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.


Sunday, July 30, 2023

Upper Skagit Rainbow Trout

The North Cascades in Washington State are some of the most beautiful and rugged peaks to be found anywhere and are also home to some rather unique trout. However, the watershed is also highly altered, with three dams (Gorge, Diablo and Ross) inundating a large portion of the waters and debate currently raging about providing anadromous fish access past the dams to the upper watershed. 

What researchers are finding though, suggests that the upper Skagit River is an isolated zone of contact between several species of salmonids including Bull Trout and Dolly Varden, Rainbow and Redband Trout and possibly even the only native population of Westslope Cutthroat on the westside of the Cascade Mountains (this is still a matter of debate though that will only be settled with genetics). What we do know about the geology of the upper Skagit River is quite interesting and indicates that the river historically flowed north into the Fraser River following the path that Silverhope Creek in British Columbia follows today.  As a result, the Bull Trout in the upper Skagit River are more closely related to Bull Trout in the Fraser River than they are to those downstream in the lower Skagit below the dams. It is believed that sometime during the last ice age, the upper Skagit River cut a course down through the granite formations of Diablo gorge under what is now Diablo Lake. This appears to have been during a period of contact between Coastal Rainbow Trout and Interior Redband Trout it is believed that the the cascades in the Diablo Canyon presented an insurmountable barrier to downstream populations of anadromous fish in the lower Skagit River and as such this zone of contact become isolated. While the genetics are still being sorted out, the current results indicate that the Upper Skagit Rainbow Trout represent an intermediate form between the Coastal and Redband lineages, but have diverged from both and are as distinct from each as Coastal Rainbow Trout and Columbia Basin Redband Trout are from each other and could possibly represent a new undescribed subspecies of Oncorhynchus mykiss.

After learning about the Upper Skagit Rainbow Trout, I have been looking for the opportunity to get up to the North Cascades and find some. That chance finally came when my wife Alexis planned a family camping trip to the area for my birthday. While this would be primarily a family trip, we were going to camping on the Skagit River and only a short distance from the streams holding the Upper Skagit Rainbow Trout, so we planning on mixing some native trout fishing with family time.

As always the trip snuck up on me and the rush getting out of the house with the family and our two dogs was hectic to say the least. Despite the rush, we found ourselves on the road not long after the time we were shooting for, but the drive ended up being a painfully slow go, as traffic getting through the Seattle area turned a 3 1/2 hour drive into a 5 hour drive. Once we were out of the Puget Sound lowlands though, we were able to breathe a sigh of relief and as always the drive though the Stillaguamish, Sauk and Skagit River valleys was a beautiful. Upon arriving at the campground, we immediately got to setting up camp, (except for Valerie who zoned in on the huckleberry bushes), but as I was wrapping things up I got this sinking feeling that something was missing and when I went check in the car my suspicions were confirmed. It turned out that in the rush to get out of the house I had somehow forgotten to put my fly rods in the ca, although my waders, reels and flies were all accounted for. This was a massive disappointment, but after talking to Alexis , we decided that we would make a day of my mistake the next day by driving over the North Cascades Highway to Winthrop to have lunch and visit the fly shop then hit the creek on the way back.

Diablo Lake on the North Cascades Highway - with Diablo Dam in the distance near the former barrier

As with other trips along the North Cascades Highway, the views did not disappoint and we even caught the often breezy Diablo Lake during the morning calm, which was stunningly beautiful. Upon arriving in Winthrop I headed straight for the fly shop and luckily they had a reasonably priced 4 WT Redington Classic Trout rod available and I was back in business. After getting the rod, lunch and spending a little time in Winthrop, we were back on the road and headed for a tributary to Ross Lake. 

The stream that I selected is a rare piece of water that contains Rainbow Trout, Westslope Cutthroat in the headwaters, Bull Trout and Dolly Varden and while my hope was that I might find more than one of these species, the Upper Skagit Rainbow Trout were my focus. We arrived at the trailhead at around 1:30 PM, and after a short hike we found a nice gravel bar where Alexis and Valerie could enjoy the stream while I tried my luck fishing.

The stream

When it comes to small stream trout fishing, I have found a dry-dropper to be one of the most effective rigs to get the feel of new streams so I tied on a Royal PMX dry with a Blow Torch nymph as my dropper. I did have to go far to give them a try either as there was a great piece of holding water right where we stopped. After a couple casts to get feel of the new rod and a few prospecting drifts, a decent sized trout eagerly rose to take my dry fly and in short order I netted my first trout of the day.

My first fish of the day, a clear hybrid with a Westslope Cutthroat

Upon netting the fish, I was surprised to see it was clearly a Rainbow x Westslope hybrid. My research on the stream had indicated that the section I was fishing was in the transition zone between the Rainbows and Westslopes and that hybrids were a possibility, but I was still a bit surprised to see one. While hybrids are generally a serious concern for native trout conservation, natural hybrids are actually relatively common where the native ranges of Rainbow and Cutthroat Trout overlap and are generally less successful than pure strain fish and as such typically don’t hurt the long-term viability of either species. Even so, I was here looking for genetically pure Rainbows and as such the hybrid was worrisome. Luckily when I hooked another fish a few casts later it ended up being a beautiful Upper Skagit Rainbow Trout. These first couple fish were particularly special as I got share the experience with my daughter Valerie who was able to come over and help me release them.

A beautiful Upper Skagit River Rainbow Trout

After those first couple fish, I had to head a bit further upstream to find some more holding water, but quickly got in a rhythm of targeting every slow pocket or seam and picking up a handful of small Rainbows as I went. This continued until I came around a corner and spotted a beautiful hole.

A great pool on the creek

Upon reaching the tailout of the pools, I made a prospecting cast with my dry dropper and just as I was nearing the end of my drift a 14” to 16” trout slowly rose from the depths to inspect my fly before sinking back down. Unfortunately a dozen or casts into the same spot got no further attention and I continued working upstream. As I neared the head of the pool, I watched another trout rise from the depths, but this time it slowly and deliberately inhaled my dry fly and I was hooked into a hard fighting Rainbow of perhaps 10”. For its size this fish put up a solid fight, with several jumps and runs, but it was nothing the new 4 WT couldn’t handle and landed the beautiful trout.

My largest Rainbow of the day

It always amazes me how adaptable trout are and while the fishing from the pocket water reaches were vividly colored, this trout of the deeps was far more silvery with a pale pink band and only the faintest yellow showing through. After releasing this trout I decided it was time to head back downstream but tied on a streamer to seem if I could get the attention of the big trout again. A couple casts in, I got a decent 8” trout but kept working trout the hole known the big guy was there. Sure enough after a few more casts I watched it attack my streamer, but failed to hook up again. Once again I’m not sure whether the fish felt the hook or saw me but no amount of casting could get it to come back. With no further action it the hole, tied my dry dropper rig back on and headed back down stream to see if there were any more trout in the pockets.

Working a great pocket on the stream

Sure enough the pocket water produced a few more decent Rainbows and one more hybrid, but it was the last fish of the day that really stuck with me. This fish wasn’t the largest of the day, but it’s coloration was just outstanding and made for the perfect fish to wrap up the day with.

A great fish to end the day on - a flawless gem of a Rainbow

It was a great day on the water and the rest of the weekend was an absolute joy camping with my family and enjoying the great outdoors. Our drive home went was much smooth mer as we skated by with only a few minor slow down, and sure enough when we got back there were my rods piled up right where I left them.

There they are…

Wednesday, July 26, 2023

Another Small Stream Outing

With the success that Dyllon and I had recently experienced small stream fishing, we decided to get out again for another quite outing, this time exploring a little further upstream. After putting some distance between where we ended on our last trip, we found a nice spot where the creek paralleled the trail and headed down to the water. There ended up being a huge log jam at on the creek, forming a great looking hole and while Dyllon made his way downstream, I decided to see if there were any fish hiding under the logs. After a couple casts I got my leech imitation in tight against the logs, let it sink an when I stripped it back a nice ~16" Cutthroat slowly followed it out. I gave the leech a few good twitches, but as my line near the rod tip the Cutthroat must have seen me and shot back under the logs. After that, no amount of casting could get the Cutthroat to come back out and after several fruitless minutes I had to admit defeat and head downstream.

I found Dyllon at a nice corner hole where he was getting grabs on his streamer on almost every cast, but similar to my fish they just weren't willing to commit. After switching spots, I ran into the same issue on my streamer, but finally enticed a fish to grab my dry, which ended up being a beautiful little Coastal Cutthroat.

A beautiful golden yellow native Coastal Cutthroat

Continuing downstream, the creek had a good amount of pools and pocket water, but the fish proved to be challenging. As with the first hole, we got lots of grabs at each piece of good water on our streamers, but the fish all seemed to be short striking and hook ups were few and far between. Unfortunately the deepest, best looking water all seemed to be oddly vacant but signs angling pressure abounded with gear in the trees, suggesting overharvest by local anglers to be the culprit.

A nice corner hole on the stream

Luckily the smaller pools and pockets appear to be over looked by other anglers and the dry-dropper rig proved effective, although it only produced fish in 6" to 8" range. Hoping that we would connect with some of the larger fish we had found on our last trip, we continued down to the hole where we had caught them. This time, Dyllon briefly hooked up with on decent fish perhaps around 12" but it popped off and no other fish were willing to grab. A couple corners downstream the trail and the creek met up again and after having spent a couple hours exploring with limited success we decided to call it a day While we didn't land any large Cutthroat this trip, there were lots hookups and the dry fly proved hard to resist for the smaller Cutthroat, making it a great day on the water.

Thursday, July 20, 2023

Quick Olympic Mountain Outing

With summer in full swing I was able to get out on my favorite Olympic Peninsula stream with my daughter Valerie for a short after work outing. This stream is where I did the majority of my research for grad school and as such is an incredibly special place to me making it a joy to get to share it with my daughter.

A beautiful afternoon to be on the river

While Valerie has been fishing a few times over the last couple of years, this was my first time getting her out with a fly rod. I picked a spot on the river that is secluded and has proved itself as an easy go to for native Rainbows that are eager to rise to dry flies. Although Valerie needed a little casting assistance, the fish didn't disappoint and after just a couple of casts we hooked and landed her fish on a dry fly.

Valerie with a small native Coastal Rainbow Trout on a dry fly

Over the next hour Valerie and I took turns casting and caught several more fish, all in the 6" to 8" range before switching to exploring the river bank and picking wild huckleberries on the trail out on a short but sweeting outing.

Another small native Rainbow Trout

A streamside butterfly

Picking Red Huckleberries

The trail out

Tuesday, July 4, 2023

Small stream scouting

This past spring, my wife and I did a short hike on a nature trail along a small stream, that immediately caught my attention as a place that needed to revisit once the season opened up. After my last small stream outing wetted my appetite, I was was able to pull away for few hours to finally check it out. Just like last time, Dyllon was free to join me and after a quick drive and short hike we found ourselves on the water. When we arrived, the creek looked beautiful, with slightly tannic water flowing through a lush forest of Red Alder, Douglas Fir and Western Red Cedar. 

The stream flowing through a tunnel of Red Alder

As with my last outing, I came with two rods, my 1WT with a dry/ dropper and my 2WT with a small streamer. The first pocket that I came across looked like perfect dry fly water and sure enough after just a couple casts, I was rewarded with a rise and a beautiful little native Coastal Cutthroat.

A small native Coastal Cutthroat from the first hole

After that first fish, we started covering the water and working our upstream picking up a few smallish Cutthroat. However, despite some great looking water for the next 1/2 mile the stream seemed relatively devoid of life and signs of other anglers including night crawler containers and empty eagle claw hook packs seemed to indicate why. It wasn't until the trail along the stream started fading away that the fishing picked up and the creek seemed to come alive. 

From this point on each riffle would produce numerous parr Cutthroat in the 4" to 6" range and we started seeing signs of larger fish with Dyllon finally hooking into a solid Cutthroat that he guessed was 14" in a deeper corner hole. Unfortunately, with the tight conditions, the fish was able to shake loose before he managed to bring it in.

After we had spent way too much time exploring the unproductive lower reaches, we were now starting to run out of time, but as I was suffering from a serious case of "next bend" syndrome we pushed on to check out one or two more corners. Finally, while Dyllon was working a log jam downstream, I came across the fishiest looking hole we had seen so far, a deep corner hole along a steep bank with some nice slower holding water on the inside edge. I grabbed my streamer rod for this spot and after a couple casts in the back section, I placed a cast in the slower inside water and after a couple strips got a savage take. 

This wasn’t a small Cutthroat and while it didn’t have much room to run my 2WT was really put to the test. Luckily the fish came downstream out of the key holding water and I was able to keep it out of the one snag in the hole. The real risk was if it went down into the next hole which was way more snaggy. However, luck was on my side and I was able to keep the fish the tailout and was able to net it before it could make a run for it. The Cutthroat was every bit of 16” and was a heavily spotted female that showed clear signs of having just recently spawned.

The fish of the day, a beautiful post spawn Coastal Cutthroat

Another shot of the streamer eating Cutthroat

After I released my fish, Dyllon took over and sure enough, within just a few casts he got a solid take and hooked into a fish. Dyllon was fishing a 5WT and as such the 12” Cutthroat was out classed and after a short fight we brought it to the net.

Dyllon fishing the corner
Dyllon's Cutthroat a 12” male

It was my turn again next and this spot wasn’t done producing yet, so when I got a good cast along the seam and started retrieving it I got a solid grab and hooked into another Cutthroat. This one turned out to be about 10” but had a beautiful spotting pattern and coloration and after admiring it for a brief moment I turned it loose again.

Another beautiful native Coastal Cutthroat

After releasing the third Cutthroat, we were starting to run out of time, but I decided to take a peek upstream while Dyllon took over. The next good holding water looked to be further upstream then we had time for and Dyllon reported that he had gotten a few more grabs, but no hook ups so we decided I was time to head back downstream stream and call it a successful day on the new stream.

The creek on the way out