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, August 20, 2023

Too many Pink Salmon

After my first couple trips looking for native trout in western Washington I had half a day free and decided to head up to one of my favorite rivers to see what I could find. My goal for the day was to see if I couldn't find some larger migratory Coastal Rainbow Trout or anadromous Coastal Cutthroat entering freshwater anticipating the upcoming feast of salmon eggs. As such I came equipped with three rods, one for streamers, a nymph rig and a dry rig with a mouse pattern tied on to try in the log jams.

A beautiful day on the water

When I arrived at the river, it was running low and clear and I immediately pulled out my nymph rig first and started working a riffle that dropped off into a deep run. While observing the pool I thought I saw some movement in the shady back part of the riffle and I decided to start out with my nymph rig to see what I could find. On my first cast, my indicator shot under and I was immediately hooked into a hot fish. This fish wasn't fighting like at trout and seemed to be bigger than the typical trout that I find in the river and sure enough when I got it close to shore I realized that it was a decent sized male Pink Salmon fresh from the saltwater, that apparently wanted to eat a caddis fly nymph.

Not exactly what I was looking for

While I initially thought this was a fluke, the same thing happened on the next cast as well and that was just a sign of things to come. It seemed that these fresh Pinks were extremely aggressive and occupying all of the best holding water. The only the only rig that they didn't seem interested in was the mouse pattern and my nymph rig and black sculpin pattern would last a few moments in the water before getting hammered. With these fish running 3lbs to 7lbs, this certainly isn't a bad problem to have, but I still really wanted to find a trout or two.

Yet another Pink Salmon

I ended up taking to fishing either the fastest riffles or the mouse pattern, which did rise a nice trout behind a downed tree, but other than that there were just too many Pinks to effectively fish and after a few hours on the river I decided to switch gears.

With no trout landed on the river, headed cobble beach for Coastal Cutthroat on my way back. Conditions seemed to be good with little wind, and a decent tidal push, but the Cutthroat just weren't around and after a few fly swaps and covering some prime water it was time to admit defeat on the trout front.
No trout but a great way to end the day on the water

While there weren't any trout to be found, the Pink Salmon were a nice surprise and the weather and surroundings were hard to beat. The arrival of the Pinks indicates that the season is already starting to change and hopefully as the salmon stream in the trout fishing will pick up.

Tuesday, August 15, 2023

A case of mistaken identity

 Since I stated my native trout quest the classification of Cutthroat has seen some rather large changes, which have been primarily driven by an increased understanding of genetics. The first major shake up came with a study published by Metcalf et al. in 2012 and the discovery that what we knew as Greenback Cutthroat were actually Cutthroat from the Colorado River basin. Along with this revelation came another key finding that the Colorado River Cutthroat was actually comprised of three distinct lineages the Colorado River Cutthroat (termed the green lineage as they were originally believed to be Greenback Cutthroat), the Green River Cutthroat (Blue lineage) and the San Juan Cutthroat.

A Green River (Blue lineage) Cutthroat 

For me the initial impact of this discovery was that the Greenback Cutthroat I had caught, were not actually Greenbacks meaning I had yet to catch that subspecies and would have to wait to do so until they had recovered sufficiently. However, this also raised the question of what those “Greenbacks” I had caught actually were, Green River or Colorado River Cutthroat. It turned out that this question did not have a simple answer, as the primary broodstock used to recover the former “Greenback Cutthroat” was drawn from two streams Como Creek and Hunter Creek to raise the genetic diversity. And raise the genetic diversity it did, as Como Creek held Colorado River Cutthroat (Green lineage) while Hunter held Green River Cutthroat. The records I have found do suggest that Como Creek and thus Colorado River Cutthroat were the dominant lineage, but these former recovery populations of “Greenbacks” appear to be Green x Colorado River hybrids.

A Greenback Cutthroat? Nope a Colorado River Cutthroat with some Green River influence 
One of the other findings of the Metcalf et al. study was that due to past stocking many of the Cutthroat populations in the upper Colorado River that should Colorado River Cutthroat were actually Green River Cutthroat. For a long time I wondered about what the “Colorado River Cutthroat” I had caught in Rocky Mountain National Park in 2006 were, until recently when I found a map showing the genetics of the known populations. As it turned out the “Colorado River Cutthroat” I had caught were actually Green River Cutthroat, likely Trappers Lake strain from the extensive stocking that occurred over the last century. 

--UPDATE-- As if it wasn't challenging enough to ID Green vs Blue lineage, the most recent inventory of Cutthroat in Rocky Mountain National Park shows that indeed the fish I caught ARE green lineage or actual Colorado River Cutthroat. 
Green lineage Colorado River Cutthroat

For now I have updated my website with to account these mistaken fish, but in just over a week I will be heading to Colorado to hopefully find both the true Greenback Cutthroat. With any luck this trip will be successful and and in two weeks time I will have once again caught all of the extant subspecies of Cutthroat Trout.

Wednesday, August 9, 2023

Southwest Summer Getaway

Sometimes it is hard to believe where time goes, but this year marks my wife and my 10th Anniversary and to mark the occasion we decided to do something special and started planning a getaway. After an amazing trip to New Mexico two years ago, we that we decided to do something similar and after looking into the details we opted to fly into Albuquerque, NM do a loop through Southwest Colorado to Pagosa Springs and Mesa Verde before finish off with some time in Albuquerque before we flying back. While the focus of the trip was not on fishing, it did put us within a short distance from one of the last subspecies of Cutthroat that I needed to catch and I would have a morning with which to try my luck for them.

The subspecies of Cutthroat in question was the San Juan Cutthroat, which until just five years ago was assumed to be extinct. With their recent rediscovery, these fish are still in a precarious place as restoration efforts are still in their infancy and as such most remaining populations are still too sensitive to allow for angling. However, after getting in touch with the local biologist, there was one stream that appeared to be feasible and I set might sights on it as my target.

With the trip fast approaching, I put some extra time into packing so that unlike my camping trip to the North Cascades in July, this time there was no way I was going to forget anything and I made sure to double and triple check that all of my gear was accounted for before leaving. Then next thing we knew, the day of the trip had arrived and we were up by 4:30AM and on our way to the airport. Fortunately, we had a surprisingly smooth trip up I-5, through Sea-Tac Airport and with our fly right on time we were in the air in no time.

Blue skies above the clouds

With the exception infamously bumpy approach to Albuquerque, the flight was smooth and after grabbing our rental car we were on our way Colorado. Between the flight and drive, our first day was strictly a travel day, but the drive did not disappoint as we progressed from the desert near Albuquerque to the the weathered badlands as we passed Ghost Ranch known for its Cretaceous era fossil beds and then watched lightning sparking across the sky as we finally reached the forested slopes of the Rocky Mountains. By the time we reached Colorado the thunderstorms were behind us and we were greeted with blue skies stretching to the horizon as the sun started to sink towards the horizon. With just the morning to fish, I set my alarm for 6:00AM, but with a level of anticipation that only pursuing a new native trout can provide I found myself wide awake at 5:15 AM and decided to get up early to add a little extra extra fishing time into the schedule.

Sunrise over the Rockies

With the early start, I found myself driving through the foothills as the sun crested over the mountains and arrived at the creek by 6:30 AM. While I had brought both my 4WT and 1WT on the trip, upon arriving at the creek and realizing that it was a fair bit smaller than I have anticipated, I opted for the much short 6'6" 1WT. With this being new water for me, I also decided to go with my old standby Royal PMX but also added a Blowtorch nymph dropper so I would be ready whether they were focused on top or subsurface. As I stated making my way upstream, I initially found very little holding water, but at the first decent pocket I came to a trout rose to my dry, but unfortunately it didn't hook up and refused to come back for a second look. At least that was a sign the fish were there!

Not far upstream, I finally found a piece of really good looking holding water, as the creek came over a log and dug out a nice pool. The first couple casts in the outflow of the pool didn't get any attention, but once I put a cast into the slower water in the middle of the foam line a fish rose to my fly and I got a solid hook up.

The first good hole on the creek

This fish was much bigger than I would have expected, and gave my little 1WT a run for its money, but with no real obstacles to get hung up on after a minute or so I brought my first San Juan Cutthroat to the net, a beautiful 12"er.

My first San Juan Cutthroat

After snapping a few photos and briefly admiring the beautiful Cutthroat, I released it and continued upstream only to find another great looking spot just around the corner. 

A beautiful run on the creek

This next spot was quite exposed, so after checking that my back cast clear I snuck up on my knees and made a cast into the back third of the run. My fly only drifted a foot or two, before a trout slowly and confidently rose to engulf the dry fly. Again I got a solid hookup and after quick battle I brought another beautiful, this time 11" San Juan Cutthroat to hand.

Another gorgeous San Juan Cutthroat

After that fish, I picked up yet another large trout, this time about 12" on my dropper, before continuing upstream. It seemed that while small, this stream was one of those rare highly productive pieces of water able to produce unusually large fish. This became especially evident when I came across a particularly tricky piece of water to fish. What made this spot so challenging was the combination of overhanging brush for tight casting and downed tree in the water that had numerous branches still sticking just waiting to snag my dropper, requiring pin point accuracy. However, my little 1WT  was up to the task and I was able to land a good cast in the pool in the main seam just past the branches. As my dry fly drifted past a large rock at the back of the pool a large trout rose to intercept it. Lucky for me, after the first fish, my hooksets seemed to be on point this morning and I got a good connection with the trout, which immediately proved to be the largest I had seen yet. Now the tricky part was going to be keep it out of the wood with my little 1WT. The fish tried its hardest to shake me, diving into the branches a half dozen times, but miraculously it didn't hang up and I was finally able to bring the beautiful 15" brightly colored Cutthroat to the net. 

A 15" San Juan Cutthroat - without a doubt one of the most beautiful Cutthroat I have caught!

At this point, the stream had by far exceeded my wildest expectations and if anything my problem was that I had yet to catch a fish small enough to fish in my 12" photarium, which I have to admit is a great problem to have! With all pressure off, I continued working upstream, and came to yet another pool where, I spotted a few trout holding. The first fish that I targeted, I briefly hooked but it popped and darted to the head of the pool thankfully not spooking the other two trout. I took a little more care with the next fish and got a perfect presentation and it slowly rose and ate my dry fly, at which point I quickly fought it out of the tail of the pool in order to not spook the other fish I had eyes on. After releasing that fish, the next one would prove to be one of the more memorable of the trip. 

The Cutthroat

Having a clear line of sight on this fish and being I was careful not to spook it, I got into position and made my cast well in front of it. As my fly neared the fish, I watched the trout get in position and slowly rise to meet the dry fly, but unfortunately I mistimed my hook set and didn't hook up. While the fish hadn't spooked, it did become much more cautious after this and appeared to have caught on to my dry fly being fake, as the next five dead drifts got no response. Next I tried skating my dry, which got the fish to come over, put its nose on the fly and inspect it, but it ultimately decided not to take it. With the dry not working I tried something different and placed a cast so the dropper landed just a few inches in front of the trout, and bingo, fish on!


A meadow along the creek

Fishing continued much the same, with the creek opening up in some areas with good holding water, while other areas presented tight quarters that I decided to pass by and leave tot he trout as well earned refuges. It did seem that while the fish tended to be large the overall density of trout was not too high, with most pools only holding a single fish. Over the course of the morning, I finally managed to get a few fish the fit in the photarium as well and covered over a 1/2 mile of stream, catching around a dozen fish before running into a natural stopping point deciding it was time to turn around and head back down the mountain.

Finally a fish for the photarium

All and all, this this was an amazing morning and one outing that I am not likely to forget anytime soon. With how good the fishing was, I was even able to into town by 10:30AM, giving me the rest of the day to enjoy with the vacation my wife Alexis. While in Pagosa Springs, we spent the evening at the hot springs and exploring the town, before hitting the road the next day for Durango and Mesa Verde National Park. The whole time we were greeted with wonderful weather and amazing vistas. After doing some short hikes and seeing the amazing cliff dwellings Mesa Verde, we also decided to check out the awe inspiring ancient Puebloan ruins at Chaco Canyon on our way back to Albuquerque. 

The San Juan River in Pagosa Springs - once home to a robust fluvial population of San Juan Cutthroat

Cliff Palace at Mesa Verde National Park

Sunset over Mesa Verde from Far View Lodge

Chaco Canyon National Historic Park

Casa Bonita at Chaco Canyon

Sharing a wonderful adventure together!

All I can say is that this trip was amazing and the fishing for San Juan Cutthroat, was the cherry on top of a wonderful adventure celebrating 10 years together with my wonderful wife!

Tuesday, August 1, 2023

A taste of things to come

While I love summertime in the Pacific Northwest, my favorite time to be out fishing is as summer is coming to an end as this marks the start of the salmon spawning season. For those who know where to look the fishing in western Washington streams begins to resemble that in Alaska for the brief window when the trout are focused on eggs. While that season is still off on the horizon, the trout that key in on eggs in September and October are still around even if they are much hard to find. With that in mind, I was recently able to make a couple of outings on one of these special streams to see if I couldn't find any early takers.

Dyllon was able to join me on the first outing and given how early it was in the season, Dyllon opted to fish a streamer, while I brought two rods, also using a streamer as well as a double nymph rig with a cased caddis and egg dropper. My reasoning on the egg imitation was that the first salmon should be starting to enter the river and while they wouldn't be spawning yet, it should at least get the trout interested in eggs again. We only had a few hours to fish, but lucked out on our weather as it was a classic blue bird summer day perfect for wet wading. 

Upon hitting the river, we started working our way upstream fishing any likely looking water as we went. A couple runs upstream we saw our first signs of as Dyllon briefly hooked up with a 12" to 14" Cutthroat that had been holding in a trench next to a log, but unfortunately it popped off. The next corner upstream, which was a deep pool that slowly passed along the cliff face proved even more lively as shortly after we arrived are salmon rolled, signaling that yes indeed the season is upon us. Being slow and deep, Dyllon and I both opted for streams and within just a couple casts I spotted a nice Cutthroat in the 18" range chasing my streamer across the hole, but it was unwilling to commit. This ended up being the story of this spot, as we each had a few grabs, but mostly just saw Cutthroat inspecting our flies, with one even chasing my streamer right up to the rod tip. After putting in a solid 45 minutes on the hole with no hookups, we admitted defeat continued on. 

Dyllon working a streamer through a great piece of holding water

One thing about Pacific Northwest rivers, is that they are dynamic and each season requires relearning where all the best holding water is. As we worked our way upstream there had been subtle changes, with a run looking better here and a trench filled in there, but it wasn't until we were on the water for a couple hours that we saw the first major change. Luckily for us this was a serious improvement, as a couple channels that had previously be separate combined to create an amazing riffle and pool. I made one prospecting cast when we reached the pool, but it looked best fished from the opposite shore, so I decided to cross and flipped my nymph rig in as I went. I had almost reached the opposite bank and my indicator was perhaps a quarter of the way down the riffle, when it was sharply yanked under. Moments later, a massive Rainbow that was well over 20" came shooting out of the water, and I was hooked into a nice fish. For a minute or so, the fish stayed deep in the run, but then after a couple more leaps took off downstream like a freight train. I was able to get the fish to turn as it reached the tailout, but it kept working it way towards a braid at the end of the pool with a log in it. Dyllon was on the net and headed downstream to try and keep the fish from going down the channel. However, with Dyllon still working his way into position and the fish moving closer to the log, I put just a little too much pressure on it and the hook came flying back at me. Dyllon had a chance to get a good eye on the fish beforehand and estimated it at around 24".  Over a week later as I am writing this and that fish continues to haunt me, as I think of all of the things I could have done differently, but you just can't get them all.

After I lost the big one, Dyllon started working the pool with his streamer and after settling my heart rate down a bit I finally got back in with my nymph rig again. On the first cast, my indicator bobbed under again, but there was nobody there when I set, but on the very next cast when it went under again I got a solid hookset.  This fish wasn't nearly as big as the first one, but still put up a good fight, taking line and thrashing on the surface. However, after a couple minutes I was able to regain all of my line and Dyllon netted a beautiful bright 16" native Rainbow for me.

Not quite the big one, but still a nice native Rainbow at 16"

We worked the hole for a while longer, but there didn't seem to be any additional takers, and while we were nearing the end of our allotted time on the water we decided to try a couple more bends to see how the river had changed. Along the way we spooked on smallish Chinook and I found myself noting how all of the downed trees in the river would make for some great fun with a mouse pattern, before we came to a great looking run. Dyllon took point on this one and almost immediately had a Cutthroat dart out from under a downed tree to great his streamer, but he wasn't able to hook up. After one more grab, the Cutthroat refused to come back so I stepped in with my nymph rig but could find any willing takers. However, as I was fishing I started to notice shapes moving on the bottom and after a moment of observation noticed about a dozen Chinook tucked under a downed alder in the run. Dyllon and I watched the salmon for a few minutes, before realizing that we had gone over our time on the water and had beat feet back to the car.

Chinook Salmon holding water

After the great outing the Dyllon and I had, my buddy Chris let me know that he was free to for a quick morning outing and as our schedules lined up, I jumped at the opportunity to return the the river again. There were a couple differences with this outing right off the bat. The first was that unlike the last outing that was bright and sunny, this morning was starting off overcast and second was that this time in addition to the nymph and streamer rod I also brought along a 5 WT with a mouse pattern on it. The next thing we changed was starting out further upstream and working our way down to where Dyllon and I had ended our day.

The first pool that we came to had a massive log jam and looked like great streamer water and sure enough, Chris had a fish grab on his first cast, while I watched a 16"+ trout chase my streamer across the hole, but after that the fish refused to come back and we kept moving. We had similar results at the next couple holes, with Chris catching one small Coastal Cutthroat, before we got back to the water Dyllon and I had ended on. 

After finding a small hole with a lot of downed trees, I pulled out the mouse rig and started twitching it across the surface. About half way down the hole, I landed a cast an inch or two off the downed tree and just as I started skittering the mouse away a Cutthroat pull out from cover and inhaled it. I got a decent hook set but had to work hard to keep the 14" to 15" Cutthroat out of the trees. I succeed at keeping trout out of the wood, but just as I was bring it to the net, the hook popped loose and the Cutthroat darted back to its cover.

Mousing water

After my encounter with the mouse eating Cutthroat, we continued downstream and verified that the Chinook were all still tucked under their alder, but couldn't find any willing trout in the hole this time. Next we found ourselves back at the pools that had held the big trout on the last outing, but this trip wasn't the same as last time and after running multiple drifts through I didn't get any takes. However, when Chris threw his nymph rig in it didn't take long for him to get a grab and after a short fight he brought a small heavily spotted Rainbow to the net.

Chris' Rainbow

Shortly after Chris released his fish, the sun finally broke through the morning marine layer and the day started to warm up. Unfortunately, the fishing went icy cold and despite us cover another 1/2 mile of river we only saw a few more salmon as the trout appeared to disappear. However, it was still a gorgeous day on the water and I had fun twitching my mouse pattern along any structure I could find and we even had a couple Deer cross the river just downstream of us.

Mousing along a log jam

Deer crossing the river

Despite, not having many fish to hand, it appears that the season is off to a good start and while I am reluctant to see summer slip away especially with a couple trips for native Cutthroat on the horizon, I also now find myself longing for the cool crisp September days just around the corner.