About this blog

This blog is all about fly fishing for native trout. On it I cover trip reports, fishing tactics, conservation, the latest news about native trout species and much more. This site provides a companion to my web page Nativetroutflyfishing.com.


Tuesday, May 9, 2023

Spring time Coastal Cutthroat

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A great way to end the day!

Monday, May 8, 2023

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

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

Blue skies on the Oregon coast

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

A snowy drive in

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

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

Steelhead holding water behind the island

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

Jonathan working a great piece of fishless holding water

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

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

A small but beautiful native Coastal Cutthroat Trout

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

Half light on the river

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

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

Swinging flies on the river

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

The big kelt

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

A steelhead-cutthroat hybrid caught on a swung fly

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

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

A flawless native hen

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

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

Thursday, May 4, 2023

2023 Winter Steelhead Wanderings: Part 2 - Early March

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

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

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

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

An early morning hook up

Success! A beautiful bright wild buck

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

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

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

A native Coastal Cutthroat smolt

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

A snowy walk into the river

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

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

Chris hooked up with a steelhead

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

My second steelhead of the day, a bright hen

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

Dark clouds rolling in over the river

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

A surprise Coastal Cutthroat

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

Chris' colored up buck

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