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