Memo to anglers

Get kids involved in fishing, too many video games do not foster imaginations they make adult dullards, take them fishing every chance you get, get them excited about the outdoors through positive experiences, they might not grow up to be fishers but they will be making decisions about “natural resource management” in the future and someone who has intrinsic connection to the outdoors and wildlife is a lot easier to convince of the importance of as an example non clear cut headwaters of sensitive creeks than trying to convince someone who has only ever watched nature on TV.  Oh and a bunch of old stubborn men(no matter how well intentioned) will usually end up being an exclusive group and can be very intimidating for anyone who isn’t part of the club. And they also aren’t very good at influencing people.

Stop worshiping Talismans of the ruling class in Britain eg. hardy perfects, none of you are lords, and if you lived in Britain in the early 1900’s most of you would probably be shoveling horseshit or working in coal mines, not fishing for atlantics, with flies tied with exotic feathers from across the realm. You wouldn’t be allowed to fish those rivers. You would be peasants.

steelheading is most definitely not about your ego, in spite of the sad attempts of some to make it so.

There are other rivers besides the Thompson River

Cutthroat are awesome

There are other rivers on the island besides the Cowichan river. I often hear about how crappy the fishing is on the island. Really? This is paradise. There is no pressure to speak of, and some of the nicest rivers I’ve ever seen are on this island. Have you ever tried hiking?

Protect really small creeks and rearing ponds. Even the ones that go dry in the summer can have steelhead, chum, coho, pinks, chinook, sea runs, rainbows, sculpins, stickleback and a bunch of other creatures. They rely heavily on these habitats. Educate at every opportunity with regards to this.

Fishing for summer run steelhead with roe once is a learning experience, fishing with it every day and expecting to catch the same 20 summer runs a day out of the same low water high temp pool all summer as if it is your god given right is pathetic. It also kills those fish. Disagree? funny, I guess all those dead steelhead sitting at the bottom of the pool are there because of ocean conditions.

Are you really going to question catch and release as a management tool for anadromous fisheries? What steelheading would you be able to do without it? Entire watersheds around the world are effectively managed and have strong fisheries only because of C&R( puget sound sea run cutthroat come to mind), the key is to know how water temps, methods, and species characteristics affect mortality, and to play fish quickly.

Buy local dammit, big chain stores destroy local economies. (yes there actually is lots of documentation to support this)

Please stop using bait for cutthroat, they are very susceptible to mortality via this method…but if you must don’t sit there and watch the fish swallow it, and then set the hook, and then take 5 minutes to extract the hook dropping the fish on the ground five times, “release” it (sans esophagus, protective coating and bleeding out) via head over tail knuckle ball toss into the water, and then repeat, and then talk about how much fun you’re having

Love the fish more than the gear you use to catch them


In praise of beaches

There are many many organisms that inhabit the beaches where you will find sea runs, and it never ceases to amaze me how much you will see if you take a few seconds to look(even between strips of line). I challenge anyone to take the time to appreciate the incredible diversity that can be found in these places. I have encountered everything from swans to oystercatchers, pelicans, ospreys, several different types of owls, bats, hawks, eagles, herons, mink, seals, sea lions, river otters, bears, canada geese, to wading in with a red rock crab firmly clamped onto the laces on my wading boot, at least 4 different kinds of shrimp scooting around the break in the tidal flow around my feet, sculpins, cabezon, skates, starry flounder, sand lance, smelt, herring most types of salmon in adult, fry, and smolt or juvenile form, ghost shrimp, marine worms, surf perch, piling perch, even rats, raccoons, deer, and mice to name a few and this isn’t even touching on almost any of the marine invertebrates that are out there. It’s really hard to do when you are fishing for them but if you ever get a chance to watch sea runs feeding on salmon fry or young sand lance on the surface, or sipping amphipods. It is absolutely amazing to watch. My hands are usually shaking. Awesome.

The kaleidoscopic effect of looking into the watery surface and trying to distinguish the well disguised scuplin following your fly close in, and the speckled and refracted light bouncing back off the cobbled and barnacled bottom is just mesmerizing to me and I do catch myself just staring time to time. Sometimes there’s a silver ghost stalking my fly too.

Oh yeah, and don’t forget your polarized sunglasses


Sea run cutthroat data sources

There have not been a great deal of studies done on the diminutive, mysterious and non commercially valuable sea run cutthroat and much conjecture as a result (hell, the lack of data on steelhead which are considered much more “important” than cutthroat, is laughable). I just wanted to post up some links to some info and a couple of resources that I have used in my quest to understand and catch these amazing fish

this is a good link about sea runs in lower mainland BC streams, also has economic info on sea run cutthroat fishing effort (Pg. 8)

Coastal Cutthroat Trout as Sentinels of Lower Mainland Watershed Health

This is a CRD (capital regional district) page that is a very simple, clear and concise description of the cutthroat, its traits, and its environment

Cutthroat Trout

This guy is as obsessed as me, and he’s a good writer, and his book is definitely worth picking up if you like these fish

Chester Allen’s watery planet

Les Johnson is a pioneer of fly fishing and champion of the sea run cutthroat, and this book is pretty much the bible of this weird subculture –Fly Fishing Coastal Cutthroat Trout: Flies, Techniques, Conservation…much respect

Here is an article about fly fishing for them by Les

This guy loves sea run cutthroat(and hates the meat head culture so prevalant in fishing) much respect

The Quiet Pool

Older study from washington (like I said no one is doing much of any studies on these fish)

Sea Run Cutthroat Trout

Another older washington oregon study

Lots and lots of pictures of cutthroat   like thirty four pages woohoo

A handsome hatchery Little Campbell River Sea Run Cutthroat after being scooped out of the fish counting trap at the hatchery


There is not a lot of info about these fish published or posted, but these are some of the ones I go to often, enjoy!

Trout switch rods/reviews

A lot of the fly fishing I do for sea runs is with a switch rod. What is a switch rod you ask? I don’t know or care about the definition and we will leave this to all of the opinionated idiots on the online forums that don’t fish with or own any to argue all day about. What I do know is that they are generally and usually referred to as 9.5 to 11.5ish foot fly rods with a small lower handle attached and a longer top handle so one can easily make two handed change of direction roll casts, two hand overhead and for the lightest rods easily single hand overhead cast, all dependent on the line you are using. You don’t need a switch rod for trout, anyone who says that is an idiot, they are just a fun and different way of fly fishing for trout.

This is not intended to be a “right at all costs kind of topic” and the trout switch rod is not the holy grail of trout fishing. I am not a guide and I have no financial stake in any type of fly fishing gear. There are just lots of things that are great about these rods and there is next to no commentary reflecting this. If you are looking for some info try Dave Henry’s site, this is definitely the best resource out there (he answers questions too), and Courtney at the Nile creek fly shop is definitely a great resource, (plus you can cast the rods with different lines and that makes all the difference in the world), use the search function on spey pages and sift through all the garbage for some useful info (good site, just a fair sprinkling of mean spirited and uninformed nonsense). The skagitmaster forum also has a lot of really good information and perspective (something sorely lacking in fly fishing) if you take the time to sift through it. If you are having trouble finding info well just remember that this is a niche within a niche, I know I’ve had no help from anyone aside from the aforementioned resources.

Let me qualify myself by saying that I have caught a lot of sea runs with 9′ single hand fly rods, it’s a lot of fun and fairly simple, relatively cheap, and even noble way of fishing for these fine fish. And they are perfect for a lot of conditions, smaller rivers and fish, low water, light breezes, light presentations, light tippets, small dries, and a number of other situations. Switch rods do not replace or excel at what single handers are best for, but are much better at other things. Complimentary like. Eventually what I have found is that in some of the situations I found myself in with a single hand fly rod is that I basically could not get anywhere close to rising fish or with really tight or non existent casting room or in wind, and that it was even worse with any kind of sink tip. It was either throw a spinner or don’t fish, and while I have no problem with spinner fishing, hell I’ve caught hundreds of sea runs this way and I grew up doing it but I prefer and wanted to continue fly fishing in these challenging situations. You can definitely do all of the same two handed or “spey” casts with a regular run of the mill single handed rod matched up with the right line(single hand skagit, ambush, snowbee switch, 40 +, etc.). The issue I see with this is that in some situations performance wise the 2 handed rod is far superior. This is my opinion based on chasing cutthroat at the beach, river, and occasionally lake, in a whole variety of conditions.

There are some people who say there is no need for a trout switch rod but I do not agree. Let’s break down the typical arguments. First off I often hear that the lower handle gets in the way when trying to land fish. Gets in the way of what? the handles on the trout switches are smaller than my hand on most, if anything it makes it easier to fight fish, and besides why else do they put “fighting butts” on single hand rods?  A lot of anglers seem to want fighting butts on 4 and 5 weight fly rods. Another argument is that the lines are too heavy eg. typical switch/”spey” lines are roughly double the grain weight of equivalent lines. The fishery I am describing is not 8 inch rainbows with upstream dries, and my 9 foot 5 wt single is too much rod much less line for those fish. These sea runs can get pretty husky, can be deep in heavier current and fight hard, and is basically a non issue for any grain weight under 400, and if you’re using more why are you fishing for sea runs. Distance is another big step up, what trout single hander can throw 60-70 ft while wading chest deep in stronger breezes? never seen it, never been able to do it, and I seriously question anyone who says that that is well within the normal realm of single hand spey with trout rods. These are the kind of conditions and situations I’m talking about. I often hear when people are inquiring about getting into two handed casting comments like switch rods are “jack of all trades master of none” type tools, and that they are not really good at anything, you should get a spey rod instead. Really? a 12’6 foot + spey rod no matter what grain rating has no business being on most rivers I fish. They suck for stripping the fly, they suck in close and there is literally no room on most rivers that I frequent because of the brush/trees. Yet another place where I see a huge difference is beach fishing, especially where wind is in your face, I’m sorry but double hauling the crap out of a 9 ft 5 or 6 wt single in headwinds at the beach is the definition of not matching the tool to the job at hand. Don’t agree? You’ve probably never used a switch rod at the beach.DSCF5101 - Copy

Beach sea run on the beulah classic 4/5 10’6 switch rod

When you read about sea runs one of the things you read constantly is how they prefer shallow water and stay close to shore. If you think that it’s probably because you could never cast farther than 30′ with your single hander in the wind. At the beaches I fish often, sea runs will routinely sit at 60 to 100′ out coho style, again these aren’t little tiddlers, these are husky old adult sea runs that have gotten as big and as old as they have by staying alive in a dynamic environment where they are constantly under threat from larger predators. What they do is make forays in to shore to feed and move back out to safer deeper water. They don’t swim around on the surface, they are deep, and they are there because they are smarter than the 10″ yearlings. The trout switch rod is an ideal tool in all of these situations, and the single hander is not. But hey, don’t worry it’s just my opinion, people have been fishing the beach with much success for many years with old heavy single handed fiberglass and early graphite, and they are the pioneers of this sport, and I have much respect for them. You can also use a boat to get closer if you prefer the single. My point is there are no rules! (except the regulations) switch rods are an equally useful tool as a single hander. Tenkara, soft plastics, spinners, bubble floats, whatever as long as you are gentle with these fish, use small hooks, and release them carefully it matters not.

As far as single handing these rods goes, there are definitely some rods that are hard on the wrist but there are a bunch out now that are so light it’s really no problem, seriously, if some tackle shop jockey tells you you can’t that’s simply not true, Mystic makes 3, 4, and 5 weight 11’3 switches that single hand cast better than a lot of single handed rods. Beulah’s 10′ 5 wt platinum switch is the same, you could cast all day no problem, and change out scandi, skagit, switch or single hand lines to adapt to what you find as you go. These rods are about as light as it gets. Don’t get hung up on the single hand idea, it’s just another one of the “rules” out there that really have no purpose, and two handed overhead is usually more efficient anyway. The Mystic 3 wt is pretty much the same as a single hand three or four weight in terms of power and throws some pretty light lines (sub 200 grain) for the smaller presentation type waters.

Below is the most complete list of rods I can put together, as new rods come out I will try to update. There are obviously many others, like Scott switches and the like, however, I have never seen a Scott rod for sale in any fly shop, nor have I ever seen one in the hand of an angler in my life so, from a VI perspective and within my commetary, they are irrelevant.

Budget trout switch/spey options:

Echo’s new three weight and four weight 10’6 SR switch rods are a fun, relatively cheap way to try these types of rods out. Fast action and the 3 wt runs around 190-250 grains/the four weight runs 250-300 grains.

Echo TR 12′ 4 wt spey (new) I haven’t picked up or cast one yet, so cannot comment on it’s grain range or action, look on speypages or echo’s site for insight.

Echo DH(discontinued version) 11’9 4 wt slow action, (260-340 gr.) heavy in weight and power for your average trout, can be found cheap. More like a 5 wt.

Amundson’s 3/4 wt 11 footer is a pretty awesome rod for the price (and definitely the cheapest factory option out there which as a real plus in my eyes) fast action (300 gr.)

St Croix imperial 11′ 5 wt (300 gr.) Like most rods in the 300 grain range, a little too powerful for your average trout, but US made, solid rods.

TFO Deer creek 4 wt 11′ switch (250-300 gr.) Spey 12’6 4/5 (similar grain range) reasonably priced full flexing rods, they have very skinny handles, some love, some hate

Beulah classic 4/5 (250-300gr.) fast action but deep flexing, a little heavy and overpowering for small trout but a good all rounder for trout

Redington Prospector 10’9 4 wt  (240-275 gr.)medium fast action solid trout switch

Redington Dually 10’9 4 wt  (250-300 grain) great budget option

Snowbee prestige 10’8 5 wt (250 gr) fast, light, fun rod

Dragonfly Excalibur series 11’7 5 wt(250-300 grains) 12’6 6 wt(300-360 grains) great for a budget, seen them on closeout for like $100, and pretty decent rods too, medium fast action

Middle range and expensive Trout switches and speys

Mystic 11’3 switch rods 3 wt(200 gr.) small trout 4 wt(250 gr.) medium trout 5 wt(300 gr.) larger trout. Very light in hand, medium action, true trout rods. Awesome rods.

Sage one 11’6 4 wt Fast action, (240-270 grains) sweet rod for swinging flies, a bit heavy for smaller trout, fun,fun,fun.

Sage z axis 5 wt (300 gr.) Fast action, discontinued but still around, they see use for cutthroats in Puget sound.

Sage TCX 5119 (300-350 gr.) Fast action, discontinued(WTF sage?) a sweet, powerful rod for larger trout.

Beulah platinum 10′ 5 wt  (250-300 gr.) Fast action, powerful, crisp rod better suited for larger trout/small steelhead.

Winston Microspey series:

Meiser custom rods 3/4 10’6 switch, 12’6 3/4/5 spey, and a crazy 15’9 4/5/6( more of a light steel rod), rumour has it he even makes up a 2/3/4 10’6 rod, all have various actions, if interested check his site

Anderson custom rods 11’7 2-3-4 wts spendy, but sweet sweet trout speys

Burkheimer 5115 an expensive, very nice switch rod for larger trout (think greasy Alaskan rainbows)

Building your own:

If price is an issue building your own, especially Meiser and Anderson (both of whom have their own very nice trout speys and switches) blanks can cut the price of the high end rods in half, and Rainshadow, Dorber, Anglers Roost Enterprises and others offer some very nicely priced (positively cheap) blanks in this range. You can also build your own up on 10-11’single hand blanks.

There weren’t many choices not all that long ago, and that’s where all these preconceptions seem to stem from, eg. single handing heavy six weight switch rods with 400 + grain heads. These rods have opened up a lot of water to me. They are more versatile than any other type of trout rod I have ever seen. There are certainly a bunch of things they are not good at (super long distance 90′ +, tiny streams, really small fish, throwing huge tips and bunny flies, upstream dries). The line rating numbers on these rods are all over the place, eg. one companies 4 is anothers 6, and because of this has left a lot of people questioning switch rods. It’s all about the grains and the lines, 170 or less to 300-350 is trout territory. I haven’t even mentioned line control or reels, but better line control and not needing some needlessly heavy or expensive reel seem to be advantages to me.

These rods caught my attention because I had a real world challenge and with some trial and error (and no help) they have more than delivered, they are pretty much all I fish these days. I just want to put it out there (without all the spey pages nonsense) in case someone else was interested in these rods as I was.

Two handed cutthroat


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Even little guys like this are a blast on the lighter switches. If you find fishing for trout fun and aren’t hung up on a bunch of “rules” from the upper class in scotland then give them a try. You’ll probably be surprised.

Here are reviews of the trout switches that I use pretty much exclusively for cutthroat

Beulah classic 4/5 10’6 4 pc. switch rod

A good all round cutthroat switch rod for the beach and river, for swinging, waking and stripping flies and will handle fish to 4 or 5 lbs if req. (a few incidental pinks have been landed on this rod). I would call this a moderate fast rod that is somewhere in between a  5 or 6 wt single hander. This rod really likes a 250 gr snowbee switch line and a 300 gr tonic(skagit). The 245 gr. elixir (scandi) line I have for this rod is definitely not my favourite, while it casts fine, it seems way too short. I use this rod for both single hand and two hand overhead, as well as two handed “spey” casting at rivers and beaches and for nymphing egg or flesh patterns. A ten inch cutthroat feels a bit small but a fourteen incher is just right. $300-460 depending on where you find them

Best used for: best all rounder for cutthroat


Mystic 4 wt 11’3  4 pc. switch

Very very light, and there is certainly no other rod out there like it, an intriguing moderate to full flexing rod but with a fast tip, and fast recovery. A true switch rod that is honestly as comfortable to cast overhead as it is to two hand cast. I’ve cast 200 and 250 gr. snowbee switch lines overhead and two handed on this rod, and it loves my 245 gr elixir. It will also cast anywhere from a 5 wt single hand line to a distance 7 wt line(if you want to load it to the cork) it has much longer handles than most switches, they are almost as long as the handles as my thirteen foot sage spey rod but it’s definitely not a negative. High quality cork, saltwater friendly, good quality reel seat. A 17″ sea run recently had this rod bent into the cork, just to give you an idea of the power. They are US made, and not very well known but I highly recommend any of their rods. $500-570 new (they even make a lighter three wt. version of this rod which is one of the craziest fly rods I’ve ever cast)

Best used for: Smaller cutthroat, lighter tippets and poly leaders, fun


Beulah platinum 5 wt 10′ 4 pc. switch

This is the weirdest one of the group, light, saltwater friendly and with a fairly stiff moderate fast action and very quick recovery and more powerful than either of the other two rods above. It has smaller and more highly decorative handles than most switches, can cast a wide variety of SH and spey lines 200-340gr. although for two handed casting the single spey or switch cast with a 300 gr snowbee switch line with a 10′ clear intermediate poly leader is pretty much as easy as it gets, a lot of fun. Takes a little bit of getting used to because of the short leverage point, and finding the sweet spot takes a little experimenting, and I wouldn’t recommend single hand overhead casting 300 gr lines on it all day, not because it doesn’t cast well but because it’s hard on the wrist, try lighter lines and it’s fine 7-8 wt (outbound, xd, 40+) single hand lines instead $350-500

Best used for: Big bushy dry flies, larger fish, smaller water with no back casting room is where this rod really shines, nymphing egg patterns and flesh patterns(if that’s yer game)



A few other switch rods that I used to own and fished for cutthroat

Amundson 6 wt 11′ switch

A fun rod at a great price, light with a soft tip but too much rod for most cutthroat even in current, fished best with a 385 gr steelhead scandi and a 390 or 420 gr compact skagit but definitely a light summer steelhead rod not really a cutthroat rod, great blanks with low to moderate quality cork and components, but highly recommended, and they have a 3/4 wt. that is a bit better suited for cutthroat. $160-$300

Best used for: fishing in rivers where summer steelhead and cutthroat are equally likely to be around and you cant bring/afford two rods.

TFO deer creek 4 wt 11′ switch

Also a reasonably priced light switch rod that again is a bit too heavy for smaller cutthroat, it fished well with a 250 gr snowbee switch to a 340 gr. AFS, great handles, moderate-slow action and better cork and components than the amundson, a little bit lacking in the wind due to its action, and overkill on small fish but definitely a fun, affordable rod. $250-350

Best used for: good quality budget trout switch


These days there are many other reasonably priced to obscenely expensive trout switch rod options. I have decided to highlight these are rods because I have used them over seasons in lots of different weather, tides, river levels, and fish. Rod choice is often esoteric, this is just my own experience within the application of sea run cutthroat fishing specifically. Take it for what it’s worth and feel free to drop a comment.


People ask me, from time to time, why Sea Run Cutthroat (and other lesser but still great anadromous fish) are important to me? I think that’s a fair question and so will try to address it here.

First off let me explain where I’m coming from within the niche fly fishing world. Sea Run Cutthroat are an anadromous fish that lives along the pacific coast from California to Alaska. They spend a variable amount of their year in both salt water and their natal fresh water rivers. They are fun to catch on light gear, they fight hard, they are aggressive, they live in diverse environments which are fun to explore, they are challenging to find at times, and not at all predictable. Sometimes they are downright mysterious. You can catch them on just about any presentation you want; whether fly, spinner, bait, float, tenkara, nasty sliders or poppers, tiny dries or big sink tips. Kids can catch them, just like I did all those years ago with my dad. You don’t have to have fancy gear (unless you want to) or something to prove, to fish for them and feel good about yourself and the fun you’re having. They are the ultimate sport fish in so many ways, and next to nobody is willing to fish or care for them. This leaves your fishing paradise, typically, uncrowded.  You don’t need to be secretive about your favourite places or gear(again unless you want to), as most people seem puzzled about what a fly rod is, much less why you would want to catch such a “little” fish. One thing I do know is that I have rarely run into anybody fishing for them that was anything less than friendly; an experience that is in great contrast to the many salmon and steelhead anglers that I’ve run into.DSCF5080

Looking beyond the often petty world of fishing, it needs to be mentioned that people have thrived in this part of the world for a long, long time largely because of the bounty of salmonoids available to them. I think it doesn’t require much more of an explanation of their importance than that. Do I need to justify the importance of wheat or chickens? Clean water? Typically not. Most people view sockeye salmon, for example, as a luxury; an expensive, once in a while, food item. They have been and are a fundamental source of nutrition for surviving winter all over the west coast and inland, from California to Alaska. I have talked to many people who had to fish for food for their families when they were kids, and had to can salmon to get through the winter, and I’m not talking about people in their nineties. I have even heard stories of people subsisting on Sea Run Cutthroat from small rivers, for part of the year. There is not only a deep seated arrogance and apathy, but also a complete disconnect with our local environment and history, in the need for an explanation as to why these fish are important and interesting.

Not convinced? How about the economic benefits of these fish? I personally do not agree that a dollar value is a valid measure of the worth of a wild anadromous fish, but I acknowledge that there are those that disagree. There is a long history of commercial fishing for salmon and steelhead, that provided the primary economic engine to entire communities up and down the coast. Today these fisheries are given very specific openings and are regulated fairly heavily. In times of drastically reduced stocks these fisheries still provide significant economic impact to many communities. Sport fishing is frequently ignored as an economic driver and yet look at retention fisheries such as the Vedder or the Fraser. Like them or not, as fisheries guided or otherwise, there is a significant dollar value attached to each salmon caught, and even more so for a lot of famous catch and release steelhead fisheries. Travel, food, coffee, rods, reels, lines, flies, nets, vests, various watercraft, licenses, jackets, waders, wading boots, and more. Yet for most steelheaders there can still be a very reasonable expectation to hook or catch nothing. I can’t think of many other examples, of such high recreational expense, for so little return, and this speaks to the inherent interest that these fish inspire. Eco tourism, as a broad heading, covers all kinds of non fishing related economic benefits related to anadromous fish; from tourists travelling to view spawning chum salmon at the Goldstream River near Victoria, to watching grizzly bears eating salmon at Brooks Falls in Alaska, to seeing exhibits such as the artificial salmon spawning creek at the Seattle Aquarium, just to name a few. There are many towns where these tourist dollars are as or more important than any of the local resource extraction industries which have typically dominated the local economy. Even catch and release cutthroat fisherman in Southern Coastal BC, have a significant economic impact. I am not wealthy by any stretch of the imagination but I still spend a significant amount of my meager recreational budget on chasing these fish every year. There is a significant argument to be made about the economic value and thus importance of anadromous fish (whether I agree with it or not)OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

These fish inhabit some very complex and fragile ecosystems, and I believe they are important and deserve to be protected. It’s pretty easy to not care but it’s a lot harder to come up with a good reason not to. I could go on but this is why I think these fish are important. These fish exist in spite of , not for or because of us.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA