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, 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.


Anonymous said...

Doesn’t get any better than that!

Anonymous said...

Thanks so very much for your blog. I always enjoy them. Keep them coming.