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.


Thursday, August 28, 2008

Eastern Oregon Trip Part II: In search of something that doesn't exist: Alvord Cutthroat

After my stay in Sun River, my dad and I broke off for a trip out into the desert in search of a fish that isn't supposed to exist; the Alvord Cutthroat. What lead me on this search was evidence that indicates that fish from Trout Creek in the Alvord basin may have been stocked into a small stream in southeastern Oregon in the late 1800's. Unfortunately, the creek in question was later also stocked with Whitehorse Basin Cutthroat, Lahontan Cutthroat and even Rainbow Trout. However, according to Dr. Behnke, on a trip to the headwaters of this stream in 2006, instead of finding Rainbow Trout or hybrids, he found some fish that matched the outward appearance of the Alvord Cutthroat among a population of more typical Lahontan Cutthroat. With it appearing that there were two distinct phenotypes present in the creek and leaving open the possibility that the Alvord Cutthroat is not extinct as once thought.

We hit the road at 5:30 AM, bound for the Alvord stream and for being late August we were amazed at how low the temperature was as we drove across the Fort Rock Basin, where it bottomed out at a chilly 22 degrees. The drive was a straight shot to Lakeview, Oregon to refuel before heading out into the desert. Last year I had caught several Warner Lakes Redbands, but none of them had any real size to them so I had made plans to fish another small stream along the way to the Alvord Creek. However, what was supposed to be a fairly main road on the map ended up being a 4WD track at best and I had to take the blow of scratching the Warner Redbands from the trip due to being defeated by a road. To top it off, this road hadn't finished dealing it's punches, and about 10 minutes after reaching the highway one of my rear tires blew out. Ironically this is the first blown tire that I have had after years of driving on rough roads for native trout and came just three weeks after I had put new tires on my car in preparation for this trip. After quickly replacing the flat tire, we hit the road again for the creek. Upon arriving at the turn off for the creek, the road turned out to be as rough as the one that I provided us with a flat and without another spare there was no way that we were going to try to drive in. This meant that if I wanted to try to get some fish from the creek I was going to have to hike in.

The view from the first ridge

I wasn't quite sure how far it was to get into where the creek would become fishable, but I strapped on my hiking boots and hit the two track road at around 11:00 AM. From looking at a topo map I knew that there was a high ridge to cross that dropped into the headwaters of another creek and then a higher pass before I would reach the headwaters of the creek. The first ridge was a real butt kicker, with the summit being about 1,500 ft above where I started. However, the view from the top was amazing giving me a panoramic view across the high desert out to the Steens Mountains.

Looking out from the top of the first ridge toward the pass into the drainage holding these rare trout

I worked my way down the road into the extreme headwaters of a small creek where there was a small guard station built back against the hills. This was a beautiful little area with high desert meadows and a few Aspen groves scattered throughout the valley. I took a quick break just beyond the guard station at an Aspen grove along the creek, before tackling the pass.
The bottom of the valley looking toward the guard station

The pass was quite a haul with the summit just below the top of the 8065 ft peak. Just as I reached the top, I had a solo Pronghorn Antelope run across the trail 50 feet ahead of me and stop a short distance up the ridge to watch me pass.

The top of the pass

From the top of the pass it was a nice walk down the hill beginning in high desert sage brush and changing to a grove of Aspens once I ran into the creek. The road followed the headwaters of the creek as it curved down the slopes of the peak, but the creek was way to small too hold fish and it was evident that I would have to follow it downstream until it added a few tributaries or springs to its flow. Once the road emerged from the side of the mountain, I got a view across the valley and could see that for the next several miles the creek traveled through a flat valley and picked up several tributaries. It was a long distance, but hopefully I would find what I came for there.

Looking out across the valley

I arrived at the creek at around 2:45 PM, had a quick lunch, then rigged up my 2wt with my favorite set up for native trout, a Royal PMX and black Copper John dropper. When I walked out to the creek, it was about a foot wide and three inches deep in most places. Certainly too small and shallow to hold any fish. I only saw one option ahead of me, so I continued downstream another 1/4 mile in search of fishable water. On the way I was interrupted by a herd of pronghorns crossing the valley. Once I finally connected with the creek again, I found some holding water and began to try to locate some fish. As the creek rounded a corner and dredged out a small pool, I finally found a fish. I made a good cast and fish confidently grabbed my fly. As soon as I saw the trout, I knew that I had something unusual. I have caught most of the varieties of trout on the west coast and had never seen a fish like this one. It had red cutthroat marks, with a deep rose band and along its mid section and rosy gill plates. Beyond the caudal peduncle, its spots were concentrated above the lateral line and it was olive on the back transitioning to a brassy yellow color. Based on its appearance, the fish perfectly matched the description for the Alvord Cutthroat Trout!

A small cutthroat with the traits of an Alvord, a red lateral line with sparse spots above it.

The creek

I continued to fish my way downstream, finding decent holding water every time the creek would round a bend. In fact, at each corner with a decent amount of flow, I could expect to hook up and either catch or spook a trout. The creek was so small though, that my target area to land a fly in was generally about the size of a 6" circle, which was especially problematic when the wind kicked up and led to me spooking my fair share of fish. I caught a fair number of fish, most of which resembled Alvords, others appearing more like typical Lahontan Cutthroat and few appearing like a cross between the two.

A small Cutthroat with some with the deep that was typical of Alvord Cutthroat

After working a ways down the creek and catching a fair few trout, I decided that it was getting close to time to pull the plug on things if I didn't want to be hiking in the dark, so I turned around and started working my way back upstream. Not too far from where I caught my first fish, I saw a large trout holding in a pool that I had either spooked or missed on the way downstream. I found a spot where the fish wouldn't see me and worked my way into position for a good cast. I made my cast and my fly landed just where it needed to be and the fish confidently rose to take my dry fly. My line tightened and the fish was on, with nowhere to go in his little pool. After a quick battle, I landed the fish which measured 15" against my net and accurately matched the description of the long lost Alvord Cutthroat. It was amazing that a fish this size could manage to survive among such meager surroundings.

The fish I was looking for a large 15" cutthroat with the outward appearance of an Alvord Cutthroat

After catching the big fish I managed to hook one more smaller one, which shook my fly loose. Once past this pool though, the creek ran into the bushes and there wasn't much in the way of good holding water so I began working my way back. Already having covered more miles that I had planned on and fished hard, walk back out was torture.

Looking across the meadow on the way back towards the pass

The sun was at its hottest point by this time and the first few miles left me completely exposed to its burning rays. Although reaching the base of the pass meant that it was time to start on the long uphill trek, the shade of the trees growing there at least provided some relief from the sun.

A tree full of vultures at the base of the pass

The long uphill slog on the way over the pass

The hill up to the pass seemed to last forever, and once I was over it, I had to start on another hill again. Around 6 PM the sun finally began falling behind the peak and with the shade the walk became much more bearable and interesting as the wildlife began coming out of the wood work.

A buck just before reaching the end of the road.

All told, the hike ended up being a 20 mile round trip, with a few thousand feet of elevation gain. However, with the fish that I caught it was well worth it. It remains unclear how genetically pure these fish are, but Behnke has suggested that even if they aren't pure Alvords it may be possible to recreate the Alvord phenotype or genotype from these fish through a selective breeding program.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Eastern Oregon Trip Part I: Hosmer Lake Atlantic Salmon

With an upcoming family trip down to Sun River Oregon, I hatched a plan to extend out my stay by a few days to seek out a couple of elusive varieties of fish. The first of these, the Atlantic Salmon was well outside of its native range but was a much more feasible option than a costly trip to the east coast. I had fished Hosmer Lake which holds stocked population of landlocked Atlantic Salmon last year, but failed to land anything. This year I sought redemption for last year's skunking, but would have to pay my dues before accomplishing my goal of catching an Atlantic Salmon. 

With the first leg of the trip winding down, I pulled away from Sun River for the day and departed around 8:30 AM. On the way out of town, I popped by The Hook Fly Shop to get my license, some info on how the lake was fishing and pick up a few flies that were working. The shop staff was extremely helpful and it ended up being a good thing that I stopped by as they warned me about a fire near the headwaters of the Deschutes River that had the main road to the lake closed. This made my drive slightly longer as I had to go up and around Mount Bachelor, but I ended up arriving at the lake at around 10:30 AM.

When I got to the lake it was partly cloudy, breezy and in the low 40's F with a threat of rain. The only silver lining was that the weather had scared everyone else off, meaning that I had the lake all to myself. I set up my 8 foot Avon raft and hit the lake, with hopes that the weather would hold out for me. I worked my way down through a channel that separates the lake into two parts, casting streamers, dries and nymphs without so much as a hit. The biggest problem was the wind, which was so strong that at times it was pulling my anchor out of position and dragging me across the lake. About the time that I hit the far side of the lake, the weather turned on me and it started pouring down rain. The sideways rain stuck with me for the next couple of hours and me very grateful from my rain gear.

Hosmer Lake, as another set of rainy weather begins to move in.

I hung out at the far end of the lake for a little while, but I could seem to find any fish and didn't like being so far from the car considering the conditions, so I began working my way back. I fished my way through most of the channel, and for a change the wind started working in my favor. The wind allowed me to drifted me back through the channel as if I were on a slow moving stream and made casting slightly easier. I still couldn't get anything to hit until I tried an Aggravator Prince nymph, which brought me two long distance releases from some of the big Altantics and Brook Trout that holding in the channel. However, I still couldn't seem to land anything and after a few brief hook ups the fish had spooked and the bite died off.

Hosmer Lake with the top of Mount Bachelor hidden behind the clouds

I got out of the channel and back to the south end of the lake at around 3:30 PM, feeling defeated and about ready to throw in the towel. However, just before reaching the boat launch I saw a fish rise and decided to give it a few more minutes. This was a very good call as on the first cast I had a good grab, but missed it.  On the next cast, I finally got a solid hookup and after a short batter, I ended up with my first Atlantic Salmon.

My first Atlantic Salmon

The Atlantic Salmon in the lake are stocked landlocked Sebago strain and although not caught within their native native range, they were a new species of fish for me and it was a relief to finally catch one. After catching my first fish of the day, the fishing remained hot for several minutes and I managed to land one more Atlantic out of the 7 or 8 that grabbed my Aggravator nymph. However, the last fish which was much larger than the rest managed to snap off my last on of these Aggravator nymph and after raiding my fly box, I couldn't find anything else that they would hit. With the fish not being responding to my offerings and chilled from the rough weather, I headed back to the boat launch. When I got back to the launch it was 48 degrees out, and my car heater was a very welcomed luxury. Despite the slow fishing and rough weather, I still managed to catch a new species making it a very successful day on the water.

Another Sebago strain Atlantic Salmon

Friday, August 15, 2008

Kokanee on the fly!!

Both Clint and I have been wanting to fish for Kokanee with fly gear for quite sometime and last night things finally came together. Kokanee are a lake dwelling (adfluvial) form of Sockeye Salmon and being as Sockeye are the only species of Pacific Salmon that I have yet to tempt to a fly, these fish have been on my hit list of quite a while. The lake that I chose for these fish has a healthy population of Kokanee and better yet is less than an hour away from home. Way back before I switched to primarily fishing with fly gear I used to fish this lake a lot for trout, and we would intercept a stray Kokanee or two on bait once and a while, so I knew that we should be able to find them here. I got off work and we loaded up the boat and headed out to the lake. When we got to the launch the air temps were in the 90's and getting the boat in amongst the swimmers who didn't seem to have any plans of moving was no small task.
The lake

After finally getting launched, the fish finder showed a surface temperature of 79 degrees and also began showing a few fish around 25 to 30 feet deep. As Kokanee generally hang out just below the thermocline in the summer, these had to be what we were looking for. We rigged up our rods with full sinking lines and started dredging the bottom. I had chosen to put on a small red Wooly Bugger followed by a size 14 Maggot pattern, while Clint had decided to take the attractor route opting for a bright pink streamer. After about 20 minutes of dredging the depths it finally happened, a couple taps and than a full fledged hook up. These little fish definitely have a lot of spunk and made for a lot of fun on a 5wt.

My first Kokanee on the fly

After getting him in, I saw that he took the maggot pattern, then quickly dropped my line again to get back to fishing. Shortly after this, Clint had a good take but missed the fish.

In the Kokanee zone
For the first hour or so it seemed that there was a school of fish hanging out off of a small point in the lake. We each got several hits in this spot but couldn't seem to get a good connection until Clint had a fish slam his fly and came up with a beautiful Kokanee.

Clint's Kokanee

After the first hour or so the hits trailed off and we just couldn't seem to consistently find the fish. However, before dark Clint got another nice Kokanee and I lost another one, but with the failing light we decided to call it a day. It was a great day on the water and a new species of salmonid on the fly for both of us made it even better!!

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Back to the begining...

I ended up having a bit of free time today so of course fishing found its way into my schedule. The day started out with a fruitless trip out to the Olympic Peninsula looking for Chinook Salmon and some retribution was needed. My thoughts immediately went to the local Cutthroat pond. This place has special meaning for me, as it is where it all started. I learned how to fly fish here and gained a love for native trout species. All of the fish inhabiting this pond are native Coastal Cutthroat which generally hit flies with reckless abandon and fight like there is no tomorrow. What more can a fly fisherman ask for in a fish...

The local pond

The only problem with the pond during this time of the year is the excessive weed growth, which makes getting to and landing any fish no small task. However, it also increases the productivity of the pond and when I got there, a decent damsel hatch was in progress and fish were actively feed on the surface. I started out with a damsel dry and rose a fish on the first cast, but things slowed down after that. Leading to go subsurface and tie on a Zug Bug nymph. This was the ticket and it was game on.

My first Coastal Cutthroat of the day

The Cutthroat appeared to be averaging about 8-10" this year, and while the hatch was in progress it was some fast fishing with hits on most every cast. However, the number of fish caught to lost due to the weeds was extremely high with about 2/3 fish shaking loose.

Another Coastal Cutthroat

Despite the challenges with the weeds, I still managed to get about 10 Cutthroat in a couple of hours of fishing, including a couple 12" or better making for a fun on afternoon with the 2 WT.

My big fish for the day a 13" Cutthroat

Sunday, August 3, 2008

Central Washington Westslope Cutthroat

This past Saturday, I found myself in need of some hiking and more importantly fly fishing for native trout. The day's weather started out in the typical Western Washington fashion with clouds and a threat of rain, making a trip to the sunny eastern slope of the Cascade Mountains sound very good. The stream that I would end up fishing, sort of choose itself. The original plan was to fish one of the rivers in the area, but on the hike in I first had to cross a crystal clear small stream with a nice deep pool and rising trout. This was to much to resist and I rigged up my 2wt rod with a Royal PMX and black Copper John dropper and started fishing. In the first pool I turned two fish, but couldn't get a solid hook-up so I headed downstream to search out some more productive water.

My first Cutthroat of the day

This section of the stream flowed through a patch of forest, and when I came up to a small but deep pool I could see two trout holding in the shade just under a log jam. I placed my short cast into the main flow and just as my fly reached the log jam I watched one of the trout cruise over and confidently grab my Copper John. I got a good hook set and the fish thrashed around spooking the other fish before finally being brought to my net.

Another trout showing the typical coloration and spotting pattern of stream resident Eastern Cascades Westslope Cutthroat.

Just below the logjam was another pool with an exposed root wad. I placed my cast in a gap between the tangle of roots and watched Cutthroat slowly rise to my Royal PMX, however I was a little trigger happy and pulled the fly away before I had him on. This scenario played out several two more times before I finally got a solid hook up and landed another beautiful Cutthroat.

The stream in the meadow section

A little ways below here, I saw another Cutthroat holding at the tail of a small pool, which readily fell for my nymph. After catching this fish the nature of the stream abruptly changed as it flowed through a meadow reminiscent of the Rocky Mountains. The stream meandered through this section and was a joy to fish even though it was suspiciously devoid of trout. I fished to the end of the meadow and not finding any more fish so I called it on another successful native trout outing.