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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 15, 2023

Small stream Coastal Cutthroat

Small stream fishing has always held a special place in my heart. There is something intimate about these little out of way creeks, that require stealth but rarely see much attention from anglers. After a long winter, small stream fishing in Washington finally opened at the end of May and while I had hoped to get out over the opener, a busy schedule kept me off the water. That was until this past weekend when I was able to sneak away for few hours with my neighbor Dyllon. With half a day to spare, we decided to explore a small stream that flows through a beautiful stretch of forest and hosts a healthy population of Coastal Cutthroat Trout.

Based on my understanding of this particular stream, it hosts a relatively robust population of stream resident Cutthroat as well as a good number sea-run Cutthroat, which generally start showing up later in the summer. As such, I decided to rig up my 2WT with a streamer for any early sea-runs and put a dry dropper rig on my 1WT for the resident Cutthroat. As is often the case with small streams, it didn’t take long find signs of life and I was able to coax an 8” Cutthroat out of hiding with my streamer in the first deep hole that we came to. However, as is often the case with barbless hooks, the fish tossed the fly as I attempted to net it.

After the first fish, Dyllon and I took turns streamer fishing the deeper holes, while I worked any reasonably deep riffles or pockets with my dry/ dropper rig. This strategy worked well and while most of the fish weren't very large, the dry/ dropper started getting results almost immediately.

A juvenile Coastal Cutthroat

The first fish that I got in the net was a small Coastal Cutthroat parr that took my dropper and soon after in a nice undercut corner upstream I was able coax a bright 10" sea-run out of hiding on my dry. After a series of shallow runs, we finally came upon a great piece of holding water where the creek made a 90 degree turn. 
A great looking hole on the creek

I took point on this spot, which looked great and I had a sold grab as I stripped my leech pattern past an under cut root wad, but unfortunately failed to hook up. Dyllon tried his baitfish pattern after me and similarly had one grab but no hook up. To finish things off I fished my dry /dropper along the riffle drop off and after few casts, I got a large splashy rise but again failed to hook up so we continued on. However, not far upstream, I found a seam along a log and after a good drift I was rewarded with a beautiful little Cutthroat that went for my dropper.

A small Coastal Cutthroat caught on a dropper

The next hole upstream was a snarled mess of downed timber, but as we crawled over the log jam I spotted a Cutthroat that looked to be somewhere between 16" to 18" in the back of the hole. This time it was Dyllon's turn to take point and it only took a couple of casts for him to hook and land a small Cutthroat. A couple casts later, he got a cast right up against a log and a solid 14" Cutthroat came out and ingulfed his baitfish pattern. While the fish didn't have much room to run, it did have plenty of places to hide and after a short fight the Cutthroat managed to dive into a root wad and snagged up.

Dyllon keeping a low profile at the snag hole

The commotion caused by the Cutthroat thoroughly spooked the hole and as such we continued upstream. Every few bends, we would find a nice deep hole where we would invariably either hook a fish, but after the encounter with the 14"er, larger Cutthroat continued to remain illusive.  

Great looking water on the creek

A Chum Salmon jaw from the fall spawning season

As we moved upstream, and further from easy access, the fish that we did encounter started to become more numerous and bold, but this came at the cost of massive deadfalls that we had to climb over, under or work our way around through the dense undergrowth and thickets of stinging nettles.

Tough going on the creek

With our time already running short, we came to a bend where the hillside had slide into the creek resulting in a massive log jam. I decided that I would see if we could quickly get through, but poking my head past the first downed tree it looked as though it was going to be no small feat. While I now knew this was the turn around point, there was a nice deep hole on the other side of the downed tree, so I flicked my streamer in and proceeded to jig it to see if anyone was home. Sure enough a 12" Cutthroat charged out and slammed the fly and I got a decent hook up. The only problem now was how to land the fish and keep it out of the tangle of woody debris in the stream. This task ended up being too much and as I was just trying to clear the downed tree I was behind, the fish caught on a branch and popped loose indicating it was truly time to head back downstream.

On the way back, I decided to make a few casts in some of the better water we had passed and was rewarded with the most vibrantly colored Cutthroat of the day, a 7" beauty that had bright orange fins, golden yellow hues prominent purple parr marks and a rosy band along its lateral line.

A gem of a Coastal Cutthroat

Before long we found ourselves at the trail out and while we didn't manage to land any of the larger Cutthroat, the plentiful smaller fish and beautiful surroundings made for a great day on the water and a fine start to the small stream season in western Washington.

The lush evergreen forest on the hike out