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, November 30, 2021

Rainy season Chum Salmon

After my outing with Steve in August, I learned that he still had yet to catch two species of Pacific salmon: Chum and Coho. When I mentioned to him that both of these species can usually be found in good numbers during the fall in Washington, he started planning another trip and as it turned out both of our schedules lined up at the end of October. However, as we got closer to the trip, one complication arose - the weather.

While most years early fall is actually a pretty nice time of the year in western Washington, this year is a La NiƱa year. Meaning wetter than normal weather and has it ever been wet, with more than double the normal rain during October. This meant that when Steve arrived, pretty much every river was nearing flood stage and as such our only option was to try our luck in the saltwater.

This however, was also going to be a long shot as we were just coming off a major rain and most salmon will pass right through the estuaries and into the rivers following a good rain and it usually takes several days for them to stack up again. Despite this, we were good to put in our best shot at finding some fish. Our first spot that we checked out was the mouth of a small stream that has a modest Chum run, but will often draw in large numbers Chum Salmon sniffing for their natal waters as they head deeper into Puget Sound. I have had excellent success at this spot in the past during the same time of year, but have also found in vacant of Chum on other occasions.  Unfortunately this time it was the latter situation, as there were some post spawn Chum in the creek, but we only saw a couple roll in the estuary during the two hours that we tried our luck.

First spot of the day - no fish...

For me this spot was a bit of a litmus test for the day and as there were almost no salmon there, I knew that we were going to have a hard time finding any fish. Luckily for Steve, there was on sure-fire spot in front of a local hatchery that we could try, but would would have to put up with some crowds to do so. Being that it was a weekday, luckily the crowds were not as bad as they could be and given the number of Chum trying to get back, the hatchery trap was closed, meaning that there was quite the captive audience of Chum waiting for us. By crossing the creek mouth, we were able to get away from the crowds a bit, but with the tide rising so we would only have an hour or two before we had to relocate. I started out with chartreuse comet, while Steve was using a spinning rod with an orange vibrax spinner. With the Chum held up in front of us, it didn't take long for us to tie into some fish and I started things off by bringing a decent hen to hand after just a few of casts. Steve had several fish on that popped off, but finally got a solid connection and after a few minutes brought a bright female chum to shore as well, checking another species off his list.

Steve's first Chum Salmon

After Steve's fish, we noted that the tide was coming up faster than we anticipated and we knew that we were running short on time. However we figured we had a few cast left, and before long I managed to hook into another, slightly larger Chum. After several good runs and a bit of tug of war I was able to bring this one to hand as well. I turned out to be a decent buck this time, but with that fish it was time for us to get across the creek and head to another beach.

My buck Chum

As we had checked the Chum off we decided that we would grab lunch, then head for a beach that had a reasonable chance of having some Coho around. We gave this beach a couple of hours, during which we had a handful of Chum swim by, but had no grabs and saw no Coho jumpers and as things didn't show any sign of improving we decided to move on.

Beach #3 - no fish...

Since it didn't seem likely that we would find any adult Coho in the saltwater still, I figured our best bet might be to look for some smaller resident Coho and possibly some sea-run Cutthroat. However, at this point the tide was really up, which made things challenging. We ended up trying two more spots but still saw now sign of fish and as our daylight was starting to fail we opted to call it a day, having at least gone 1 for 2. Hopefully we can get a Coho for Steve next time. 

Unfortunately, a side affect of this trip and doing too many of double haul casts, was that I woke up the next day with a serious kink in my shoulder that refused to go away. After after putting up with it for a couple weeks a I learned that I either sprained or tore a muscle in my rotator cuff on my left side so there won't be any fishing for me any time soon (at least it is the off season...).

While I may not be able to go fishing, I have still at least been able to get out fish watching a couple of times at a local creek. The Chum runs to this creek are among the best in years and it has been a fun place to enjoy watching these fish and just to be in the great outdoors with my family.

The local Chum creek
Chum Salmon on a spawning flat

A Chum Salmon spawning pair

Thursday, October 28, 2021

Fall Salmon Spawn

With the start of fall, the leaves are changing colors and the first major rains of the season have hit western Washington. With that rain, the salmon have started to ascend the rivers in earnest and for those that know where to look, there are a number under the radar trout fisheries that really come alive once the salmon start spawning that under the right conditions can rival fisheries in Alaska. 

I recently, Chris and I had a day free to visit one of these fisheries and it seemed that our timing was spot on. When we arrived at the river, the first thing we saw was a pair of Chum Salmon sitting on a redd, telling us that the trout should be looking for eggs. Despite several pairs of Chum Salmon spawning above the first run that we tried, we failed to find any fish. However, just upstream of this the river braided into three channels and two of these were stacked with spawning salmon. Chris took one side and I took the other side. At the top of the side channel that I choose there was a fast riffle that dropped into a nice pocket. A classic spawning season holding water, providing a steady supply of eggs from spawning fish upstream, but being too fast for salmon to want to hold in the same water. I positioned myself just upstream of this slot and on the first drift, my egg imitation had barely gone over the lip of the pool when my indicator shot under the surface. Upon setting the hook, I could tell that this trout was no push over and unfortunately for me this was not going to be an easy spot to land a fish as both sides of the pocket we brushy meaning I would have to get the fish to come upstream. This led to a series of tug of wars with a fish that I got a good look at several times and could tell was well over 20". Despite a decent hook set, I just could not get this fish up over the lip of the pool and after a few minutes the trout finally won the battle and threw the hook.

Spawning Chum Salmon

Chris's side channel had only produced one small fish and as my fish had certainly spooked anything holding in the pool we decided to continue upstream, especially as we both knew there was some great water ahead of us. Not to far upstream Chris spotted a nice Rainbow that was holding in shallow water not far from some spawners. While took a few casts, Chris was able to get a good drift and as able to bring a nice 18" Rainbow to hand.

A spawned out Chum Salmon
A nice native Coastal Rainbow Trout

The next spot upstream was a slow moving trench that screamed sea-run Cutthroat water, but instead Chris got another similarly sized Rainbow, while I got a nice Pink Salmon on a streamer.

A Pink Salmon on a black sclupin pattern

The next two runs upstream were some of the best water we saw all day, but oddly seemed to be devoid of large fish and only held a few smolt sized fish. This may have been due to the spawners here being predominately Pink Salmon, which trout seem to avoid and also appear to select against eating Pink eggs compared to other species. We did find one little riffle with a pair of Chinook spawning at the top and this was where we ran into some Coastal Cutthroat, with Chris picking up a couple of nice fish.

A particularly spotty Cutthroat

After this, we decided that it was time to head back downstream as the best luck we had so far had been right near where we started. In area where Chris had gotten his first Rainbow, both Chris and I managed to pick up a nice Coastal Cutthroat. Additionally, as the side channel I had started at had gotten a nice rest, I got another shot at it and this time was able to pick up a decent albeit much smaller Rainbow, which this time I successfully got over the lip of the pool and landed. 

An egg eating Coastal Cutthroat

A bright native Cutthroat

Downstream of here, Chris and I picked up a handful of decent fish before coming to the best looking water of the day where a tributary entered the river forming a deep trench. It was here that I again hooked into another big Rainbow. This fish took several long runs almost making it into the backing before was able to turn it and bring it to shore where Chris netted it. While not quite as big as the one that I had hooked earlier in the day this 20" Rainbow definitely made the trip for me and was a great way to finish off the day.

My big egg eating Rainbow
A fat native Coastal Rainbow Trout, a great way to end the day

Tuesday, September 28, 2021

End of August Adventure

A couple of years ago, while reading up on the Redband Trout of the Northern Great Basin, I found a genetics study that indicated that beyond the Great Basin Redbands, there was also an ancestral form of Redband Trout found in a tributary of the Deschutes River, that is unique enough to warrant being considered a distinct subspecies. These fish are the White River Redband Trout and have been isolated upstream of a barrier falls for thousands of years. Due to this isolation, they have more in common with Fort Rock Redbands than what the do with the Redbands in the Deschutes River. While I was able to make a trip to the White River a couple years ago, I was limited on time and only managed to catch a couple of Redbands on that first trip. Due to this I have had plans to make it back to the White River watershed ever since. After discussing the White River Redband with one of my friends and fellow native trout enthusiast Steve, it looked like our schedules would line up at the end of August, so we made plans for a trip. In addition to White River Redbands, Steve had yet to catch an anadromous Coastal Cutthroat so we also hoped to check that off his list as well.

Friday August 27th 2021: Steve flew in the previous night and I was up bright and early and picked Steve up at his hotel at 5:30AM bound for a small stream in the White River watershed. It was a gray and drizzly drive through the western Cascade Mountains, but as soon as we crossed the crest of the mountains, the sun came out, the clouds broke and we were greeted with a breath taking view of Mount Hood.
Clear skies over Mt. Hood - bare of snow after a dry summer

The quickest route to the stream was off a forest service road off the slopes of Mt. Hood, however after following the road for several miles we were greeted with a barricade blocking our way due to a wildfire. This came as a pretty big surprise to me as I had checked the forest service's webpage for current conditions and there had been no mention road closures in the area. With our first route in blocked, we set out to find a way around, unfortunately the next two forest service roads were also closed and we ended up having to drive an extra hour around to get to the stream. Luckily the fire had no impact the creek we were going to all and upon arriving the creek looked perfect. 
The Creek

I rigged up with my 1wt and a dry - dropper combo, while Steve went with a dry fly on a tenkara rod. While I had struggled to find fish on my last trip to the watershed, this time my research hit the mark and within a few casts we had both risen fish. I started out downstream, while Steve went upstream and after working downstream a ways had caught a half dozen 6-8" Redbands, primarily on the dropper. While the fish that I had gotten on my previous trip were rather pale, these fish had darker tones, with a much more pronounced redband. Given quick fishing, I checked in with Steve, who had also managed to get some decent Redbands. 
A small White River Redband

Steve was still working a good stretch of water, so I hiked a bit further upstream until I found a promising stretch of the stream. As I was a bit further from the road here, the size of the fish seemed to have gone up a few inches and the fish also started rising to dry flies a bit more consistently. After fishing for while, I found a larger pool that had good cover, from an over hanging tree. I managed to get a bow and arrow cast up and under the branches and was rewarded with a nice rise and a solid hookup. This fish was a bit bigger than the others I had hooked and really made my 1wt work, but after a short while a landed a close to 12" Redband. A monster for this stream.

My big fish of the day a beautifully colored Redband.

After getting this big fish, I worked my way upstream until I connected with the trail and headed back down to where Steve was. Steve had also managed to get some nice Redbands, and as we had a 3.5 hour drive back wanted to try for some sea-run Cutthroat we hit the road again. 

After getting back to the Olympia area, we headed for a local beach where we hopped to catch the end of the tide. Unfortunately, the wind was up and after and after an hour of fishing the good tide was running out and we still hadn't seen any sign of fish so we decided to call it a day and regroup in the morning.

Saturday August 28th 2021: After a success for day fishing for Redbands, we hoped that today we would be able to find a few Coastal Cutthroat and Coastal Rainbow Trout on one of my favorite rivers. The plan was to fish a combination of egg imitations and streamers and hopefully find a few fish that were starting to think about spawning salmon. Like the previous day we got an early start and upon reaching the river, it seemed that there may be a complication. Odd years in Washington are Pink Salmon run years. Most of the time this doesn't have too much of an impact on trout fishing, but apparently this river was experiencing a particularly strong Pink Salmon run this year. 
Lots of pinks (every dark shape is a salmon)

Typically during conditions like this, I find the trout concentrated in the faster riffles, but this time with how thick the pinks were, even nymphing primarily produced Pinks, although I did get one smaller Rainbow to grab an egg imitation. This did end up working in Steve's favor however, as he had not caught a Pink prior to this and given the conditions one could not help but catch a Pink checking yet another species off his list. The only sea-run Cutthroat that we saw was holding in a tailout behind several thousand Pinks, which we too aggressive to allow us to successfully get a cast to it. Given that Steve still hadn't caught his Cutthroat, we headed to my back up stream for the day, a small creek on our way home. 
A Pink Salmon caught nymphing

A small but native Coastal Rainbow Trout

The stretch of stream were going to try was only a few hundred yards upstream of the saltwater and sea-run Coastal Cutthroat will commonly dip into these lower reaches during high tide so I figured it was as good of a bet as anything. As Steve was the one looking for the fish, I let him do the fishing and sure enough at our first hole we spotted some Cutthroat and on his first cast he landed a bright fish fresh out of the saltwater. We fished for another 30 minutes or so and Steve got one larger fish and had a couple other grabs before it was time to call it a day. We managed to check three fish off of Steve's list while seeing some beautiful water, not a bad way to spend a couple of days!

Tuesday, August 3, 2021

Washington Wanderings

 After my last native trout trip, it has been time for me to stick closer to home for a while, as well as to hunt down some local native trout with a couple friends from out of state.

My first outing after getting back was a short trip to my home river after some resident Coastal Cutthroat. As with everywhere around the west, Washington is feeling the exceptionally dry summer and the river was particularly low. On my favorite stretch of the river, the first riffle is usually extremely productive this time of the year, but barely had enough water to even hold fish. Despite this, I did manage to get one small Cutthroat and one Shiner, both on my dropper. Interestingly the Cutthroat had quite a bit more speckling than normal and appeared to have black spot disease, something I had not seen before in this stream.

A small resident Coastal Cutthroat with blackspot disease
A small shiner caught on a dropper

Fishing my way upstream, I found a deeper run and managed to pick up a few more Cutthroat around 6-8” on my dry and while I am usually able to find a few fish in the 10-12” range on most trips, it wasn’t happening this time and after a couple of hours and perhaps a dozen small Cutthroat I figured I had seen enough and called it for the day.

The river

A healthy little Coastal Cutthroat

About a week after my Cutthroat outing, my buddies from Utah, Dan and Paul flew in for three days of fishing. The first fish that they were hoping to check off was a Coastal Cutthroat and as the local river had been producing mainly small fish, we decided to start on the Puget Sound to see if wee could find some sea-runs. 

We arrived at our first beach shortly after the low tide and at a beach with a good constricted passage, prime Cutthroat water. However, after a couple hours we had only had a few short strikes and follows but no fish landed and we decided to move on. The next beach we went too was at its ideal tide, and Paul got one Coho smolt, but again the Cutthroat were nowhere to be seen, so we decided to try one last beach. Unfortunately, this one also gave us a blank. It seemed to be one of those days where the fish didn’t want to bite... As I was out of time for the day, Dan and Paul ran to the local river and found the Cutthroat right where I had found them the week before.

A beautiful day on the water, regardless of slow fishing

The next day we were headed deep into the Olympics after native Coastal Rainbows. The stream that we were heading too is one of the more unique ones in Washington. This river has a set of barrier falls in its mid-section and as a result has Rainbows with colorations that I have not seen in other local populations. These fish are and almost pure white color, with prominent part marks and a vibrant pink/red band down the lateral line. The other interesting thing about this river, is that it is one of the only places in the lower 48 states with a true native population of Dolly Varden. These Dollies fit a different niche than the Rainbows, being more of benthic feeders, but are mixed in a about a 50/50 ratio and are known to rise to dries from time to time.

The shady river

After making the drive several hours to the river, we geared up and hiked upstream another couple of miles to a stretch that has treated me well in the past. Paul took the first crack at the river and after a few casts caught a small Dolly Varden on his nymph and in the next hole he got a nice about 10” Rainbow. Not long after, Dan too caught a small Dolly this time on a dry fly. 

A small native stream resident Southern Dolly Varden

The greatest challenge with this stream is that it is very high gradient and it can be a long distance between holding water. After Dan and Paul got into their fish, spent some time working along the river before I found a decent little run wit a few nice pockets thrown in. I started out in the soft water near the top of the run and as I picked up my line to make another cast I noticed a fish holding in the soft water side of the seam. On my next cast I got the fly right where I saw the fish and it instantly grabbed my dropper and I pulled in a nice little Dolly. After few more casts, there didn’t seem to be any other takers so I worked down the run a bit. Where the water picked turned into a bit of a riffle, a decent fish rose and this time I brought in a Rainbow. After landing that fish, I cast a couple few feet further back and rose another nicer fish. This one ended up being about 10” and was beautifully colored.

A beautiful pale white native Coastal Rainbow Trout
The fast flowing stream

We worked the stream for most of the afternoon, with each of us getting in a handful of Dollies and Rainbows, before heading back towards Olympia.

For the last day with Dan and Paul, we were heading east to the crest of the Cascade Mountains to search for some Eastern Cascades-Clearwater Westslope Cutthroat. This stream was quite a bit smaller than the last one, but holds a pure population of some of the most beautiful Cutthroat I have encountered. 

Cascade Mountain Cutthroat country

Paul headed up the road to try fishing upstream a ways, while Dan and I started right by the car. Just as with previous trips to this stream, the Cutthroat were plentiful, if not all that large. Within a few minutes Dan had his first Westslope of the day and not too long after that I had mine. As we worked our way upstream and further from the car, the holding water improved and so did the size of the fish, with a few running up to 10”.

A vibrantly colored native Cutthroat

After covering about a 1/2 mile of the creek, we decided to use our last couple hours before Dan and Paul flew out to visit my one of favorite streams in Washington. This other stream is stunningly beautiful and has equally beautiful Cutthroat. I had fished this other spot a number of times of the years, a rarely ran into other anglers, although within the last few years, a Seattle area fly shop started doing guided trips and pressure has gone up significantly since. Unfortunately, this was meant that when we got to the stream, there was already someone else fishing my favorite stretch and while we got a few minutes of fishing in upstream, it took longer to get to the water and we only had time to get a few casts in, catching a single fish before it was time to head out.

Another native Cutthroat

Despite a set back on our last spot, it was a great trip and excellent to spend time on the water with Dan and Paul, touring some of Washington's unique native trout locations. I am hoping that next year, I will be able to make it out to Utah to visit with them and hopefully check the Bonneville Cutthroat off of my list as well. 

Monday, July 19, 2021

Rapid Fire Westslope Cutthroat Trip: Part 2

 Day 3: Saturday July 3rd 2021:  With three subspecies of Cutthroat down, we were up early and on the road again headed into the Salmon River country of Idaho. While we certainly could have tried the big water of the Salmon River, instead we were heading for a small stream that had come highly recommended from a friend of mine. According to him, he had caught Salmon River Westslopes, Columbia Basin Redbands and Interior Bull Trout all in this stream. It took us a few hours to reach the stream and I decided that we would start upstream of the road crossing. Almost as soon we stepped out of the car, we were mobbed by swarm of deer flies. These things were persistent too and even DEET, which I rarely resort too didn’t do the trick. Despite the onslaught of flies, we geared up and headed to the water. The stream here was high gradient pocket water and extremely brushy, but it only took a few casts to rise a little cutthroat and like that the Salmon River Westslope was checked off the list. A few minutes later Derek got one too. After trudging a a couple hundred yards through the steep brushy terrain, I found a nice deeper pocket. My first few casts through the typical strike zones didn’t produce, but when I let the fly drift a bit further back a nice fish rose. After a quick battle, I brought this fish in and found that I had a Bull Trout and not a Cutthroat in the net. 

A Salmon River Westslope Cutthroat

A beautiful dry fly caught Bull Trout

The brushy stream

Despite finding a few fish on the way upstream, the going was extremely tough so we made the call to relocate downstream about a mile to a more open meadow stretch that we had passed. I did pop into a few pockets we had walked by on the way upstream and managed to get three more Cutthroat before getting back to the car and relocating.

Just as before, once we got back out of the car, the flies we at us again. The first bit of the stream was lined with dense willows not particularly productive, but we did pick up a couple more cutthroat in the deeper pockets. However, before long the stream braided and the meadow opened up and the holding water greatly improved. 

Some more promising water

As I headed upstream, I caught a couple more small Bull Trout and rose a couple others. The last hole that I came too ended up being the best. First cast in I got a decent Cutthroat in a pocket in the tailout. Next cast I got a Columbia Basin Redband a little upstream of the Cutthroat. On my next cast I landed my fly next to some woody debris and got a nice fish to rise my fly. When the fish jumped a couple times I could see it was a nice about 14” Bull Trout. Just before I netted this fish another slightly smaller Bull Trout shot out of nowhere and attacked the one I was fighting, but I was able to put mine out of the way and land it a couple seconds later. Not sure if I have ever managed the feat of landing three different native species on three casts before!

Cast #1 - Salmon River Westslope Cutthroat
Cast # 2- Columbia Basin Redband

Cast # 3 - Interior Bull Trout

After releasing this fish, I made a few more casts in the head of the pool and low and behold out came the other Bull Trout and grabbed my dry fly as well. After a short battle with a few good jumps I was able to bring the about 13” Bull Trout to the net.

After that fish, we were done with the biting flies had to be on the road again headed for the Ruby River Valley in Montana. If it hadn’t been for the biting flies, this stream would have been one of my favorites of the trip, as catching three species of native trout on three casts is just not something that one usually finds when small stream fishing.

Our next target was the Missouri River Westslope Cutthroat, has been the most heavily impacted Westslope subspecies and was the one I was the most worried about finding. In addition we were also hoping to find some fluvial Arctic Grayling in the Ruby River, one of the last place to hold them in the lower 48 states. Unfortunately, this next stretch of trip is where we started to hit some hiccups. The first was that the road to the Westslope Cutthroat stream I had planned on fishing was gated off and there was no way to get into it. I did have another stream planned for Missouri River Westslope for the next day so this wasn’t the end of the world. With that, we decided to head to the campground we planned on staying at and fish the Ruby River in that area. This campground left a lot to be desired, first we got one of the last spots and there really was no good spot for a tent and the picnic tables were pretty busted up. The bigger issue to me was that the rest of the campground was full of RVs and car top campers, with every one of them seeming to find it necessary to run their loud generators nonstop. We decided that we would hold off setting up camp and see what the river had to offer.

Storm clouds moving through

Our first try at fishing only lasted 20 minutes until a thunderstorm pushed us off the river. After waiting it out in the car for another 45 minutes, the weather finally cleared enough for us to get on the river. As Grayling have smaller mouths than trout, I brought both a dry fly and nymphing rod with me. The dry fly was the first to get any action and I landed a little Westslope with some slight hybrid traits. The next few fish were also cutbows. Finally I found a deeper hole and hooked into something with the right body shape of a Grayling on the nymph rig, but when I landed it turned out to be a Whitefish.

Cutbows galore

A Ruby River Whitefish

While I had been fishing here, Derek had gone upstream and found a pod of rising fish, but was having trouble hooking up. When he did finally hook up, we found out why as it was another Whitefish. I also picked up a Whitefish here, before we continued upstream. The character of the river changed above here, opening up into a classic meadow stream with lots of cutbanks, that would have fit in well in Yellowstone. However, the fishing didn’t change and it was pretty much 6-8” cutbows and a handful of Whitefish, but no Grayling. As such after covering a mile or so of the river we headed back to the car.

The fishing may not have been what we hoped, but the scenery was amazing! 

Sunset over the valley

At this point, the sky was threatening to bust loose with another thunderstorm again and with our subpar campsite and loud neighbors we decided to go ahead and head for our next spot. As we were already getting close to dusk, we knew this was going to be a night drive followed by sleeping in the car, but so be it. When we arrived at the next stream at 10pm, the thunderstorm had followed us and as such it looked like sleeping in the car it was.

Day 4: Sunday July 4th 2021: After a rough night of sleep in the car, we woke up at day break and drove up to a meadow stretch of the stream. The stream was pretty small here and when we arrived, there was a herd of cattle grazing along the banks, for whatever reason when we walked out to check out the creek these cows decided they wanted to follow us and back to the car. As we still needed to rig up, it was quite cold out still and we didn’t really want to to rig up surrounded by cows we waited a few minutes in the car for them to clear out. Before moving on, for what ever reason one got in a head butting contest with my back bumper, but before long it was time to get fishing. 

Our cattle friends

It didn’t take long to find fish, but unfortunately every single one of them was a Brook Trout. After covering a good length of the creek, I decided it was time to scoot over to our second backup creek. This next creek was located one watershed over and with luck we would be able to find ourselves a few Cutthroat there.

A beautiful stream, but no Cutthroat...

Brook Trout - the bane of small stream Cutthroat

When we arrived at this creek, the deer flies that had plagued us in Idaho were back in force and definitely made the experience less enjoyable. Where we started the creek was extremely brushy but had decent holding water and within a few casts I had hooked into a trout. However, just like the last stream, it was a Brook Trout. At this point I was starting to get worried about getting the Missouri River Westslope on this trip, especially when the next few fish were also brookies. However, when I came around a bend and spotted what looked to be a trout and not a char sitting in a tailout, I was given a bit of hope. One the next cast, the fish rose to my fly and when I slide the fish into the net, I was a beautiful Westslope Cutthroat! In the next hole upstream, I was also pleased to find another slightly larger Missouri River Westslope.

The elusive Missouri River Westslope Cutthroat

Unfortunately, this trend did not continue, the ratio of Brook Trout to Cutthroat was probably 10 to 1, making it challenging to catch many more cutties. Despite this the stream was certainly beautiful and the fishing was certainly good, even if we were catching the wrong fish. However, as we still needed to make it to our next spot in Idaho in time to fish and set up camp before dark we had to hit the road again. Hopefully, the next spot would treat us better on the Cutthroat front than the last few had.

A beautiful stream, just too many brookies

For our next spot, we were aiming to find some North Fork Clearwater River Westslope Cutthroat. These were the last new subspecies that were we after, and as the rivers in Idaho had treated us well so far, I had high hopes for this one as well. After several our hours of driving through wide open Big Sky county of Montana, we found ourselves once again winding up a dusty road over the Bitteroots and into Idaho. As we pulled into the campground, our timing couldn’t have been better as several campers were from the 4th of July crowd were just pulling out and had left the best campsite vacant. This time we opted to set up camp first and fish afterwards. However, after I had gotten my first couple tasks done I couldn’t help but sneak a cast or two while standing on the bank in the campsite. These casts were rewarded immediately with a couple smallish Cutthroat and like that, mission accomplished with all five new subspecies caught. Feeling satisfied, I finished setting up and told Derek he should try the same spot. While I found a couple smallish Cutthroat, Derek managed to landed a beautiful 14” right the standing in camp.

The river at our campsite

With a little taste of the river and camp a set up, Derek and I were ready to really explore the river. I had spotted a nice hole just downstream on the other side of the river and opted to head there, while Derek went upstream.

On my way across the river, I picked up a few more small Cutthroat and one Redband in the the pocket water before reaching the hole I was heading to. This spot looked just as good up close as it did from the other side of the river, with a nice seam right down the middle. The first few casts didn’t get any attention, but once I got to the prime water, I got a good drift and rose and hooked into a nice fish. This fish had some size and really made me work for it on my 2WT with several good runs before it finally slid into the net.

A beautiful NF Clearwater Westslope Cutthroat

A couple cast after getting this fish I rose another nice sized Cutthroat, but after briefly hooking up, it popped loose. After this fish, the hole completely shut off, so I headed upstream to catch up with Derek. Derek had managed to find a few Cutthroat on his way upstream and together we moved upstream to a nice hole along a cliff face. Derek started off by a big boulder in the middle of the hole, while I started at the top. On my first cast, a big fish rose on took my Royal PMX and I was again hooked into a nice Cutthroat, however after fighting it for a minute, I felt a pop and the fish was gone and so was my fly. This had been a big fish so I was definitely bummed. At this point, a solid hatch of Green Drakes, PMDs and caddis was starting to get going and Derek opted for a Green Drake pattern and a couple casts later he got himself a nice Cutthroat that was perhaps 15". It was my turn next and a Green Drake also was the ticket for me and produced another nice Cutthroat, this time at about 16". 

Derek's Cutthroat

Unfortunately, at this point what had been a perfect evening of fishing took a bit of a sour turn and while neither of us were quite sure how it happened, my 4wt Sage SLT rod which Derek had been using completely shattered on its second section. While this wasn't the end of the word as we had a couple other rods with us, this rod has been on a lot of adventures and I am really crossing my fingers that Sage is able to replace the broken sections as I love this rod. After the rod, broke, I grabbed it from Derek and took it up to the rock my 5wt nymph rod was hanging out on to swap them out. While I was re-rigging the 5wt for dry fly fishing a bug landed on my leg and when I looked down I noted that it was a gray crane fly. Beyond that, when I looked at the base of the rock, there were hundreds of crane flies buzzing around. As luck would have it, prior to the trip and Dyllon had told me that the previous year they had run into a crane fly hatch in Montana but had no flies to match them. Due to this him and I had tied up several prior to leaving on our respective trips and it looked like it was time for me to see if this was going to pay off or not. 

After passing the 5wt off to Derek, I swapped out my fly for a crane fly and tried the top of the hole while Derek tried the middle again. After a few casts Derek rose and lost a fish and we swapped locations. Just a couple casts later, a big Cutthroat jumped out of the water and took my fly down from the top. This fish elicited a rare "HOLY CRAP" from me due more to the ferocity of the take and the thickness of the fish than anything. This fish appeared to know what it was doing and really made me work for it, but after several minutes of fighting it finally tired and I was able to net it. Interestingly when I looked at the fish in the net, there was the fly that I had broken off several fish ago! I seemed I had gotten him afterall.

Me with a solid Cutthroat

At this point it was getting close to dinner time and after the next few casts failed to get anyone's attention, Derek and I opted to head back to camp and grab dinner. However, once back a camp I decided that I needed to take one more shot at the fish I had lost in the hole on the other side of the river. I was glad that I did so as just a couple casts in, a Green Drake rose a nice Cutthroat and I landed my last NF Clearwater Westslope Cutthroat of the day, a 15" beauty. With that last fish, we settled in to camp, had a nice taco dinner for our last night and bundled up for what proved to be one chilly night.

Day 5: Monday July 5th 2021: After a much colder night than the rest of the trip, I was eager to get up and start moving a get a nice cup of hot breakfast tea while I was at it. Today was going be a long day of driving, but I was hoping to round out the Westslope Cutthroat with on last stop for some Neoboreal Westslope Cutthroat. After crossing back in to Montana, we found a likely looking spot on the stream on the other of the pass and tried our luck. Derek took a run just upstream of where we parked, while I opted for a bush whack to the next pool up. Fishing in this pool proved to be fast and furious and within a half hour I had caught around 8 Cutthroat and headed back downstream. Derek had also had decent luck while I was upstream and had gotten a few Cutthroat as well as one Brook Trout. After only an hour stop, we had our final species of the trip checked off it was time to call the trip a wrap. 

Our final stream of the trip

A small stream Neoboreal Westslope Cutthroat

Overall the drive back was pretty smooth, we hit some 4th of July weekend traffic on the eastside of Spokane and another slow down on the westside of Spokane due to a forest fire raging a couple miles south of I-90, but made it back to Yakima by 3pm. After dropping Derek off, I was forced to the US 12 home instead of I-90, which seemed to be gridlocked due to the 4th crowd, but this way was more scenic and relaxing anyways and I made it home shortly after 7pm. This was an absolutely amazing trip and one that I will not soon forget! There are several streams that I am definitely hoping to revisit down the road when I have a bit more time as the fishing was hard to beat. The final tally was 11 varieties of salmonids; 7 subspecies of Westslope Cutthroat, Interior Bull Trout, Columbia Basin Redband, Mountain Whitefish and Brook Trout. Not to bad for a 5 day road trip!