, the redband trout found above a series of waterfalls on the White River are genetically distinct from fish in the Deschutes and identify more closely to Fort Rock redbands in the Great Basin, with recent studies indicating that they likely warrant a subspecies designation. As the White River is glacially fed it has very poor visibility so I selected a couple of tributary streams to fish for these trout. Unfortunately when we arrived the first of these streams had no public access on the lower end and the flows on the second stream were so low that we could not find any holding water and only managed to rise one small fish. Luckily we were able to find a small irrigation impoundment on the second stream that offered some great looking holding water.
The irrigation pond

This spot called for beaver pond tactics, so Derek and I tied on some zug bugs and started fishing. Letting the zug bugs sink for several seconds and retrieving them with short twitches proved quite effective and in short order I had caught a a few beautiful redbands including a10" beauty.
A White River redband trout

While we were successful on our first fish of the day, it took longer than planned and we still had a long drive to the upper John Day River for westslope cutthroat and it looked like with the shorter days of fall every minute of daylight was going to count.
The middle John Day River from the road

We arrived at the stream with about an hour of daylight to spare and got to fishing with a dry dropper rig right away. We were able to locate a good piece of holding water almost right away, and on one of the first cast I hooked a fish. Could it be that easy? Unfortunately not, it turned out the fish was a small Columbia Basin redband - likely a juvenile steelhead and the next fish out of the hole also turned out to be a redband.
A small redband from the stream

After the second fish, the hole shut down so we started heading downstream. Unfortunately it seemed that this stream was lacking in good holding water and while we found a couple more small redbands and a juvenile Chinook, there was no sign of any cutthroat nor any water that was likely to hold them. After trudging downstream close to a half mile and watching the daylight fade, I finally came across a great looking piece of holding water where a tributary entered the stream. However while the first spot had produced fish right away, this spot which looked even better showed no sign of life. After a number of a great drifts through every inch of the hole, I crept closer for a better look. Right where I figured a trout should be holding, there was a nice summer run steelhead, which also saw me and decided it was time to head for cover.
Steelhead holding water

At this point the daylight was fading fast and it was time to head back upstream. While it seemed that I was going to have to admit defeat on the John Day cutthroat, I figured a couple more casts in the first spot I tried wouldn't hurt. On the second cast I was rewarded with a rise and after solid hookup and after a short fight I brought a nice little John Day cutthroat to hand!
A John Day westslope cutthroat

By the time I let the cutthroat go, it was clear that there wasn't enough light to continue fish so we hit the road for Burns, Oregon where we were staying the night.

Day 2: Saturday September 28th 2019: Overnight a cold front had blown in an we woke to a frosty morning in Burns with the possibility or rain and snow in the forecast. Our goal for the day was to fish for Willow-Whitehorse cutthroat in southeastern Oregon before crossing to border into Nevada and trying for Quinn River cutthroat. I had fished for and caught Willow-Whitehorse cutthroat in 2006 (over 13 years ago already - yikes!), but fire had ravaged the area in 2012 and I wanted to return and see how it was looking and if I could find a few trout. By the time we got to the stream it was mid-morning and the temperature had warmed to the mid 40's F although a stiff wind was blowing. Luckily the fire had missed this stretch of stream and looked almost exactly how I remembered, so it was time to look for some trout.
Desert cutthroat water

Looking for trout didn't take too long, and the first spot that I came to, the outflow a beaver pond produced two nice Willow-Whitehorse basin cutthroat.
 Willow-Whitehorse basin cutthroat

Just like the last time that I had been to this stream a dry dropper rig with a black copper john appeared to be the ticket. We fished up and down the stream for a couple hours, running into on lethargic rattlesnake and catching a bunch more cutthroat in the 6-10" range before the weather started to turn on us, with snow clouds visible on the hills just a few miles off and it was time to hit the road again.
The rattlesnake
Another Willow-Whitehorse cutthroat

While we were doing to just fine on daylight this time, the weather was whole other matter was turning fast. By the time that we hit the Nevada border, it was snowing in earnest and the Quinn River cutthroat which was up in the mountains was going to have to wait for another trip, so we headed on for Winnemuca, NV to grab a hotel for the night.
Snowed out of for the day

Day 3: Sunday September 29th 2019: With a good coat of snow on all of the hills around Winnemuca in the morning there was no way we were going to have any luck fishing so we headed for Reno, NV for the conference.

Day 4: Monday September 30 - Day 7: Thursday: October 3rd 2019: These days were all spent at the conference. Lots of great talks!
Also picked up a new book at the conference

Day 8: Friday October 4th 2019: We got up in the morning and made the drive out to Eagle Lake, California to try for Eagle Lake Rainbow trout. We were still a bit early as the trout are known to move into the shallows in mid-October as the water cools, however I was hoping that recent cold front might have done the trick.This proved to be wishful thinking. We fished for the better part the day, trying everything we could think of, from casting into the tules to trolling flies deep. However, we only saw one fish rise and may have had one soft take but other than that lots and lots of fruitless casting.
Eagle Lake, California
Fishing Eagle Lake
The Eagle Lake Rainbow had been the fish I was most keen on getting on this trip as I have had a number of potential trips planned over the years but had never been able to make it happen. Hopefully I will be able to make another try at the Eagle Lake rainbow next spring, but regardless it is always hard getting skunked on a trout so far from home. After trying Eagle, we headed north towards home and ended up camping on a McCloud River redband stream near the slopes of Mount Shasta that I had fished back in 2007. We got camp set up right before dark and temperatures plummeted quickly on us dropping into the 20's F and proving to be one chilly night in a tent.

Day 9: Saturday October 5th 2019: It was quite chilly in the morning, but the sun was out and it warmed up rather quickly. Once it was warm enough to feel our fingers, we got the rods rigged up and went to check out the creek. The last time that I had been to this stream, the fishing had been great, with every likely looking spot holding a trout. However, a lot can change in 12 years, and unfortunately for this stream those changes were not good. Upon checking out the stream, it was clear that cattle had been unleashed on the watershed and had done serious damage.
Cattle caused erosion

We covered more than double the water I had fished last time, but the habitat was absolutely destroyed, with caved in banks and erosion and we saw not a single sign of trout. 
Incised stream channels

I would be a miracle if we would have found a trout in this stream and as we had a long drive home still we decided that it was best to cut our losses and get on the road again. Along the way we stopped at Crater Lake National Park and had a nice quite drive back to Olympia. 
Crater Lake

All and all it was a great trip, with us getting 3 of the 6 fish that we had hoped to catch. Hopefully next year I will be able to get out again, as it felt great to get out for another native trout road trip after such a long time.

Wednesday, October 9, 2019

5 Years in review

For the last five years, this blog has remained inactive due to a variety of reasons. During this period my wife and I started a family, I completed graduate school, started a new job and moved twice. Needless to say this has not left a lot of free time to pursue native trout. However, that does not mean that I have not made any outings over the last few years. As I made a one trip to the Rocky Mountains and two to Alaska, as well as a number of trips around Washington State. Given the long gap in activity, I may do some back posts to fill in the blanks for the last few years, but a few highlights are shown below.

I Wrapped up my thesis looking at steelhead and rainbow trout interactions on the Olympic Peninsula, with a particular focus on food-web dynamics in above and below barrier populations.

A rainbow trout diet sample from my Master's thesis work - it ate ~800 salmon eggs.

In 2015 I did a trip through the Northern Rockies to Glacier, Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks and was able to get a little fishing in along the way.
A Yellowstone cutthroat from a 2015 trip Yellowstone National Park
 A beaver on a lake in Teton National Park
A Snake River Finespotted Cutthroat from the lake

In 2015 I also managed to make a trip to the Kenai Peninsula and got some fishing for rainbow trout and Dolly Varden.
 A Large Dolly Varden from the Kenai River.
Fishing the Kenai Peninsula
A sea-run Dolly Varden from the Kenai Peninsula

In 2018 I did another trip to Alaska with my sister, my niece and nephew and my daughter and tried a couple lakes from Taranets Char (Salvelinus alpinus taranetzi) unsuccessfully due to not being able to get through stocked rainbow trout to the char. However, I did have luck for rainbows and dollies on the Kenai once again.
 A Taranets Char Lake
Fishing with my daughter

I have started to update the website once again with more up to date information on native trout and salmon species and new pictures that I have available. Additionally, I also just completed a trip through Oregon, Nevada and California for White River Redband trout, John Day River Westslope cutthroat, Willow-Whitehorse Basin cutthroat, Eagle Lake Rainbow trout and McCloud River Redbands and will be adding details about the trip in the near future.

Monday, May 4, 2015

Long overdue update - fishing for science

The last few years for me have been marked by some of the best and busiest times of my life. During this time, I finally started my career as a fisheries biologist for the Washington Department of Wildlife, met my wonderful wife and started Graduate School at the University of Washington. To a large extent fishing has taken a back seat during this time, as has my search for native trout. However this is not to say that I haven't been working with fish. Since starting my Masters degree program, I have been very involved with native trout and currently I am right in the midst of a project looking at the interactions between native coastal rainbow trout and steelhead. As these are two life history forms of the same species (Oncorhynchus mykiss), this will help to tease apart the relationship between these fish.
Research time
A native coastal rainbow for the study

The project is occurring on two rivers Olympic Peninsula rivers that have seen precipitous declines in their steelhead returns in the last two decades, with lows in the 10's of fish (lowest years had 3 and 6 fish respectively). Due to this a restoration program was initiated 1998 (http://www.lltk.org/rebuilding-populations/hcsp/summary) leading to some improvements in steelhead abundance. While steelhead returns have been relatively low in the watershed, the resident rainbow trout population appears to be healthy, making unclear what role rainbow trout may play in the success of the restoration.
Study River A
Study River B
As both watersheds have natural waterfalls that bar all anadromous fish from the upper reaches where resident fish are the sole inhabitants, we are interested in a) if the these resident fish are passing downstream over the falls b) whether they still may have the ability to migrate out to sea and c) the food web interactions and growth patterns of fish both above and below the falls. To do so we are using a mark recapture study where we are catching fish via hook and line and electrofishing, tagging them with PIT (Passive Integrated Transponder) Tags, which allow us to identify individual fish and detect fish at antenna arrays near the mouths of the rivers. This allows us to see who is staying and who is going.
At the PIT Tag Antenna Array
While tagging the fish we also collect a fin clip (for DNA analysis), a scale samples (to determine age and growth patterns), a diet sample (food web interactions) and length and weight.
Stream side sampling gear

I am aiming to wrap up work on this project in late spring of 2016, so updates will be forthcoming. Needless to say this post is long long overdue, and I hope to most more in the future.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Back in Business...

To say that this past year has been busy is a major understatement and to say the least when compared to everything else in life, fishing and blogging for that matter dropped down the priority list. However after a long break in things I finally got back after some sea-run cutthroat at one of my favorite spots.
The estuary

I arrived at estuary at low tide, in hopes that the cutthroat would be pushing into the river mouth behind the salmon. As it would have it, while the salmon weren't moving in quite yet the cutthroat were waiting for them. I started out with a prawn pattern and within a couple of casts I got my first cutthroat, a chunky 12" trout that fought valiantly on my 6 weight. I spent a good half an hour in this spot and landed another three cutthroat before the fish seemed to wisen up. I decided to head upstream. I switched to my one of my ever dependable sea-run buggers on the way upstream and in the next hole up I missed another decent cutthroat, then hooked into an even nicer one that looked to be about 18" to 20". However I didn't get a very good hookset after a few jumps he got the better of me.

Salmon season is underway (spawned out summer chum)

As I got upstream the cutthroat were tucked along the undercut banks seemed pretty interested in the sea-run bugger. Even when they were already full of salmon smolts they were still couldn't help themselves, such as this beauty below.

Still hungry...
 Gotta love cutthroat, they just don't know when enough is enough

By the time I was working my way downstream, the tide was flooding in earnest and sure enough the salmons started pushing. Working my way down a side channel I would see a wake coming upstream toward me as a school of coho worked its way over a bar. I cast my sea-run bugger downstream and gave it a couple of twitches just in front of the school and as fate would have it, one of the coho broke away from the pack and grabbed my fly. This coho was big, and seemed to use its brute strength to its advantage make several good runs and putting my 6 wt to a real test before finally coming to hand. This definitely felt quite rewarding as last year I hooked 7 or so without landing a single one and the year before I went one for thirteen. One for one, not bad!

 My first coho in two years.

As luck would have it right as I got my fly out of this coho and got him on his way, another school pushed through the shallows. As fate would have it, the previous situation replayed itself, this time the coho was a little bit smaller, but what is was lacking in size it made up for in fight and put up quite an aerial display. Luckily I got a good hookset on it and after a few minutes of tug of war, I was able to bring the beautiful 26" buck in. With the tide in at this point the coho seemed to be done push and I needed to get out before being stranded. So I cut my losses (or gains) and got out while I still could.
2 for 2!! Great way to end the day!
Time to head home!

Sunday, February 5, 2012

First fish of 2012

After a long stretch without any fishing, I got out for my first outing of the new year with a my buddies Craig and Bob. To say that the weather was beautiful would be a vast understatement as it was as nice of a bluebird day as the Evergreen State has to offer.

An unseasonably nice day on the water

The nice weather meant that the river was fairly busy, but there were still some fish around, they just required some work. Craig hooked into the first fish of day, which took as he was retrieving his fly but popped off almost immediately. Nymphing seemed to be get the best reaction from the fish it was just a matter of persistence and keeping them on once hooked. The honor of landing the first fish of the day went to Bob, it just wasn't the steelhead that we were hoping for. Whitefish are fun too though.
Also found this little guy...

With day growing short and after personally losing two steelhead in a row I finally made it happen and hooked into a very hot 10 or 11lb steelhead. This fish seemed inclined to spend as much time in the backing as possible, but after chasing downstream for a good 1/8 mile we were finally able to bring it to the net. Being a hatchery fish it became a guest of honor for dinner too.
Not too bad for my first fish of 2012

We didn't touch another fish after I was lucky enough to get mine, but it was one of the more beautiful days on the water that I can remember in a long time.
A great day on the water

Monday, December 19, 2011

A false start

Not to long ago, my buddy Craig and I got out to the Olympic Peninsula for to try for the first of the winter steelhead returning to the area rivers. Unfortunately so did everyone else. In fact on the river that we had decided to fish, there was a rig in nearly every pull out and easily over three times the amount of anglers that I have ever seen there. Also unfortunate is that fact that it hasn't rained in any significant amount for sometime, leaving the rivers low and clear and severly limiting our options on some of the other waters that I know.

However if there is a will there is a way and hitching a ride with a logging crew we found our way into the upper part of the watershed above the reach of most other anglers. The water up here was a bit skinnier, and the river worked its way through a bit of a canyon so it looked like we were comitted to a spending a good portion of the day up here. However the water looked pretty good, with plenty of holding water so we got too it. The first few holes looked great and Craig and I took turns covering the prime lies, but didn't see any sign of fish.

Craig working a good looking pool

However before long we came to only of those spots that just screams steelhead and sure enough Craig spotted some. We worked this pod for a good while and I managed to get one fish to take before we lost sight of the ghostly steelhead that seemed to vanish from the hole.

Steelie holding water

Once we figured that the fish were either gone or spooked, we decided to move on and explore a bit more of this part of the river. However a great deal of hiking and exploring this part of the river only yielded one more decent looking spot, which in turn showed no signs of fish. At this point we were already starting to wear on the already short window of winter daylight that we had. So we decided to work our way out of the upper watershed and into some more familiar water.

Once we had worked our way into some waters that were a bit more familar for me, we made a stop at a corner where a nameless tribuatary joins the main river. The hole had treated me well in the past a low flows so we figured we would at least take a look. To say the least it didn't take overly long to spot some fish, as their was a good pod of around 10-15 steelhead holding in the tailout. Craig decided to act as the spotter and I made my way to the far side of the river where I would have a better approach. My first drift went right through the fish with no reaction whatsoever. My second drift got a bit more attention. While I remained out of sight and started it well upstream of the fish as soon as my fly got in range it looked as though a bomb had gone off with the affect of steelhead scattering in every direction. We wondered a the spookiness of these fish until we left the hole and found the remains of several fish in the next run downstream.

Working the pod of steelhead before the bomb went off.

At this point we had one more shot at try to find some sort of fish and found another promising spot downstream a ways. I a little long jam that had newly formed this season, I finally got a solid take from a sizeable fish, but after one initial tug the fish tossed the fly and I was out of luck.

Or so I though, however just downstream I got another take and this time actually got a good hookset on the fish. Right away I could tell that this wasn't a steelhead as my switch rod quickly over power it. However a beautiful native cutthroat fresh from the saltwater was just as good to me at this point and was a great note to end the day on.

As steelheading goes I would have to consider this trip a success, as anytime you can spot some fish and a least get a take or two you are doing something right. Plus it doesn't get much better than exploring some great water with a good friend.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Redbanded Metalheads

Several weeks ago now, my buddy Jonathan and I made a long day trip east of the Cascade Mountains to search for some redband steelhead. With fall rapidly progressing towards winter the morning started off rather brisk and a bit drizzly, but the river was in perfect shape so we were on the water shortly after sun up. Our first spot was a run that had treated Jonathan well over the past few seasons, however after a few hours of fishing I hadn't had a bump and Jonathan had found a few whitefish, but no steelhead so we decided to relocate.
The river

The second spot that we fished had a nice deep slot on the far bank and we decided to start out swinging flies. I started with an intermediate tip and little size 6 October caddis toned fly that I came up on an and within a handful of casts I got subtle take, but couldn't get the fish to come back. After that things slowed for a bit until we got to the tailout, when I got another but much more viscous strike, however once again it didn't result in an actual hook up. We covered the water for perhaps another hour, switching flies and sink tips but had no more interest.

Even though we had already cover the slot for several hours without any fish to hand, we knew there were fish there and decided to try something a bit more effective. With that we switched to nymphing rigs and what would you know within three or four casts I got a take and a solid hook up. The fish immediately came up and did a bit of thrashing and put on a nice aerial display before deciding to take off. Luckily for me the river was fairly free of obstructions for the fish to hang me up on and although I had to chase steelhead a good hundred yards downstream we finally managed to bring it to hand.
Me with a beautiful native Columbia Basin redband steelhead
Another look at the fish

After a couple of quick photos, we watch as the fish sped off into the current again. Although I love to swing flies, this was just another example at the shear effectiveness in nymphing in comparison - 4 casts vs. several hours... A fact that was more evident when about a half hour later I got another take down. Although it was evident right away that this was a fish due to a couple good head shakes, it didn't seem to want to budge for the first minute or so and I was really starting to think it was a Chinook salmon or possibly a big bull trout. However finally the fish discovered that he was hooked and finally decided to show himself as another steelhead. After a couple of leaps, it was straight into the backing for this steelhead and once again I had hurry in pursuit and finally caught up just downstream of where we landed the first fish. After several more minutes of battling the fish, we brought another beautiful native steelhead to hand.
Another beautiful steelhead

We gave the spot a little more time, with Jonathan getting another whitefish, before we decided to try another spot a little further down stream. When we arrived at our next spot things looked great as there were maybe a couple dozen salmon holding and/ or spawning, which usually means a few steelhead are likely to be around. However after putting in a good amount of time we had only managed to donate a several flies to the boulder strewn bottom.
A salmon on its redd
Jonathan checking out a huge spawned-out Chinook, this fish was well over 40".

Even though the salmon were entertaining to watch, the lack of steelhead lead us to once again relocate. Although we were starting to view daylight as a commodity at this time, there were fish around at this spot and Jonathan and I managed to have a double screw up, where we both hooked and lost steelhead shortly after arriving.
The last spot of the day

After losing a decent steelhead, I got a sort of consolation prize in the form of a good sized whitefish that decided that it wanted a stripped egg imitation. This whitefish even thought it was a steelhead and jumped several times before coming to hand.
My only whitefish of the day

I hooked one more whitefish, that popped loose before the lack of daylight finally made us start to think about the long drive home and we decided to call it a day.