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.


Thursday, February 29, 2024

Filling the knowledge gap

After moving down to Olympia Washington in the South Puget Sound several years ago I was excited to learn a new area for sea-run Cutthroat but I have been confronted with several challenges as I have been exploring the area and have had very limited success in my saltwater fishing. Yes I have caught fish but things have just been much less consistent than I would like. 

In moving down to Olympia, I quickly recognized just how different the deep south Sound is than my previous home waters around Gig Harbor and on the Kitsap Peninsula. Deep South Sound tends to be much more estuarine than the central Sound, being comprised of a number of finger inlets subject to extreme tides for example, we just recently had a 17 foot high tide at my local beach, where a 13 foot high is a big tide in the central Sound. Additionally, these beaches also tend to be much muddier than the cobble beaches and eel grass beds that I was used to fishing, which really changes fishing on windy days (low clarity) or at lower tide levels. This requires different tactics and different flies with prey items like ghost shrimp and arrow gobies being more important forage items in these areas and a lot of time to start to unlock each beach. In other words my skills up north are not fully transferable and it is time to learn a new.

However, perhaps the biggest challenges has been the overall lack of public lands in deep south Sound. I have always primarily been a walk and wade fisherman and while I had about a dozen beaches within 15 minutes in Gig Harbor, the pickings are much more slim down here and it is quite clear that public beach access was not prioritized to the same degree in Thurston County compared to what I was used to in Pierce and Kitsap counties.

Another part of my lack of overall success in deep south Sound has been a lack of effort on my part, while I once had a deep love of fishing the saltwater, after guiding and teaching classes for several years it started to feel more like work than I would like and to be frank I just think I needed a bit of a break. As such I have put much more time into exploring flowing waters over the last few years. On top of that I have also felt like I had a bit of jinx on me when it came to success on the saltwater, with how mobile sea-run Cutthroat are there is always a bit of being in the right place at the right time needed for success and it seemed like despite fishing tides and structures that I know should hold fish even at my old haunts the stars just never wanted to align. That was until my last Cutthroat outing when my friend Steve and I got into some solid Cutthroat and the old fire I had for fishing the saltwater was finally reignited. 

After that trip, I decided that it is time to start really learning these beaches even if it is just for a quick 30 minutes here or there. So putting my plan into action, first I scoured every resource I could and pinned new beaches to try out, discovering several new access points in the process, then I started hitting beaches.

A quick afternoon outing on my home beach

My first outing after coming to this resolution, was just a 30 minute quick who cares what the tide is doing outing with low expectations. By 'who cares who the tide is doing', I don't mean to say that I didn't check the tides, as I did and it just didn't look ideal for when I was getting out there, being the start of an outgoing with a relatively small tidal exchange. However, I hadn't tried this beach on such a tide and so it was worth checking. However, as expected with barely any current the fish weren't around, but it was at least still a gorgeous break on the water.

On my next outing I was a bit more excited, I had a few hours to work with, the sun was out and this time there was a great outgoing tide. I decided to go a bit further a field and my friend and coworker Alexei was able to join so we hoped in the car and scouted out a few beaches. The first beach that we stopped at looked excellent, as we could already see some nice tidal rips and seams forming, but just one hiccup. Being a weekend there were already 3 fly anglers and two gear anglers working the water. However, that was a pretty clear indicator that this beach will be worth revisiting, just at a time when the crowds are down. Next we scouted out another access spot just a few minutes away that looked promising, but the tide was just still too high to fish so again worth noting for the future, but now it was time to hit the water. 

I landed on a spot that I have fished a handful of times and caught fish at on several of those trips and luckily when we got there we had the place to ourselves. One thing that I have found over the past few years of fishing streams is that versatility greatly increases my success and as such I rarely just bring one rod with me anymore. Today was no different and I decided to start out with a surface fly on my 5WT while I put a trusty  my 6WT with an intermediate line and an orange sea run bugger on in my O'Pros Third Hand rod holder at my hip. Alexei started with a peach sea-run bugger and we got to casting. This beach is the type that I am used to fishing, with a good tidal flow and barnacle encrusted rocks and while it looked great there was no sign of fish so we relocated down the beach to a point of land that often attracts fish. The point has a drop off and I have found fish here anywhere from the deeper water to just a couple feet off shore in the shallows. With the strong tide the current was a bit pushy off the point, so I switched over to my 6WT with the sea-run bugger to try to get down to the fish and started working the water.  However, after ten minutes on the point I hadn't seen any signs of life, but as I worked my way around the point I thought I saw a fish roll not far down the beach and decided to relocate and check it out. 

I was glad that I did too as on my first cast I had a solid grab just as my fly was coming parallel to shore, but I missed it. However, when I tossed my fly back out parallel to shore this time I only got a few strips in when I got another solid grab and hooked up this time. It was clear that this wasn't a large fish, but it still fought hard for its size and when I brought to hand it was a gorgeous dime bright 10" native Coastal Cutthroat.

A beautiful little sea-run Cutthroat

After I got my fish Alexei joined me and on this stretch of beach and almost immediately had a grab but didn't hook up. I continued fishing where I had gotten my fish for another 10 minutes but didn't get any other grabs to I moved 100 feet down the beach and once again bam within the first couple casts I got into the fish again with another couple cookie 10" Cutthroat. Once this spot died down I moved again and while my first cast seemed like it wasn't going to produce anything, right as my line reached the rod tip I twitched it to the side and a 14" Cutthroat slashed it with enough aggression that it actually made me jump. As a result of this, I got a poor hookset and while a fought the fish for a few moments it was able to shake the hook. Next cast though I had another grab and this time was a bit more prepared and was able to bring another 10 or 11" Cutthroat to hand.

At this point Alexei who is still a bit new to this fishery hadn't caught a Cutthroat so I went over and described what I was experiencing, gave him one of my orange Sea Run Buggers and suggested that he try a bit further down the beach. Unfortunately, by the time we put this plan into place it seemed that the optimum tide window had passed with the shellfish beds that the Cutthroat feeding over being exposed and as such the Cutthroat seemed to have moved on.  However, on the chance that another school might move in we continued to work the beach for another half hour just enjoying the rare gorgeous bluebird evening on the Puget Sound before the current slowed and it was time to call it a day.

Alexei working the water as the sun starts to sink on the horizon

All and all, this was a beautiful day on the water and while Alexei unfortunately didn't land any Cutthroat, I had gotten into several and lost or missed several of others as well.

After my successful outing with Alexei, I focused my next few outing on scouting out several beaches scattered around the South Puget Sound with pretty minimal success. 

Scouting out 'new' local beach

These scouting trips were more opportunistic and about checking the beaches out at differing (often less than ideal tides) and while I found several promising beaches the fish just weren't there. However, on my latest of these scouting trips, I had a bit more time to work with and did a tour of three beaches on an outgoing tide. The first two spots were relatively well known access areas and while the tide looked decent, there was just no sign of life at either beach. 

Another great looking beach, just no fish around

My third stop was at a constricted passage that I have fish before with some success on similar tides and when I got there the current was already really cooking, so it was just a matter of finding some fish. With the strong current, I started out with a shrimp pattern in a little cove that was forming a back eddy, which I figured was likely to be trapping baitfish and other forage items and I started working the water. It didn't take long for my intuition to pay off as after about ten minutes on the water I got a solid grab and hooked into a decent fish. I have always found that fish in the saltwater often move in schools, so I did my best to fight this fish quickly and after a short battle I bought a beautiful 15" resident Coho Salmon to the net.

A beautiful wild resident Coho Salmon

After snapping a quick photo I turned the Coho loose and quickly got my line back out and sure enough about halfway through the retrieve I got another solid grab and briefly connected with a fish, but it popped off. Once more I tossed my line back out and got another grab, but this time didn't hook up and just as quickly as the fish had come they were gone. This clearly was a school of resident Coho and I have always found that if you can stay on the school you can continue to pick fish off. This is easy when there are jumpers, however none of these fish had shown themselves on the surface so I had to guess which direction the fish had gone and unfortunately while I went right it appeared the the fish went left. 

With no further sign of the resident Coho, I continued working my way down the beach and I did get one more great while working my fly over a shellfish bed, but otherwise the beach had gone dead and when it started pour down rain and I was not wear raingear I knew that it was time to call it a day.

While my success rate on my recent trips, was less than stellar, I still managed to find a few fish and it has been great to just get out on the water, reconnect with this fishery and start to fill in my deep South Sound knowledge gaps.

Sunday, February 4, 2024

The first of the winter sea-runs

One of the aspects I love the most about living in western Washington is the amount of unique year round fishing options available. While we may not have that great quality dry fly fishing that the Rockies, the sheer diversity of native salmonids, presence of anadromous fish and the unique fisheries help to make up for it. Growing up near Puget Sound, I spent countless hours of my teens and twenties fishing the saltwater for sea-run Coastal Cutthroat, but after spending several years guiding I had largely moved on from this fishery in favor of moving waters over the past few years. However, a recent outing reminded what makes the saltwater and these hard fighting Cutthroat so special.

After my last outing for Cutthroat on a small stream back in November, a friend of mine and fellow native enthusiast Steve Vedra reached out about coming out to Washington to try his luck for his first Coastal Cutthroat. Our original plan was to fish a couple coastal streams for Cutthroat and with a chance of steelhead, but as the day approached the weather turned for the worst and the rivers blew out. With a full day to fish and options limited, I decided to show him the saltwater fishery, after my last few saltwater outings proving to be quite fruitless, I warned Steve of the inconsistent nature of the fishery at times, but he was still all in.

With Steve coming all of the way from Indiana to try for his first Coastal Cutthroat, I wanted to give us the best possible odds, so I picked an area that has treated me well this time of the year and where we could easily beach hop if we needed to search for fish. One of the key aspects of fishing the Puget Sound is hitting the tides right and the day we were fishing there was a morning high tide that looked great, but meant that our starting options would be limited by our ability to make a back cast. As such I picked a beach that I had never fished but knew had plenty of casting room regardless of the tide for our first stop. With great company and conversations on native trout, fishing and life in general, the drive out to the beach flew by and before long we were rigging up and making our way down the hill towards the water shortly after the sun came up.

Dawn on the Sound

With our recent bout of wet and stormy weather, when we reached the beach it appeared that we had won the weather lottery, rain had been in the forecast for the day all week and while it was certainly a grey skies kind of day, it was also dry and more importantly dead calm on the Sound. With the calm weather we both started out with surface flies and it didn’t take long for the Cutthroat to notice them. With both Steve and myself getting several vicious takes within the first 20 minutes at the beach. While fishing top water results in some spectacular takes it comes with a low hook up rate but at least now we knew the fish were here.

Steve working a surface fly for sea-run Cutthroat

With fish around, Steve switched to a subsurface worm pattern, while varied between an orange searun bugger and top water baitfish pattern. As the tide started to fall, we were able to work our way down the beach towards a good looking rocky stretch with Steve getting a couple grabs along the way. After fishing for about an hour Steve got a solid grab and this time connected a short fight netted his first Coastal Cutthroat.

Steve's first Coastal Cutthroat - a beautiful 15" sea-run

Having pursued native trout for over 20 years now, catching a new variety of trout is a priceless experience and getting to share that with Steve was an absolute joy!

After Steve released his Cutthroat, we continued working our way down the beach and while I rose one more fish and Steve briefly hooked into another Cutthroat and I rose one more on the top water fly before things slowed down. With a long gap since the last take and the encounters with Cutthroat that we did have being somewhat sporadic we made the call to move to another beach that had treated me well in the past.

One thing that had played into my selection of spots for the day was the proximity of each of these beaches to spawning streams. With Coastal Cutthroat typically spawning in mid- to late-winter there are almost always Cutthroat cruising these areas and this next spot was not exception. Another plus with the next spot was that there were two beaches separated by a small cove within close proximity, so if the Cutthroat weren't at one they might be at the other. So after a short drive to our next spot, we were back on the water. We started out on the south side of the cove and quickly worked our way along the beach, but after a half hour with not so much as a tap we decided to jump over to the other side of the cove.

Looking across the water at our next spot

Upon relocating across the cove, we made our way out the the point and immediately got to work casting. This time, we were much more exposed to the wind so we focused our attention on subsurface flies and Steve worked the tip of the point with his worm pattern, while I moved a little south of and covered the edge of a decent looking oyster bed with an orange sea run bugger. Anytime I am on a beach looking for Cutthroat and come across an oyster bead, it is always worth a few casts as these areas hide lots of small critters making them prime foraging grounds of Cutthroat. As it would have it, this one was no exception and after just a few casts I got a solid tug and hooked into a decent fish. I always say the sea-run Cutthroat punch above the weight and this fish proved that by putting a solid bend in my 6WT, but luck was on my side and before long I was sliding a beautiful 17" sea-run into the net.

My first fish of the day and year - a flawless sea-run Cutthroat

Sea-run Cutthroat often travel in schools, so I quickly released the fish and got back to casting a little ways down the beach and wouldn't you know it, another Cutthroat almost immediately grabbed my fly. This fish was much smaller, at perhaps 12", so I quickly turned it loose without handling it and got back at it again. My next two casts also produced similar sized 10" to 12" Cutthroat and at this point I called Steve who hadn't gotten a grab over, gave him one of the flies and swapped spots. However, when I relocated back to the oyster bed I hooked into yet another 12" Cutthroat, then just as fast as the had moved in the school seemed to disappear. We covered the beach for another 30 minutes and I only had one more grab before the tide started winding down and it was time to move on. In my experience slack tide is typically not very productive and as such it was to perfect time head out, grab lunch and relocate.

We finished our day off by working the incoming tide at what once had been my 'home beach' in Gig Harbor, but after an hour of flogging the water we hadn't seen the slightest sign of life and when the weather finally gave out and the promised rain arrived it was time to call it a day. All and all this was an amazing day on the water that has helped to reignite my love of fishing the saltwater and chasing sea-run Coastal Cutthroat. On top of that it was an absolute joy to share this unique native trout fishery with Steve and get to watch him land his first Coastal Cutthroat.