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.


Tuesday, May 9, 2023

Spring time Coastal Cutthroat

 After what has amounted to one of the coldest Aprils on record here in western Washington, spring or seemingly summer finally arrived and we went from the 40's to 80's within a few days. Along with this nice weather, I also found myself with a couple of hours free in the evening and decided that it was time to dust off my 2WT and go visit the local river to see if I couldn't find some Coastal Cutthroat.

Spring time of the river (the tree across it is a new addition this year)

While this stream often feels more like a big creek to me in the summer, with recent rain and runoff from the mountains, it was running full and sure felt up to its river moniker. The flows were up, but clarity was good and will I initially started with a dry /dropper rig, after not seeing any sign of surface activity and few insects flying around in the first 20 minutes, I decided to switch over to an indicator nymph rig. The next hour I covered all the likely holding water, and while I had one very small fish rise to my indicator in the first few casts, the Cutthroat remained elusive. With the flows up, I couldn't ford the river and it wasn't until I reached the furthest downstream piece of holding water that I finally hooked up. Unfortunately, I didn't get a good hookset and the fish shook loose shortly after I hooked up. 

With nymphing not proving very successful, I decided to head back upstream and reassess the situation. With a couple minutes on the bank, it was easy to see that an evening caddis hatchery had finally kicked in and I started to see a few risers that were hugging a seem on the nearshore bank. As such I switched back to a dry /dropper and found a consistent riser and started targeting it. After a dozen or so casts, the fish finally decided to rise to my dry but unfortunately, after a long winter my timing was off and I missed the take.  However, this Cutthroat had been a bit too greedy and eaten my nymph as well and the dropper saved the day as I connected with the Cutthroat and quickly brought the beautiful 6"-7" native it too the net.

A flawless native Coastal Cutthroat Trout caught on a Lightning Bug nymph

After the first Cutthroat continued working my way upstream and rose one or two small fish but my timing or their aim was still a bit off and I didn't hook up. However, just after a got above the tree across the river, I saw a fish rise on the inside seam in about a foot and a half of water and made my cast. Right as it drifted by where I saw the fish, I was rewarded with a splashy rise and this time I had my timing down and hooked up. As with most small trout, the battle was quick and I brought my first fish on a dry in 2023 to hand.

First fish on the dry of 2023 - note the black spot disease

I quickly snapped a photo of the small Cutthroat and released, noting that it had black spot disease, something that seems to be increasingly common on this river and I am finding in about 50% of the trout that I catch. With that fish released, daylight was beginning to fade in earnest at this point and while I fished my way up to the next bend I didn’t see anymore risers and with the sunsetting I headed back downstream after a great evening on the water.

A great way to end the day!

Monday, May 8, 2023

2023 Winter Steelhead Wanderings: Part 3 - End of the Season

Despite the overall low returns, my first three outings of 2023 had not disappointed. Even though conditions had not been ideal, we had found fish on each trip and when my friend (and coworker) Jonathan and I had to attend a conference on the Oregon coast, we found ourselves within striking distance of some great steelhead water. 

Blue skies on the Oregon coast

While torrential rain and snow the day before we left meant that we couldn't fish on the way down, we were able to carve out a little time after the conference to visit a couple of coastal streams. The first stream that we decided to fish was new to both of us, being one of the numerous rivers cascading down from the Coast Range. Although, the rains earlier in the week meant flows were still up, it was a rare blue bird day on the coast and we were both eager to check out some new water. The first challenge though was getting to the stream as we had pass over a coast range ridge fish that was still blanketed in snow from a storm a couple weeks earlier, but luckily it had melted out just enough to get over the ridge and we were able to descend into the valley below.

A snowy drive in

As we came upon the stream, it was just one of those spots that I just could help but fall in love with. The beautiful steelhead green water snake through a heavily forested valley that still held some of its monolithic virgin Sitka Spruce and Douglas Fir. After briefly scouting out the water, which was clear but indeed still looked pretty pushy, we rigged up and made our way upstream in search of some good holding water. After a short hike through a thicket of Salmonberry bushes, we spotted a couple decent runs and made for the river. Both runs looked great, but I ended up taking the first run, while Jonathan went upstream to the next one.

The run wasn’t too long and a log across the top end made the fishable section even shorter so I spent about a half hour covering the water before I convinced myself that nobody was home a headed upstream to see if Jonathan was having any luck. However, on my way upstream in noticed a bit of slow water behind an island above the head of the run I had been fishing. While it was pretty nondescript, it looked like a great resting spot for any fish moving upstream so I decided to check it out.

Steelhead holding water behind the island

The pocket wasn't very big, was full of seams and after putting in a dozen or so casts a my indicator shot under and I set the hook on what felt like a nice fish. The fish certainly had some weight behind it, giving me a couple of good head shakes but just as it started to take off downstream the hook came loose and it was gone. After losing the fish, I worked over the pocket with a fine tooth comb, but there were no other willing takers so I had to acknowledge my lose and move on.

Jonathan working a great piece of fishless holding water

I caught up with Jonathan at the next run and as he had no luck we continued upstream, covering nearly a mile before we were hemmed in by the canyon and high flows and we were forced to turn back around.

Given that we still had a decent amount of daylight, we decided to fish the river downstream of the car as well. This section of river was full of nice pockets and runs, but just no fish. It wasn’t until we came to a pool with a small tributary coming in well downstream that the river showed any signs of life. I managed to get a perfect drift along a seam under some branches and right in front of some branches when my indicator shot under. Right when I set it was clear that this was no steelhead and my 8WT made quick work of the fight with a small but spunky Coastal Cutthroat.

A small but beautiful native Coastal Cutthroat Trout

After the Cutthroat, I continued to work downstream and hooked one other similar sized Cutthroat that popped off near shore, but there didn’t appear to be any steelhead around. By this point the light was starting to fade and it looked to be a good distance to the next piece of good water so it was time to call it a day.

Half light on the river

The sun was fading fast when we finally made it back our way back to the car and while there were no steelhead landed this time, the beautiful surroundings and surprise native Coastal Cutthroat still made the outing an absolute delight!

The next day saw us on another river, once again we were treated to beautiful weather and the extra day had given the river time to drop into perfect shape and had a tone of steelhead green that was just to die for. The first spot that we fished was a perfect swinging run, with lots of structure and a little chop on the surface to help and steelhead feel safe. I decided to toss a blue string leech and quickly feel into the rhythm of two head casting and swinging the fly. About halfway down the run that rhythm was abruptly disrupted when I got a solid grab. I put in several more casts in the same spot, but the fish didn’t want to come back and the rest of the run showed non sign of life.

Swinging flies on the river

After covering the first run, Jonathan pointed out that there was a good spot at the tailout, but he expected that it would be tricky to get to at these flows. I figured it would be worth giving it a shot anyways and after a trick bit of wading I found myself on the edge of a deep trench. The single hander was the right rod for this spot and after just a couple casts my indicator plunged under the surface. This fish had some weight behind it and initially held in the trench going deep and trying to break me off on the over hanging ledge. However, after this strategy didn’t work, the fish decided to get up and go, charging upstream and into my backing. The fish was well into my backing before I was finally able to turn it and and slowly started to gain some ground again. The battle was far from over but had now turned in my favor and after a few minutes it was just a matter of navigating the rock garden on my way back to shore to find a spot where I could land the fish. When I got the fish close enough, I was surprised to see it was a big rebrighting kelt, that probably would have been nearly 20 lbs prior to spawning and was still in the mid to upper teens.

The big kelt

After watching the big kelt swim back into the depths, I headed back upstream and caught up with Jonathan to go swing another run. This was another picturesque piece of water, with a riffle that tailed into a deep salmon tank. After fishing through most of the run, I got a solid grab, but this time hooked up. Upon hooking the fish, it quickly became clear that it was much smaller than the previous fish and I was guessing that it was either a jack steelhead or a sea-run Cutthroat. When I landed it, my guess turned out to be right on both fronts as it was a cutbow hybrid.

A steelhead-cutthroat hybrid caught on a swung fly

 While Cutthroat/steelhead hybrids do occur naturally it is hard to know whether this was such a result or influenced by hatchery steelhead releases in basin which often result in the natural mechanisms that isolate the two species breaking down. After turning the Cutbow loose, it was back to fishing as we covered all the water on our way back to the first swinging run. We didn’t touch any fish until we got back to the run and when Jonathan threw a cast where I’d had my grab he was immediately rewarded with a hook up. This fish didn’t put up nearly the fight that my earlier on had and when tailed the fish, the reason became clear as it was a hatchery kelt that was looking worse for wear after spawning.

After Jonathan got his spawned out hatchery fish, we moved on to another stretch of river further upstream, but after covering several holes and not touching a fish it was time to move on once again. We moved a few miles down river this time and after a short walk found ourselves at a great looking run. Always being sure to observe the river for a moment before wading in this time, as we spotted a redd with active fish on it in the shallows near the top of the run. As the last thing w wanted to do was disrupt them, we stuck to the bushes until and headed downstream until we were well clear of them.
Luckily there was plenty of good holding water nearby and the next two runs downstream both looked good. Jonathan took the lower one, while I took the upper and after working through almost the entire run I was rewarded with a hookup in the tailout. I fought the fish for about a minute and got a good look at the 4-5 lb fish before it spit the hook. Having found one fish in the area, I decided to give a deep slot on far bank a few more casts and sure enough, my indicator went down and I hooked into another steelhead. This one was a bit bigger than the last one and ended up taking me almost all of the down to where Jonathan was before I was finally able to bring it to hand. Jonathan was gracious enough to offer to snap a picture for me, but hit a slick spot on the way up and ended partially filling his waders in the process.

A flawless native hen

With Jonathan wet and the day wearing on after I released the hen, it was time to call it a day. However, on the way we back upstream stopped to watch the fish on the redd for a bit. Instead of the standard pair of fish, we spotted a male and female on the redd, as well as at least four additional satellite males holding around edges of the redd. While I love fishing for steelhead, seeing these fish successfully completing their journey and spawning the next generation was one of the more memorable experiences on the river this winter and was the perfect way to bookend the season.

A steelhead redd with two fish paired off (dark spots in the middle) and at least 4 other satellite males

Thursday, May 4, 2023

2023 Winter Steelhead Wanderings: Part 2 - Early March

As the winter steelhead season wore on this year, reports up and down the coast were quite variable. Overall, returns in Oregon especially on the south and central coast appeared to be coming in at startlingly low levels, while populations from the northern Oregon coast up to the Olympic Peninsula appeared to be a mixed bag. For coastal Washington, the 2023 run seemed to be a bit better than the previous years meaning no additional early closures, but numbers were still far below what they should be. Even with the challenging conditions on lower than normal runs a couple well timed trips meant that the season was off to great start for me at least. As such, I was hoping that March would continue pace and started looking for days when I could get on the water.

As it would happen, Chris was able to join me for another trip in early March and while we had planned on revisiting the streams we had fished together in February, the weather had different plans. Just like my first two trips a rain storm was coming in overnight and the rivers were projected to go from low and clear to high and off color by the end of the day. Luckily our backup plan river still was in good shape when it was time to leave and despite a very wet drive the rain started to die down when we arrived at first light. 

We started out at a spot that has been a solid producer at low flows on the river. This spot is where steelhead meet their first real passage challenge after entering freshwater and as such they tend to stack up there waiting for higher flows. We agreed that Chris would take his favorite water, while went to the next run downstream. I got in position and started working the water and had only made a couple casts, when I looked upstream to see Chris already hooked into and nice fish. As such I reeled in and as the fight naturally brought him and the fish down to me, I was there waiting when it was time to tail the native wild buck. After landing the fish, Chris happily reported that it had been on his first cast and promptly headed back upstream to see if he could find another fish. I made a couple more casts, when I looked upstream to see Chris hooked into yet another fish, but this time it popped off on this trip downstream. I was about a third of the way down the run, when the scenario played out yet again. This time Chris had a good hookset and once again fought his steelhead down to me and we landed another nice wild buck, which had a notable scar between its pelvic and anal fins.

After Chris had hooked three steelhead in less than a half hour, he insisted that I come up and give the spot a try as he thought it was likely that it would still hold a few more fish. I wasn't going to pass this up, so I went back upstream with him and started working the water. After about a half dozen casts, I got a good drift along where a seam met an eddy and was rewarded with a savage take. This fish had some serious power and thrashed on the surface for a moment before immediately heading upstream toward a rapid. Right as things were starting to heat up though, my line went slack and the fish was gone. While it was certainly a let down to lose the fish, instead of dwelling on it, I through another cast in the same spot and was immediately rewarded with another grab. I was ready for this one and got a good hookset and like Chris' previous fish the fight took us downstream to the run I had been fishing and after a couple minutes I brought my first steelhead of the day to hand.

An early morning hook up

Success! A beautiful bright wild buck

With how the productive the spot had been Chris and I went back upstream and covered the water for another 20 minutes before it became apparent that nobody else was willing to grab  so we decided move down to where I had started the morning off. I opted to continue from where I had left off before moving upstream, while Chris started at the top of the run. Once again, luck was on Chris’ side and he hooked up with yet another steelhead. Unlike the earlier fish, this one didn’t put up much of a fight after tailing it we saw why, it was the fish with the scar that Chris had caught just 45 minutes earlier.

Chris' native buck that couldn't help but come back for more

With Chris’ steelhead released again, we continued working our way downstream but the next couple runs were completely dead. However, in the third run we ran into a pod of small but feisty Coastal Cutthroat smolts that were eager to eat egg imitations and we were hooking into one on almost every cast.

A native Coastal Cutthroat smolt

The Cutthroat bite lasted about 30 minutes before it settled down and as there was a long distance to the next good run and we were confident that we had fully covered the water at our first spot, it was time to move on. Given the similarities in conditions to my trip with Dyllon earlier in the season, we decided to try the same stretch to see if we couldn't recapture the same magic.

A snowy walk into the river

Despite not being off the river for more than an hour as we moved between spots, the change in clarity from the earlier rain was striking. However, while the river was no longer low and clear, it was certainly still fishable so Chris and I each picked a run and got to it. It turned out that Chris had once again chosen well and after only a few minutes he was hooked into a nice fish. I reeled up and joined up with Chris just in time to watch the end of the fight and then tail the beautiful 8 lb. native hen. While we had planned on snapping a quick photo of this fish, it clearly had other plans and shot back into the run before we got a chance.

With this stretch of river clearly holding fish, I headed back downstream to finish covering my run, while Chris decided to try a small piece of holding water just upstream. Just as I had finished covering my apparently vacant run and started working my way up to Chris, I heard him shout that he had yet another steelhead on. However, after a short fight, this fish was able to get the upper hand and tossed the hook.

Chris hooked up with a steelhead

After that hook up things slowed down as we worked upstream through a stretch of small pockets that often hold traveling fish, but didn't seem to be producing today. Once we got to a couple more solid runs, Chris decided to fish them, while I headed upstream to try the spot that I had gotten my big buck out of on the last trip. It only took one cast this time before I was hooked into a nice steelhead. This one didn't take me for quite the same ride that the buck had, and I was able to keep the fish in the run I had hooked in and after a short fight Chris tailed the beautiful native hen for me.

My second steelhead of the day, a bright hen

After I let the hen going, Chris tried a few casts in the run but by there didn't seem to be anyone else home and as we had some dark clouds brewing we decided to start working our way back downstream. On the way back down, Chris made a few casts in spot we had decided to save for our return journey and sure enough after a cast on the inside seam, he hooked into another steelhead! This spot was less than ideal for landing a fish though as it rapidly dropped off and was full of woody debris and while we did get a good look the the colored up perhaps 8lb buck it threw the hook after a few minutes.

Dark clouds rolling in over the river

After Chris' fish came unbuttoned, the looming dark clouds let loose and for the next 20 minutes we found ourselves dealing with a combination of snow, rain and hail as we worked our way downstream and hiked back out to the car. By the time that we reached the car, the sun was out again, and the river was really starting to look colored up but we had saved on last spot for the end of the day and figured we might as well give it a shot. If focused on the near shore while Chris did his best to hit a seam on the far side of the river. After just a few casts, I got a decent grab, but with the way it was pulling on my 8WT I could tell it wasn't a steelhead and after a short fight, I brought a pretty little heavily spotted Coastal Cutthroat to hand.

A surprise Coastal Cutthroat

Just after I let me Cutthroat go, Chris' hot streak hit again and he was hooked into a nice fish that popped off after a few headshakes as his hooked had unfortunately gotten wrapped up while casting. However, one the very next cast he hooked up again and this time with his gear in order got a solid hookset. The big buck immediately came shooting out of the water, and continued to put up and acrobatic show on for the next few minutes. There were a couple moments where the fish almost got into some woody debris, but Chris was able to keep it out and finally brought a nice 12lb or buck in its spawning regalia to hand.

Chris' colored up buck

After that last fish, we made a couple more casts and I had one more grab, but with the river coming up and a very successful day already we decided to call it a day. While conditions may not have been ideal, this outing was an absolute treat, with great company and excellent fishing. All told we ended up hooking into 10 steelhead between us plus one caught twice (3 for me and 7 for Chris!) as well as a bunch of native Coastal Cutthroat and were still home well before dinner time!

Wednesday, April 26, 2023

2023 Winter Steelhead Wanderings: Part 1 - Early Season

While winter time is when most native trout anglers hunker down, restock fly boxes and dream of summer, in Washington it marks the return of our state fish, the steelhead. While I had hoped to get out earlier in the season, a mix of bad weather, illness and just being busy meant that me first chance to get out wasn't until early February.  Like many steelhead trips the weather was going to make things challenging, but neighbor Dyllon also able to join me so we decided to go with it, what ever the weather through our way.

Upon checking flows first thing in the morning, we were surprised to see that our first choice for the day was still in shape and with that we loaded up the car and were on the road in short order. While flows were holding, the torrential rain on much of the drive out to the river indicated we were going to be dealing with a rising river. While we had hoped that the conditions would thin out the crowds a bit, when we got to the river, there were already two rigs at the first spot we wanted to fish despite the fact the sun still wasn’t fully up yet so we had to divert to another spot. This time we were in luck and had the spot to ourselves.

The river

After a short walk we made it to the river found that it was still in shape, but starting to show some color so we got straight to prospecting for steelhead. It was on of those days where it didn’t take long for the river to show some signs of life and Dyllon hooked into a powerful fish within the first half hour. One thing that I have noticed with big steelhead, is that their instinct when hooked is often to head upstream. Dyllon’s fish did just that and quickly moved over some rapids into the next run and headed straight for a log jam. While Dyllon and I both thought he was done for, somehow he was able to thread the needle and kept the fish from snagging up on the logjam and got it to come back down into our run. From there it was just a tug of war until I was able to net his fish, which was a beautiful bright wild hen.

Dyllon starting the day off with a beautiful native hen

As it turned out, Dyllon was on a roll, and in the next run upstream he hooked another fish. This time it was a much quicker fight and after a couple minutes he brought a wild jack (small male) steelhead to the net.

Dyllon's second fish a wild steelhead jack

Following Dyllon’s back to back fish, there was a long gap in the action as we covered nearly a mile of great looking but fruitless water. However, the last run before we ran out of bank access on our side of the river was an absolute fish trap (piece of water fish will only move through when flows are up) and although there was some tricky water on the inside to contend with, I was able to wade out and get into casting position. It took a few casts, but as my rig passed through the middle of the run I got a savage grab and hooked into a hefty fish. Initially the fish didn’t want to move out of the hole, but after a couple minutes of back and forth, it decided that it had had enough and rocketed downstream. By the time I navigated the tricky fast water and slick rocks back to shore the fish was already in the next run and well into my backing. Back on shore, I was able to give chase and quickly regained my backing and but I found myself two runs downstream by the time the fish was ready to be netted. It took a couple scoops, but we were finally able to net the fish and I was able to admire the beautiful buck.

My first fish of 2023 a beautiful native steelhead buck

Having caught my first steelhead of the year, we worked the area a little longer, but didn’t find anymore willing fish so we started heading back downstream. At this point the river was noticeably starting to rise, so we decided to try the two runs Dyllon caught his fish in earlier in the morning again to see if any fresh fish had moved in.  Dyllon took the spot that held the jack, while I took the other run. Luck was on my side again, and after make a cast that stretched my ability to its limit I was immediately rewarded with a solid take. Shortly after hooking into it, a beautiful steelhead shot into the air. Luckily I had a good hook set and while the steelhead made a few solid runs, it stayed in the hole and I was able to bring it to hand after a few minutes.

Steelhead number two for me - a native hen

After I got my second fish for the day, worked a little further downstream before deciding to relocate to another run further upstream. The water upstream proved to be more typical of steelheading and while I did get one more solid grab, after covering around a mile of river we didn’t hook up with anymore steelhead . On top of that the morning rain was starting to catch up with us and the river was rapidly rising and losing its clarity, so we decided to recognize our success and move onto another stream.

Our next spot was a small tannic coastal stream that has a robust Coastal Cutthroat population that should hold its flows and color despite the rain. The stream was absolutely gorgeous and meandered through lined alder meadows and stands of Sitka Spruce and Western Red Cedar. However, the air still had the strong scent of decaying salmon, signs of a strong run earlier in the season and hopefully there would still be some Cutthroat interested in eat egg imitations.

The Coastal Cutthroat stream

While it was running a bit high, the stream still had good clarity and we started working our way downstream to prospect for Coastal Cutthroat and some possible steelhead. The first few holes didn't produce anything, but at a log jam about an 1/8 mile downstream I finally hooked up with something and after a short fight I landed an beautiful Coastal Cutthroat (with some possible hybrid characteristics).

A beautiful Coastal Cutthroat

We fished downstream a couple more bends and Dyllon caught a twin of the Cutthroat that I had caught and we also got a few smaller Cutthroat parr as well. Despite the decent clarity about a 1/2 mile downstream we hit a section that looked to be challenging at best to cross and with that and rain starting to fall in earnest again, we decided it was time to hike back out and hit the road after an exceptional day on the water.

After my first success outing, I got in touch with my good friend Chris and I were able to find a day that worked for both of us in mid-February and started planning our trip. Like the last trip the weather was going to prove challenging with a big rain coming in the night before after a long dry stretch. Knowing conditions were less than ideal, we picked a couple streams that we knew would keep in shape despite the rain and were on the road at 5:00AM and hiking into the river in the pre-dawn half light.

Our hike in put us at the first hole just as full dawn hit and we got to fishing. After a fruitless first half hour, Chris decided to switch rigs and two casts later he was hooked into a solid fish. The fish was a nice buck of perhaps 10-12lbs that was starting to show some color and wasn’t afraid to put in a few jumps. When the fish seemed to be tiring, Chris brought it in to be tailed, and just as I grabbed it the hook popped out and the steelhead shot off back into the depths.

Chris working a likely looking seem

That single steelhead ended up being the only fish we would touch as we covered the next mile of river downstream. Despite plenty of beautiful water it just didn’t seem like many fish had pushed in yet so we decided to move on to the next stream. Chris had yet to fish our next stream so I decided to start us out at a spot that has been a consistent producer.  This spot is another of those fish traps, with the river coming over a rapid and dropping off along a cliff face to provide fish with a safe spot to hold in. The run also has a nice tailout well suited to swinging flies and as I had been wanting to dust off my Spey rod, Chris took the top of the run, while took the tailout. I had just finished covering the best part of the tailout, when Chris hooked into a nice fish on the inside seam. With that, I reeled in and ran upstream to help him land it. This time Chris had a good hook set and after a few more runs we are able to tail the beautiful chrome bright hen.

Chris' dime bright native hen

Even the tail was shinny

After taking a few more casts to make certain there wasn’t another willing fish in the hole, we hiked back to the car and head upstream to another spot. This spot didn't show any signs of life and the thought of getting home early and out of the cold, windy and wet weather was enough for us to call it on another good rainy day on the river.

Monday, March 13, 2023

New Subspecies of Redband Trout formally described - McCloud River Redband

The Redband Trout of the McCloud River upstream of the falls in populations such as Sheephaven Creek have been recognized as distinct for sometime, but have been classified as Oncorhynchus mykiss stonei with the other Redband Trout of the Sacramento basin. However, a new study on the genetics of these trout has shown that they are distinct enough from other populations of Redbands in the basin to warrant subspecies status under the scientific name Oncorhynchus mykiss calisulat. This subspecies status includes the Sheephaven Creek population, as well as fish in other nearby isolated tributaries such as Edson, Tate and Moosehead creeks among others, which are found to constitute a single genetic unit.

The McCloud River Redband Trout - now recognized as Oncorhynchus mykiss calisulat

Those familiar with McCloud River Redband might be slightly confused as the type specimens for O. mykiss stonei were collected from the McCloud River, however these type specimens were from the population found below the falls. Based on the results of this study, the type specimens from the lower McCloud River are more closely related to the fish found in the Pit River and Goose Lake basin than they are to the fish in the upper McCloud River. Additionally, while the upper McCloud River Redband Trout represent a single ancient lineage of Redband Trout isolated above the falls in the basin, the fish in the Pit River and lower McCloud River appear to have genetics of several lineages, including more than on strain of Redband Trout and Coastal Rainbow Trout.  

Interestingly, the Sacramento Redband Trout found in the the Pit River and North Fork Yuba River appear to be more closely related to Redbands found in the Warner Valley and Surprise Valley than they are to Goose Lake Redband Trout. The study also showed the uniqueness of the Golden Trout of the Kern River and support their recognition as a unique species of trout. As genetic methods continue to evolve more isolated populations of O. mykiss are sampled it is possible the additional subspecies will be formally recognized in the coming years. For example, there is some evidence of a unique population of Redband/ Rainbow Trout in the Upper Skagit drainage that may warrant subspecies status in the future, not to mention unique populations such as those in the White River or Fort Rock basins in Oregon.

A link to the study can be found here.

Campbell, M.A., E. Habibi, G. Aubringer, M. Stephens, J. Rodzen, K.W. Conway, A.J. Finger. 2023. Molecular systematics of redband trout from genome-wide DNA sequencing substantiates the description of a new taxon (Salmonidae: Oncorhynchus mykiss calisulat) from the McCloud River. Zootaxa 5254 (1): 000-029. https://doi.org/10.11646/zootaxa.5254.1.1

Friday, August 26, 2022

Evening Kayaking for Coastal Cutthroat

On a recent trip up to my parent's house up in Gig Harbor, I was able to sneak away for a couple of hours to do a little kayak fly fishing for sea-run Coastal Cutthroat on the Puget Sound. Back when I lived in Gig Harbor, most of my free time was spent fishing for sea-run Cutthroat and I was quite excited to revisit on of the more productive beaches in the area. I was able to launch the kayak around 4:30PM to catch the last couple of hours of the incoming tide. My original plan was to troll a fly until I either got a fish or located some good structure However, this approach was complicated by thick mats of seaweed that were rolling in on the tide. This meant that I had to stop every few minutes and clean my fly off before continuing on. 

Looking out over the Puget Sound towards the Olympic Mountains

After covering about a mile I finally cleared the seaweed mats just as I started passing over some good looking structure of a nice point. I figured this would be a good spot to start to drift with the tide and I started retrieving my fly. When my fly was about half way in a fish absolutely crushed it and my 6WT doubled over. The fish started off coming right at me and left me scrambling to retrieve my line fast enough. Just as I caught up, the fish followed this up with several short runs. After a couple of minutes I was able to get my line on the reel, just in time to see the big Cutthroat which looked every bit of 20" come shooting out of the water.  A few minutes later I was finally able to get the Cutthroat along side the kayak and was very thankful for my long handled net as I finally scooped up the beautiful 20" native Coastal Cutthroat.

A beautiful 20" anadromous Coastal Cutthroat Trout

After catching my big sea-run, I started to drift and cast. As Coastal Cutthroat tend to travel in pods, I wasn't surprised when I immediately hooked another fish, which unfortunately popped off. This scenario repeated itself three more times before the bite seemed to die off and the seaweed floated in encouraging me to move on. I covered another mile of beach, but didn't get a single additional grab before the wind picked up and forced me to turn back towards my take out. It was at this point that I realized that my net, which I had been so thankful for an hour earlier had some how managed to fall out of the kayak. Making this my third net for fall in the line of duty over the years...

Choppy water as the wind picks up on the Sound

A greedy little Staghorn Sculpin

On the way back I stopped where I had caught the big Cutthroat, but all I managed to find were a couple of Staghorn Sculpin. With the no indication of Cutthroat, light fading and the wind still howling it was finally time to make may way back to the take out after a wonderful evening on the water.

Thursday, August 25, 2022

Westslope Cutthroat of the South Cascades

After my trip up to the Methow drainage after Westslope Cutthroat in the North Cascades in Washington, I wanted hunt down some Westslope Cutthroat in the Southern Cascades of Washington this summer as well. In particular, I was hoping to find some fluvial Westslopes. One thing I strive to do on my website is represent as much of the diversity as possible in each variety of trout, such as the different life history forms. The fluvial life history forms are also known as riverine migrants and are known for making concerted migrations throughout larger river systems as well as typically reaching much larger sizes than stream resident forms. The difference in the two life history trajectories also typically results in slightly different phenotypic traits, which is why I was hoping to document the fluvial life history.

After a bit of research, I landed on a moderate sized stream that I had fished way back in 2006, but at that point the stream was dominated by small Columbia Basin Redband Trout, with Westslopes only being a rarity. Since that point, catch and release regulations have been adopted in parts of the watershed and supposedly the Cutthroat population had responded very well to the new regulations. When I mentioned my plans to my neighbor Dyllon, he was interested in joining me, so set a date on the calendar and made plans for the trip.

The day of the trip we were on the road by 5:30 AM and made good time getting over to the east side of the Cascades. As we drove up the road once we hit the stream, we were both shocked with the number of anglers out already. I had specifically chosen a stretch as it appeared to have a good concentration of pools based on satellite imagery hoping that it might hold a few large Cutthroat and luckily it was still free of anglers. . While the morning was extremely chilly, we opted to wet wade as the clear skies promised that it would be quite hot by the afternoon. Dyllon opted for a streamer setup, while I brought, my 2WT with a dry/dropper and my 6wt with a double nymph rig. Once we were rigged up, it was time to get on the water.

Dyllon took to the river first and had a few good grabs in the first hole, but it wasn't until we got to the next riffle upstream that we landed any fish. I opted for the nymph rig and after a couple casts got a good take and after a quick battle landed a beautiful fluvial Westslope Cutthroat on my October Caddis nymph.

A beautiful orange-bellied Westslope Cutthroat Trout

After I got my Westslope, Dyllon got a nice Redband on his streamer and I picked up a couple small trout on my dry at the head of the riffle before we moved further upstream. The next stretch of the stream was a mix of riffle and pocket water habitat and turned out to be the most productive of the day. With the abundance of pocket water I grabbed my 2WT and started working up the run. The fishing was fast and furious with a fish on almost every casts and two Cutthroat (one on the dry and one on the dropper) on one of the casts. The recovery of the Westslope Cutthroat population was on full display in the section of river, as about 75% of the fish we encountered were Cutthroat. Despite the predominance of Cutthroat, it still was a mystery what would grab on each cast, and I was surprised by a couple of Chinook Salmon parr on dries in addition to the Redbands and Cutthroat.

A healthy wild Chinook Salmon parr

Dyllon managed to get a few decent fish up to 12" and continued upstream on ahead of me. Just as Dyllon was vanishing from sight I landed a nice cast along a boulder on the far bank and saw a big flash as a nice trout grabbed my dropper. I got a solid hookset and 2WT was completely doubled over by the powerful fish. The trout stayed deep and made a number of runs before I was finally able to net a beautiful 17" fluvial Westslope Cutthroat.

A beautiful fluvial Westslope Cutthroat Trout

The big Cutthroat managed to thoroughly put down the run, prompting me to continue moving upstream. The water for the next 1/4 mile was predominately pocket or shallow riffle water and most likely looking spots seem to produce a fish on my dry/ dropper rig.

The stream

I linked up with Dyllon at a series of deep pools, where it was time to switch back to my nymph set up. The most productive of these pools was quite deep and required a long drift to get to where the fish were holding. This resulted in a low take to hook up ratio, but by being persistent I was rewarded with some nice Cutthroat and a beautiful Columbia Basin Redband.

A beautiful native Columbia Basin Redband Trout

After the deep nymphing hole, we found one more productive run before we started to run into the afternoon innertube and swimmer hatch and decided to relocate. We headed downstream to where a few major tributaries came together to try our luck in some larger water. Right off the bat we found a nice run and I dredged up a beautiful 11" Westslope on my October Caddis nymph, which was definitely a good sign. After that first Cutthroat, the fishing slowed down considerably. 

The second river

We finally found some more good water about a 1/4 mile upstream, where both Dyllon and I managed to get into some more fish. For me it was another Columbia Basin Redband and a few smaller Cutthroat on my nymph rig, but Dyllon got the real surprise when he hooked into a nice fish on the streamer. I saw him hook into it from downstream and was able to reach him just in time to net a beautiful Bull Trout for him. Bull Trout are quite rare in this watershed making this a very special catch. We took extra care handling this beautiful fish and it was a joy to watch it glide back into the depths after being released.

Dyllon's surprise Bull Trout

We covered a bit more water, but didn't find much more in the way of fish and with temperatures reaching their peak for the day we both decided to call it a day. After encountering 4 native species and finding an amazing Westslope Cutthroat fishery I am already looking forward to my next trip to the east slope of the Cascade Mountains.