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.


Wednesday, December 27, 2023

Colorado's Cutthroat Diversity

This past summer I had the privilege to make two trips out to the Colorado Rockies in pursuit native Cutthroat. While my original goal was just to catch the two subspecies of Cutthroat that I had yet to catch, I ended up expanding my second trip to pursue all of the extant Cutthroat lineages in the state and here they are.

Green River Cutthroat - Blue lineage - Yampa drainage

The Green River Cutthroat or Blue lineage of the Colorado River Cutthroat are found in streams draining to the Green River, such as the White River and Yampa River drainages. These Cutthroat were also stocked extensively across much of the state and are found in many streams in the upper Colorado, Gunnison, Dolores and San Juan watersheds.

Colorado River Cutthroat - Green lineage - Upper Colorado River

The Colorado River Cutthroat or Green lineage of the Colorado River Cutthroat. These fish are native to the Upper Colorado, Gunnison and Dolores watersheds. These fish were only recognized as being distinct from the Green River Cutthroat in recent years and currently only occupy about 3% of their native range.

Hayden Creek Cutthroat - Arkansas drainage Colorado River Cutthroat

While the extinct Yellowfin Cutthroat is recognized as the native trout of the Arkansas watershed, historic accounts indicate that ‘Greenback Cutthroat’ were also found in Twin Lakes in the upper Arkansas watershed. While both the Yellowfin and ‘Greenbacks’ vanished from Twin Lakes in the early 1900’s, a single population of fish found in the South Prong of Hayden Creek matched the ‘Greenback’ museum specimens from Twin Lakes. However in a twist of the story, the genetic analysis also revealed that these fish were not Greenbacks but a unique population of Colorado River Cutthroat with genes found nowhere else. While the South Prong Hayden Creek population was lost in a Fire, Colorado Parks and Wildlife has established a handful of populations across the Arkansas basin.

San Juan Cutthroat - San Juan drainage

The San Juan Cutthroat are native to the upper San Juan River basin. Until recently these fish were believed to be Colorado River Cutthroat, but genetic analysis of museum specimens showed that they represent a unique lineage of Cutthroat. At the time of this revelation, it was believed that the San Juan Cutthroat were extinct, but an extensive search of the basin turned up a handful of small isolated populations scattered across the upper watershed.

Greenback Cutthroat - South Platte drainage

The Greenback Cutthroat are native to the South Platte drainage and have a complex story. These fish were believed to be extinct by the 1930’s, but when a few small Cutthroat populations were discovered in the basin a recovery program was launched. For years this program was considered a huge success story, until genetics work showed that the fish used for the program were a mix of Green River and Colorado River Cutthroat and only a single population of a few hundred Greenbacks remained. After resetting the conservation efforts, Greenbacks have been reestablished in a handful of streams across the front range of Colorado.

Rio Grande Cutthroat - Upper Rio Grande drainage

The beautiful Rio Grande Cutthroat are found in the upper Rio Grande watershed of Colorado. These fish are the southernmost Cutthroat lineage and similar to the other Cutthroat of Colorado are now restricted to small headwater streams across their native range.

Wednesday, December 6, 2023

A chilly Coastal Cutthroat outing

After over a month in which I was unable to get out on the water, I finally found a day where both my and Dyllon's schedules lined up along with a gap in Washington's persistently rainy weather align and made a go of it. Being in the transition between the fall trout and winter steelhead season, we decided to try out a small coastal stream that we figured should offer a good opportunity for Coastal Cutthroat, Coho Salmon and even the potential for some early steelhead.

The drive out to the coast, was smooth but as we approached the stream, we watched as the temperature dropped from a reasonable 38 degrees to a down right chilly 27 by the time we reached the logging gate for our walk in. With the balmy temperatures the mile walk into the stream was quite welcome as it got our body temperatures up and we were rearing to go by the time we finally reached the water.

Sunrise on the stream

The first hole looked great and Dyllon took point at fishing an egg imitation at the head of the pool while I worked my streamer through tanic waters at the back. The streamer produced nearly instantaneous results as I got a grab on the first cast then hooked up with 10” Cutthroat, which popped off at the rod tip on the next one. However, that was the only sign of life and with that we started working our way downstream.

Dyllon working a riffle on the stream

When I choose this stream, I had expected that we would find either Chum or Coho Salmon spawning throughout it, but the next few bends showed signs of salmon or Cutthroat for that matter. However, after a few bends we came upon a great looking riffle and while there were still no salmon around a Cutthroat grabbed my egg imitation right away and I was on the board with the first fish of the day.

My first fish of the day, a small but beautiful native Coastal Cutthroat

This riffle proved to be one of the most productive of the day, but with temperatures still in the 20’s iced guides were a constant source of frustration and required clearing or dipping our rods in the water after every couple casts.

Iced guides

However, the cold temperatures did not seem to impede the appetites of the Cutthroat and a few casts after the first one, I hooked into a much nicer Cutthroat. While this Cutthroat put of a solid fish and even jumped once, it was no match for my 6WT and after a couple minutes I brought the 15” beauty to the net.

Another gorgeous native Cutthroat 

The riffle

While I had worked my way downstream through the rifle, Dyllon worked the top end and got a small Cutthroat as well, before we switched spots and he got a nice 12” in the lower end where I had gotten my big one. The top end of the riffle wasn’t done producing though and I brief hooked into a couple more Cutthroat and before I finally got and solid hook up with another larger Cutthroat. When this Cutthroat surfaced, I could tell it was something special as all I could see were the reddish tones on its side, but it’s true beauty wasn’t revealed until I brought it to the net. That is when I could admire the colors of this male Cutthroat that was starting to show its spawning regalia.

Without a doubt one of most beautiful Coastal Cutthroat I have caught

A close up of the rosey gill plates and two toned fins on this Cutthroat 

This Cutthroat was one of those rare gems that transcends size and will forever be etched in my mind for its sheer beauty. However, encounters with such fish are always fleeting and before long it was time to watch as the fish darted back into the tea stained waters. After this fish, the riffle produced one more small Cutthroat before it shut down and it was time to move on again.

This stream was characterized by short stretches of fast productive water separated by long reaches of unproductive slow lake like water making for long walks between holding water. As such we had to cover nearly a quarter mile before hitting our next spot, but the walk was worth it.

The next riffle downstream 

Dyllon and I approached this next riffle from opposite shores and as such were able to effectively cover each side of it. With this approach after a few casts both of us hooked up with a double, with Dyllon landing a beautiful 14” Cutthroat starting to show its spawning colors, while I landed a 16”er that appeared to be recently arrived from the sea.

My largest Cutthroat of the day, a heavily spotted 16”er

After releasing our respective Cutthroat, Dyllon’s side of the stream proved to be the more productive as he went on to hook into several more decent Cutthroat, while my side only produce a single additional small but brightly colored Cutthroat fresh from the salt.

Once the riffle stopped producing, we once again continued on and covered another 3/4 mile of water downstream, but failed to find any spots as productive as the two riffles. However, what we did find were several deep pools and runs that any steelhead angler would dream of before the stream became hemmed in by a canyon. This canyon made for a natural spot to turn around and while we didn’t find any salmon or steelhead the excellent Cutthroat fishing and beautiful water made for the perfect end to the fall trout season and certainly got me excited for the steelhead season to come.

A frosty end to a great day on the water

Saturday, November 11, 2023

Fall in the North Cascades: Part 2

After the amazing fishing of the previous day, we decided to shake things up a bit a try out another stream to see if we couldn't capture magic in a bottle once again. This stream had been on my hit list for years as it hosts a run of Sockeye Salmon and spawning Sockeye typically attract hungry trout and char. On top of that the area is noted for its amazing scenery, so even if the fishing didn’t live up to expectations, the scenery was bound to make it worthwhile. As such, by first light we found ourselves at the trailhead rigged up and ready to go.

A misty morning in the mountains

Upon reaching the river, we saw few signs of life and the first few bends failed to produce any fish.  That finally started to change once we finally spotted some bright red Sockeye holding a tailout. Not far upstream we found another group of Sockeye actively spawning and just downstream Dyllon caught a small Rainbow Trout on an egg imitation. 

A group of Sockeye holding in the river

While Dyllon and TJ were fishing egg imitations, I decided to bring my streamer rod. That choice ended making my day when a Sockeye surprised me and latched onto my black sculpin pattern as I stripped across a run. After a short fight, I slid the beautiful red male Sockeye into the shallows and tailed it. When it comes to catching salmon on a fly rod in the Pacific Northwest, Sockeye are by far the most challenging, with this only being the second anadromous Sockeye I have ever caught.

My fish of the day a bright red Sockeye

Not far upstream from where I caught my Sockeye, we ran into another solid spawning aggregation and it didn’t take long for Dyllon to hook into and land a beautiful Bull Trout.

Dyllon with a nice Bull Trout

As we continued working our way upstream, the river proved to be every bit as beautiful as we expected with aquamarine waters, surrounded by old growth forest and towering glaciated peaks that where cloaked in clouds giving things an ethereal feel. While both Dyllon and TJ hooked into a few more fish no additional trout were landed and as the spawning salmon appeared to be thinning out as we headed upstream, we finally made the call to make our way back downstream.

Dyllon working a beautiful piece of water

On the way downstream, luck favored me again as I got a solid grab on my streamer in a deep hole and landed my first native Rainbow of the trip. While this fish was large by any means, it was spunky and gorgeous.

A beautiful native Rainbow Trout caught on a streamer

Despite fishing our way down to the trail, we didn’t get any more attention after that Rainbow and before we knew it we were leaving the river back on the trail again.

One last look at the river

On the trail out and off to the next stream 

With how well we had done the day before, we made the call to go fish in the same area, albeit a little further upstream to explore some new water. So after a short drive and a bit of bushwhacking to reach the water we found ourselves back on the water again. As we reached the river, the smell of dead salmon was strong in the air and there active spawners digging or sitting on redds throughout the shallows. Just like the previous day, it didn't take us long to find some hungry Bull Trout either, with Dyllon catching a nice mid-teens Bull Trout within the first few minutes. The main attraction for this spot was a nice deep run that was filled with boulders and deep pockets just upstream from where we hit the river.

Dyllon and TJ working a good run

Dyllon and TJ started at the top of the run, while I started a little ways downstream and worked my way up to them. After covering a short distance, I spotted and fishy looking pocket behind a boulder and when I got a good drift in I was rewarded with my first Bull Trout of the day - a 20” pink spotted beauty.

My first Bull Trout of the day

Shortly after releasing my Bull Trout, Dyllon got into a couple of decent Bulls at the top of the run and TJ lost one as well. After covering the lower part of the hole thoroughly, I traded spots with Dyllon and TJ and my egg imitation got the attention of the Bull Trout as I pulled two more out before the fishing slowed down. 
With a treacherous river crossing upstream, we decided to head downriver next and found a spot where two fast side channels merged. While TJ and Dyllon headed to the lower part of this run, I opted to cross to the island between the side channels to hit a particularly fishy piece of water. After a few casts my indicator shot under and seconds later a nice Rainbow came shooting out of the water. While I am always over the moon to catch Bull Trout, the difference in the fight between them and this Rainbow was startling. While Bull Trout stay down and deep with slow but powerful runs, this energetic Rainbow made multiple leaps and lightning fast runs, but even that wasn’t enough and within a couple of minutes I was able to bring the chunky fish to my net.

A chunky native Coastal Rainbow Trout

I turned out that this fish wasn’t the only Rainbow in the hole either and few casts later, I caught its twin. However, after that the action died down again and it was time to catch up with Dyllon and TJ and head further downstream.

The river

When we reached the next spot, we found it thick with spawning salmon and sure enough there were plenty of hungry Bull Trout behind them.

Pink Salmon spawning

As with the previous day, once we found the Bull Trout the fishing was fast a furious, with each hole or riffle producing one or more Bull Trout. At one point we were all three fishing a run and Dyllon and TJ hooked into a double, I jokingly said let’s make it a triple and as fate would have it when I tossed my line in I almost immediately hooked into a Bull Tout. With triples on the table, the fishing over the next couple hours once again exceeded expectations with each of us landing our fair share of beautiful Bull Trout.

Another Bull Trout

While the fishing was amazing, before I knew it, it was late afternoon and time for me to hit the road if I wanted to get back home at a reasonable hour. While it was time for me to head out, Dyllon and TJ were staying for another day, so we said our goodbyes and I hit the road bound for home.

Fall colors along the river

All I can say is that this trip made me feel extremely privileged to call the Pacific Northwest home. It is easy to focus and countless challenges facing threatened populations of salmon and Bull Trout, but it is heartening to know that with quality habitat are still places where they are found in abundance. As such I can’t wait for my next opportunity to get back up north in pursuit of these beautiful char.

Tuesday, October 31, 2023

Fall in the North Cascades: Part 1

So far this year, the "egg hatch" in the Pacific Northwest has provided some phenomenal fishing for beautiful native trout. With this "hatch" winding down on some of my favorite rivers, my friend Dyllon and I made plans to travel a little further afield to the rivers of the North Cascades where the salmon spawning was still going strong. We got on the road by mid-morning and after battling our way through Seattle traffic, we found ourselves driving up the river valley and into the towering peaks of the North Cascades by mid-afternoon. We had selected a river were Dyllon had done well in the past and luckily when we pulled up we were the only ones there. On top of the salominds that I am used to targeting such as Coastal Rainbow and Cutthroat Trout, this stream also happened to be one of a handful of places where it is legal to target Bull Trout and the possibility of encountering one of these elusive char just added to the excitement. 

Fall colors along the steam

Anticipation was running high as we grabbed our gear and headed for the water. When we reached the stream we found a side channel packed with spawning Pink Salmon - a good indication that we were in the right spot.  

Pink Salmon spawning in a side channel

Although the few deep pockets in the side channel failed to produce anything thing, when we got to where two braids came together, I drifted and egg imitation over a drop off and watched my indicator to shoot under. When I set the hook, it was clear that this fish had some size to it and while it took some good runs, the fish stubbornly stayed down and deep. After a couple minutes of back and forth tug of war, I finally got an eye of the fish and was happy to see it was a solid Bull Trout!  Moments later I was able to slide it into the net and admire the beautiful 20” Bull Trout. Across my native trout adventures and especially in the Pacific Northwest, Bull Trout have always been one of the must elusive salmonids. These predatory char are emblematic of quality habitat and as such have become rare across much of the region. This resulted in them being listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act and with so anytime I find one at the end of my line is something worth being excited about.

Off to a great start! A beautiful Bull Trout!

After I released the Bull Trout, Dyllon decided to head upstream and fish a riffle, while I kept working the drop off. The next dozen drifts along the seam failed to produce any grabs, but when I put a cast in the slower water on the inside of the seam, my indicator made it about halfway through its drift before once again plunging into the depths. While the Bull Trout had been a solid fish, it was immediately clear that this fish had a bit more size to it, but the fight was way different than the Bull Trout. While this fish also stayed down and deep, it also started doing under water cartwheels, which gave me a solid hunch as to what was on the end of my line. Sure enough after putting my trusty 6WT Scott S4 through the paces, the fish finally tired and I brought bright wild Coho hen to the net.

Second fish of the day, a wild female Coho just starting to show some spawning colors

At this point, we were less than half an hour into our trip and I had already caught two native species and when I looked up Dyllon was hooked into a decent fish as well, (which turned out to be another Bull Trout) so things were definitely off two a good start!

Dyllon working a log jam just upstream

While Dyllon continued upstream, I switched over to my streamer rod and started twitching a black sculpin through the depths. After several casts I had a massive Coho chase my streamer right up to the rod tip, but didn't take and when I lost my streamer in a tree a few casts later I decided it was time to move on and catch up with Dyllon.

On my way upstream I decided to fish the riffle Dyllon had been working and within a couple casts I hooked into a nice fish, which appeared to be another Bull Trout, but it got in the fast water and tossed the hook. After several follow up casts failed to produce any other takers, I decided it was time to catch up with Dyllon. When I caught up with Dyllon he was wrapping up working riffle pouring into the mess of logs and indicated that he had already caught three Bull Trout. While he had already worked the spot pretty thoroughly, I was fishing a slightly different looking egg than him and decided to give it a shot. After a few casts I briefly hooked up with a fish, but lost whatever it was and nobody else seemed to be interested in the riffle so I shifted my attention to the back of the hole. To do so I had to play things on the dangerous side and float my rig tight against the log jam, but right as it floated past a root wad my indicator shoot under and I hooked into and landed another Bull Trout, which was followed by yet another on the next cast.

A darkly colored Bull Trout

After releasing these fish, I moved upstream to the next run and got a surprise when I tossed my line in the shallows to set up for my next cast and a humped out Pink Salmon shot over and latched on to my egg pattern. This Pink was not particularly fresh and beyond a few quick runs didn't put up much of a fight so I was able to swing it into the shallows and remove the hook and send it back on its way.

A male Pink or "humpy" Salmon

Once I turned the Pink Salmon loose, I continued on to the next riffle. The tailout upstream of this riffle had a bunch of spawning Pink Salmon and there were 4 or 5 Chinook holding at the head of the riffle as well. With all of this spawning activity, Dyllon was able to get a decent Bull Trout just behind the Chinook and when he moved on I gave it a try. With the best holding water just downstream of the Chinook, I started by casting upstream and to the right of them and letting my rig sink and after a few casts I had a Bull Trout grab but I lost it. I decided to put in a few more casts to see if there were anymore trout around, but was surprised when one of the male Chinook broke from the group and took my egg imitation. This was not a small Chinook and it immediately took off and started peeling line, making it clear that I was severely under-gunned with my 6WT. As soon as the fight began it was over as the hook popped loose mid run. While I certainly would have loved to land a Chinook, I was also relieved when this fish popped off, as my rod was clearly outclassed.
Looking upstream

Not wanting to risk another encounter with a Chinook, I kept moving upstream and caught up with Dyllon at a trench where the side channel split from the mainstem. Dyllon took the lower part of the trench, while I took the head of the trench and after just a couple casts my indicator shot under and I was hooked into a hefty fish. This fish stayed down and I had a hard time getting an eye on it to see just how big it was. However, once it finally came up Dyllon said I was going to want a hand with the net one this one and I had to agree. Luckily the fish stayed in the hole and most played a game of tug of war and after a few minutes, I guided it over to Dyllon waiting with the net. The Bull Trout in the net, was 25" battle scarred beauty that was starting to show its spawning colors with a gorgeous pale yellow tone showing along the belly and was definitely my fish of the day.

Releasing a beautiful 25" Bull Trout - my fish of the day

After releasing the big Bull Trout, Dyllon and I continued upstream, to a gorgeous run that screamed fish. This time Dyllon took point and headed for the top of the run, while I decided to fish my way upstream with a streamer. It didn't take long for Dyllon to start getting into fish and it seemed that every time I looked up he was hooked into a Bull Trout. While it wasn't lights out with the streamer, about halfway up the run, I watched a female Pink Salmon dart across the run to chase it down. 

A female Pink Salmon that took a black sculpin pattern

After releasing the Pink Salmon, I had a long gap between grabs before another fish hammered the streamer. This fish immediately began doing the underwater cartwheels characteristic of Coho Salmon and despite being a big fish, it basically just cartwheeled its way straight to the net. After snapping a quick photo I watched the Coho shoot back into the pool and decided it was time to switch back to my nymph rig again.

A beautiful rose red hook-nosed male Coho Salmon

While I had been working the streamer though the hole, Dyllon had managed to pull four Bull Trout out of the riffle at the top end run. However, despite this when I came in with a slightly different colored egg imitation, it seemed like I had first water and I proceeded to catch four nice Bull Trout out of the spot myself. As we worked our way upstream, the fishing continued to exceed anything that I would have expected, with each run, riffle or side channel producing several more solid Bull Trout, until we finally came to a particularly challenging river crossing and opted to head back downstream. With a good stretch of water between us and the car, we decided to fish our way back downstream, and while things were a bit slower each spot continued to produce another Bull Trout or two.

Dyllon hooked into another Bull Trout

This was until we came to a nice run that I had passed over, but Dyllon had caught a single Bull Trout out of. With our previous light coverage of the run we decided to work it a little more thoroughly and it didn't take long for it to produce results. With both Dyllon and I hooking into a pair of solid fish just moments from each other, resulting in a 20" Bull Trout double. 

Not bad for a double - dual 20" Bull Trout

After releasing our double, I noted several Chinook on a redd towards the back of the run and when I threw a cast next to them, sure enough my indicator shot under and I landed yet another mid-teens Bull Trout. Slightly downstream of the Chinook there were even more Bull Trout and Dyllon and I took turns working the run and landed another 4 between us including my second best of the day at 22".

Me with another big Bull Trout

Spawned out salmon along the river

By the time we reached the car, we both had long since lost count of how many fish we had encountered, but needless to say it goes down as one of the best days on the water I can remember and certainly by far the best Bull Trout fishing I have ever had. 

While the day had already far exceeded my expectations, we still had a bit of daylight left and Dyllon said he had a couple spots in mind, so we headed back to the river. Unfortunately the first two spots already had folks fishing them targeting salmon and when we finally found a piece of water to ourselves, daylight was running very short indeed. That didn't stop the Bull Trout though and as soon as we found a riffle with some spawning salmon, the Bull Trout once again started showing themselves although keeping them on provide challenging and I only went 1 for 5 on my hook up to landing ratio.

Yet another Bull Trout

Right as we were getting ready to leave, I saw a nice sized fish that looked be a Coho roll in the tailout and I was pleasantly surprised when I tossed a casted just upstream and it went for it. After a couple of minutes I brought a beautiful rosy red Coho to hand, making for a perfect time to call it a day.

A last light hook nosed Coho

All I can say is that this day will go down as one of the best I can remember having outside of Alaska and fishing behind all of the spawning salmon, it really felt more like Alaska than the Pacific Northwest. However, this wasn't the end of our North Cascades adventure, as we had planned to this to be a multi day affair with our friend TJ meeting in the evening so the three of us could be back on the river first thing in the morning.

Monday, October 16, 2023

The season marches on

This time of the year, it is amazing the difference that a few days makes on the river. After getting out a little over a week ago to try my luck for trout behind spawning salmon, I was able to find a half day to get back on the water once again. During my last outing, spawning had been intense, with a mix of Chinook, Pink and Chum Salmon, but just a few days later much of the spawning appeared to have dropped off. Chinook had completely died off and the Pinks that were left looked to be nearing the end of the line as well, but now the Coho had started streaming into the river in earnest. 

However, with the season of plenty winding and one of the best opportunities to pack on the pounds winding down, I knew from experience that the trout often key in on any remaining pockets of spawners. However, I have also found this time of the year to be incredibly inconsistent, with some days producing amazing results for egg eating trout, while the trout seem to avoid eggs and switch back to streamers on others. As such, I came prepared for anything, armed with three rods (egg/nymph rig, streamer rig and mouse rig), and also decided to try out a different spot, than last time with some slightly later spawners hoping that this was where the trout would be. 

Fall on the river

My intuition on the spot appeared to pay off, as I could see a number of active spawners right when I got to the river. Furthermore, as I snuck up to the first hole I could see a couple fish holding towards the tailout. This hole had a slow deep bowl behind a log jam, so I opted for my streamer rod, rigged with a black sculpin and started casting. On the first cast, a nice sized fish, which looked like a Coho chased my fly across the hole, but after that the fish seemed to know that something was up and I couldn't get as much as a look as I worked my way towards the top of the pool. With the streamer not producing, I switched to my nymph set-up and within a few casts I had a solid grab and landed my first fish of the day, a plump little steelhead smolt. 

First fish of the day - a little steelhead smolt

After quickly releasing this smolt, I got one more smolt before I hit a long stretch of slow water where a handful of Pink and Chum Salmon were either actively spawning or guarding their redds but no Trout were tI found.

A pair of salmon on their redd

As I approached the top of this stretch, the river made a 90 degree turn with a riffle dropping into one of the best pieces of water that I have seen on the river. This spot was a classic holding water and sure enough on my first cast, my indicator shot under, but I was too slow on the set and missed the fish. I put my next cast a couple feet further out and this time when my indicator plunged into the depths I was ready and found myself hooked into a nice trout. The fish initially stayed deep, but after a few moments it went airborne and appeared to be about an 18" Cutthroat. Unfortunately, after jumping the fish took off on a run and somehow managed to spit the hook. Having lost the fish, I continued to methodically work the riffle from top to bottom, but there was no more interest in what I was offering, so it was time to try the streamer.

After a dozen casts in the riffle and pool, the streamer appeared to be garnering no attention, but I decided to stick it out and continue working it downstream into a pocket against some rip rap in the tailout. I landed my first cast tight against the rip rap and noticed a shadow emerge behind my fly as I started stripping it back. I lost sight of the shadow as my fly was crossing the pocket and I had nearly stripped all of my line in when something big hammered my fly in the shallows right at me feet. The fish immediately started taking line and with several logs in the pocket my 5 WT was put to the test keeping the trout away from them. In classic Rainbow Trout fashion, this fish made several big jumps and blistering runs, before it finally tired and I netted it. 

A streamer eating Coastal Rainbow Trout

This Rainbow was a flawless gem that was every bit of 18" and as I released it I was already thinking about what was just upstream around the next bend. However, as I continued on upstream it was like somebody had flipped a switch and the spawning salmon just disappeared. In fact, after covering about a 1/2 mile of river I only spotted a single old redd, one dead Pink Salmon, and the only fish I found were a few parr that took the egg imitation.

End of the line for a Pink Salmon

With the upstream stretch not producing, I decided to turn around and try my luck downstream of where I had started. The first 1/2 of river I covered on my way downstream only produced a single steelhead smolt, before I came to a deep run that often produces some nice Cutthroat on streamers. As such, I positioned myself on the edge of a drop off and started working my streamer through the hole. Eventually, I placed an upstream cast along the far bank, just above an overhanging tree and after stripping my fly a few times a fish hammered it. Right away it was evident that this fish had some weight behind it, but it had a completely different feel to the Rainbow I had gotten earlier and when it started doing underwater rolls that I have coined as the "Coho death roll" it was clear what I had hooked into. Armed with just my 5WT against a bright Coho, this fight easily could have gone against me, but luck was on my side and I was able to keep the fish out of the wood littering the bottom and landed a beautiful ~7 lb wild hen.

A surprise bright Coho Salmon

After snapping a few quick photos, I released the Coho back to continue on with her journey to the spawning grounds, then got back to it. I placed my next cast right back where I had put the last one and after stripping my fly back a quarter of the way, once again the black sculpin pattern was hit by a savage grab and I was hooked into another fish. Once again a "death roll" indicated that I had another Coho on and while the last Coho had fought hard, this one fought even harder, putting in numerous runs before I was finally able to bring it to the net. While I had gotten a bright hen last time, this time I got a wild buck that was starting to turn fire truck red and already showing a pronounced kype.

A buck Coho starting to show its spawning colors

A headshot of the Coho

I released the buck, then continued working the run, but didn't have so much as another grab. However, once I reached the tailout of the "Coho" run, I started seeing numerous redds and active spawners and decided it was time to switch back to my nymph (egg) rig. 

A spawning riffle downstream of the Coho water

This tailout and riffle was absolutely packed with spawning Pink Salmon and within just a few casts my indicator shot under I was hooked into a decent trout that turned out to be my first Coastal Cutthroat of the day.

An egg eating Coastal Cutthroat

For the next 10 minutes, the action in the foot to foot and half deep riffle was fast and furious, but I just couldn't seem to hook up with the fish. After this happened couple of times had checked my rig to make sure there was nothing wrong, but this just confirmed that it was down to operator error. This finally changed when I fished my rig off the drop-off where the riffle went to about 4 feet deep. My indicator was nearing the end of the drift when it shot under and I was hooked into a big fish. This fish put a serious bend in my 6WT and when it jumped several times it was clear to see why, as it was a chunky Rainbow easily over 20".  I fought this big Rainbow for a few minutes and got it close to the net once, but it took off for another run but mid run, my line just went slack and it was gone. After that the riffle went quiet and it was time to move on again.

Chinook Salmon carcasses sampled for otoliths, genetics and coded-wire tags

Downstream of the riffle, the spawning dropped off substantially, although there were a few scattered Pink Salmon redds, old Chinook redds and carcasses along the banks. However, with less spawning activity, there were also less trout around and it wasn't until I hit what I am now calling the mousing run that I finally saw some activity. This stretch of river is bordered by a dense stand of Western Red Alder and with a number of them having fallen in the river or overhanging, it is a perfect spot to toss a mouse pattern. This is where I had hooked a Cutthroat on a mouse pattern over the summer and I wanted to see I could repeat the feat this time as well. As such I got my 5 WT rigged up with a mouse pattern out and started working it tight to the woody debris. It didn't take long for the mouse to catch the attention of a trout, with one chasing it across the river in an attempt to grab it. Unfortunately, I couldn't get this trout to hook up and after that first cast it refused to come back again and nobody else seemed to be interested in the mouse either.

Mousing water on the river

With the mouse only getting the attention of one fish, I switched back to my egg imitation and almost immediately hooked into a Cutthroat that managed to wrap me up on some branches in the water and get off. As I fished my way downstream towards a particularly good run, the clouds which had been building all day finally decided to let loose and a steady misty rain began to fall. This rain didn't seem to mess with the fishing at least I had a few brief hook ups, but nothing stuck until I got to the run I had been heading for. On my third cast in this deep trench of a run, my indicator shot under and I set on what felt like a hefty fish. Initially, I thought that this might be a Pink or some type of salmon, as it stayed down and dogged me, but after a minute or so the fish came up and thrashed on the surface and I was happy to see a thick Rainbow on the end of my line. After a few minutes with a couple of jumps thrown in, the 19" Rainbow finally tired and I brought the beautiful fish to my net.

A chunky native Rainbow

After releasing the beautiful native Rainbow and with rain falling in earnest I decided that it was time to turn around and head back upstream. However as it would be on my way I figured that I along the way I might as well try the riffle where I had lost the big Rainbow earlier in the day along the way.

Time to head back upstream

After trudging upstream for a solid 15 minutes, I finally made it back to the riffle and started working the shallow waters behind the spawners once again. After a couple casts I started working the zone where I found the Cutthroat earlier and almost immediately had a take but missed it. However, on the next cast my indicator shot under once again and this time I was ready and hooked into a fish. Given that I was fishing in about a foot of water I was expecting a smaller fish, but instead I found a solid 18" Rainbow on the end of my line. This time luck was one my side and despite a few jumps and long runs, I was able to keep the fish on and within a couple minutes I was netting my third nice Rainbow of the day.

A heavily spotted Rainbow

While the first two Rainbows looked to be males, this one was clearly a female that had heavy spotting across its body and a vibrant pink band that made it quite striking. After a couple quick photos, I watched her dart back into the riffle and I continued working the river. There weren't any more willing takers in the riffle, but in the tailout just upstream, I hooked into another much smaller fish yet spunky fish that looked to be a steelhead smolt. With the my hat and coat starting to soak through due to the rain and having come full circle and found another steelhead smolt, I decided that it was the perfect time to call it a day and hike the 1/2 mile back upstream to the car.

Ending the day with another steelhead smolt

By the time I reached the car, I was good and soaked but with an amazing day on the water I was happy to be back on the road again and headed home.

A wet rainy end to a great day on the water