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, June 30, 2022

Oregon Coastal Cutthroat

At the beginning of April I decide to make a major career shift and after 11 years with the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, I accepted a position as the Science Advisor for the Trout Unlimited's Wild Steelhead Imitative. June, I found myself in Reedsport Oregon for a weeklong work retreat. While we put in long hours during the day, the evenings were reserved for team building time (i.e. fishing time!!). 

Since the retreat was taking place during the off-season for steelhead (too late for winters and too early for summers), we had opted to do our part for the Umpqua River steelhead and instead targeted Striped Bass for a few days. The Striped Bass population on the Umpqua River have experienced a recent boom and are currently considered on of the leading threats to wild steelhead in the basin, especially the summer-run population which was at critically low abundance in 2021.  As such suppressing the non-native striper population is through angling is one of the strategies that ODFW is suggesting to aid the struggling native summer steelhead population.
The Umpqua River estuary

We fished stripers on a variety of top water poppers, flies and swimbaits. The fishing never quite it the "red hot" level, most likely due to the cooler to normal spring. However, we did get into some decent fish and hopefully saved a few steelhead smolts in the process. For more details the our post about Stripers and our retreat on the Wild Steelheaders United blog.

A solid Striped Bass caught on top water

The last day of the retreat, the weather was predicted to be much rougher and my coworkers and I decided to change things up a bit and try some small stream fishing for Coastal Cutthroat. Based on research I had down there was a stream a short distance away holding a robust population of both resident and sea-run fish and as such we decided to head there.

A beautiful day for smalls stream fishing

The stream flow through a beautiful canyon with mature stands of Douglas Fir, Western Hemlock and Red Cedar, with the wild Rhododendron in full bloom. Given the small size of the stream, I decided to go with my trusty 2wt and rigged up with a #12 Royal PMX and a #16 Blowtorch nymph dropper (new fly for me). While my coworkers headed upstream, I started off at a deep hole below some cascades not far downstream of where we parked. It was immediately apparent as soon I a got in the water that this stream was healthy and full of life, with crayfish, newts and small fish inhabiting the shallows. Additionally, the Cutthroat population appeared to be quite healthy as well and my second cast produced a bright 10" sea-run fish with its cutthroat slash just starting to reappear on the nymph. 

A bright sea-run Coastal Cutthroat

I managed to get one or two smaller Cutthroat and caught a small dace (possibly an Umpqua Dace?) before I decided some exploring further downstream. 

A small dace

With this I headed down the road to look for some more good water. While I saw plenty of good water, the problem was getting to it, as the riparian zone was a dense ticket Red Alder, Big Leaf Maple and Salmonberry bushes and occasional briars of invasive blackberries. However, I finally found a deer trail and was able to get back on the water. The first piece of water that I started on was a nice run with a log across riffle at the top end. While the run didn't produce any results, the fast water and pocket just upstream of the log looked like good holding water. Sure enough on my second cast, a big Cutthroat (~15") rose to my dry fly and doubled my 2wt over. Unfortunately with the current speed I didn't get a good hook set and after a little thrashing on the surface my fly popped loose. Several more casts with the dry/ dropper rig didn't entice the fish to return, so I switched to a small streamer. This did get a few vicious strikes from under the log, but nothing hooked up, so I switched back to my dry/ dropper and continued on my way upstream.

Quality Cutthroat holding water

A newt in the stream margins

The next run upstream had a perfect fishy looking riffle that swept along a large boulder. The first few casts didn't get the attention of any trout, but by fully covering the water I got a nice rise and hooked into a solid fish. This fish gave my 2wt a good workout, but this time I had a solid hookset and was able to bring the beautiful 12" native cutthroat hand after a short fight.

My big native Coastal Cutthroat

Upstream of this spot, the stream picked up gradient quickly and the abundance of trout also increased. While, most of the fish were cookie cutter 6-8" juveniles, I was able to dredge up another bright 10" sea-run on my dropper in a deeper pocket right below the hole where I got my first fish of the day. As I had covered all of the water up to the hole that I started out on, I found a path back up to the road and was able to meet up with my coworkers.

Another sea-run Coastal Cutthroat

After each having success working our initial patch of water we decided to head up the road a bit and try another location. However, after spending another 45 minutes here the habitat seemed subpar and we each had only found a couple of small Cutthroat or juvenile Coho. At this point the weather was degrading on us we decided to head back into town.

A juvenile native Coho Salmon

My coworker Alexei working a good run

A beautiful day on the water

This trip was a great kick to summer, with a productive week of work, time to get to know my new coworkers and some great fishing while we were at it. The summer trout season is now in full swing and next week I am off to the Lahontan and Bonneville Basins to hunt for Cutthroat, with a report to follow soon after!

Saturday, June 4, 2022

A winter steelhead season in review: Part 2

With the poor returns of steelhead along the Washington coast, the season ended up being shorter than expected with an emergency closures kicking in on many streams at the beginning of March. While it was disappointing to see many of my favorite watersheds close early, it provided extra protection to the fish and also gave me the incentive I needed to check out some new waters that were open still.

My first trip out after the closure was short outing where I really didn't expect to hook anything but wanted to get my daughter Valerie out on the river for a brief introduction to winter steelheading. As there had recently been some good rain, I knew that the river was going to be high but dropping.

A promising little stream. 

As the goal of this trip was to get Valerie out on the river, we spent just as much time looking for exploring as we did casting. As usual, a handful of casts was not enough to attract any steelhead, but it was just enough for a fun morning on the river.
A fun day on the river

After my short trip to the river with my daughter, I set out to find some time to get out and explore the river some more as soon as possible. As it worked I out, I was able to pull away again the next week with my buddy Jonathan for a full day of solid fishing. Conditions we set for a repeat of the last trip, with a recent rain resulting in the river being quite high and dropping, with good clarity and weather.

We decided to start our day off high up in the watershed and then work our way downstream hitting any likely spots as we went. With the river being high still, find slower holding water proved chanllenging and the first half of the day was completely unproductive. However, around lunch time we came to a spot above the river where we could see a pod of at least half a dozen fish. Jonathan and I took turns fishing to them, but not matter our offering the fish showed no sign of interest. As we were never able to get an overly clear view of the fish, it is entirely possible that they were whitefish, which could explain the lack of interest.
A beautiful day to be on the water

With a slow day so far, Jonathan and I decided to try one or two more spot before relocating to another stream. One of these spots proved to be the most promising of the day and featured a deep pool at the top end and a solid run at the bottom. While the top end looked great for indicator fishing, the run looked like a great spot to swing a fly and was a great excuse to dust of my switch rod. Unfortunately, with the extra flow my switch rod just didn't have the backbone to quite get to the most likely pocket in the tailout. However, Jonathan was able to good land a cast in it and sure enough hooked into a nice fish. While it seemed as though he had gotten a good hook set, it must not have been good enough as after a few headshakes and a roll on the surface the fish was able to shake loose.
Prospecting for steelhead

After trying one last spot with no sign of steelhead, we decided to relocate to another nearby stream we both wanted to check out. At this point we only had a few hours of daylight left so we figured that this was going to be more of a scouting operation than anything. What immediately caught our attention with this stream, was the beauty. While high like the other river, it was a perfect steelhead green color and bordered by lush forests with a few old growth trees still remaining. Better yet there appeared to be a good amount of quality holding water as well even at the high flows. 

We tried several nice runs before the sun started to fade, indicating that the next run would be our last. I started out at the top of the run, while Jonathan took the bottom. It turned our the bottom of the run was the place to be. While I was working a nice seam at the head of the run, I noticed Jonathan appeared to be snagged on something until the "snag" started to move and I realized he had a fish on. I hurriedly reeled in and made my way down to Jonathan and after a few minutes of a rather mellow battle he brought the fish in and I was able to tail a beautiful bright hen for him.
Jonathan's bright native steelhead

After Jonathan got his fish, daylight was really not on our side and we decided it would be time to hit the road in about ten minutes if we wanted to avoid walking out in the dark. For the last ten minutes, I took the lower part of the run and had one very fishy take down, but after flogging the water for a few more minutes the weren't any other signs of fish and it was time to get on the road.
A beautiful end to a get day on the water

While the 2022 winter steelhead season was certainly a rough one with fish abundance and closures, I have a hard time complaining to much with my angling experience as it also got me out on some new water, that I may not have checked out otherwise and am excited to explore further next season.