Heavy, poorly designed, laughably expensive, these are just a few of the things that come to my mind when I think of the “perfect”. If your idea of perfect is an easily dented, non water friendly, poorly constructed symbol of the seperation between lords and peasants then that’s totally fair, I just don’t agree. If the 3 piece design truly was perfect then how come so few reels duplicate it? When you are moved to take a picture of a summer steelhead and the reel is the central intent of the image I wonder why do you fish at all? I have no issue with collecting antique and vintage fishing gear, but placing them on a higher pedestal than the fish they are used to catch, especially an increasingly rare and prized fish and whose continuing existence in many rivers is at least partially a tribute to the work of many people who hold fish more dear than reels is indeed suspect. This is not intended to offend as incidentally I did own one and for years I thought they looked cool, I would just like to challenge people to value the fish more than the gear. When the government is running a remote and relatively untouched river that contains a surface fly oriented race of wild summer steelhead(which is supposed to be the holy grail of steelheading) amongst a whole bunch of other valuable anadromous fish through a pipe and the outcry expresses less passion than sales descriptions of 20’s era perfects I have to object. That makes me embarrassed to be associated with steelheading. People burned police cars and smashed windows in Vancouver not to long ago over far far less. Try harder people.
One of most fun methods of fly fishing for these great fish in salt or fresh water is with surface flies. They are really good for searching out fish when none are rising or visible, especially on the beach, and you definitely are having fun even when you don’t hook up, which is more common with surface flies
Dry fly fishing in the salt although seemingly a bit strange has some history and a following here on the west coast. Patterns like the Cutthroat candy, Miyawaki beach popper, or gurgler fished with a strip retrieve or gently swung in the tidal current(in areas where there is significant current) can and will bring up big cutthroat who behave almost like sharks when they are chasing these flies. A Miyawaki popper is one of the best searching patterns there is and will definitely get the attention of larger cutthroat in it’s vicinity. The drawback (only for you and not for the fish) is that you will not catch as many fish as with a subsurface fly due to a lower hooked to landed ratio. You will however usually have more fun. Casting out 40-50′ with your tip to the water, employing an erratic 2-4 inch strip so that your fly is leaving a small v wake is how I most often fish these patterns. They will also sometimes follow the fly in so strip it in close. If a fish hits, swirls, splashes, flips, or otherwise goes jaws on your fly wait for the line to tighten up and then strip strike. Try to avoid rearing back on the rod, and if there is no tension keep your fly fleeing or twitching at different speeds just like a frightened or wounded baitfish would. Sometimes they will hit as many as 8 or 10 times in a row, and sometimes they ignore it after that initial strike. A good follow up is to either put a cast right back into the same vicinity or change flies quickly and put something new into the area. While there is not often a bad time to try the dry the best times are when there are fish actively feeding on the surface or schools of small baitfish being visibly attacked and are v waking or jumping out of the water to get away. Big sea runs get quite aggressive in these situations. It takes a little faith to tie on a dry fly and stick with it especially at the beach but in the end it is a lot of fun…give it a try.
This is ideal weather for stripping a gurgler across the surface, indeed a fish swirled on my fly while I was getting my camera out for this picture(below) a nice spring sea run at the beach pictured with the gurgler and my beulah classic switch rod
a recent salt water dry fly cutthroat
Some of my favourites for the beach,(clockwise from left, cutthroat waker, gurglers, miyawaki beach popper)
If you are fishing for sea run cutthroat you have a few choices in terms of dry fly approaches. Classic dry fly dead drift and waking/stripping larger dry patterns. In my experience with sea runs however, the best approach is casting and strip retrieving flies.
I’ve rarely caught sea runs on the dead drift. This is not to say that they can’t be caught on or don’t feed on small BWO’s or the like, or that you can’t dead drift larger patterns like stimulators (a great cutthroat fly) or chernobyl ants indeed that is a completely legitimate and most enjoyable way to target them. There are several reasons I am not an advocate of this approach, mostly because wherever you are likely to catch sea runs, there are often young salmonids, juvenile cutthroat or steelhead and they are often 1 to 5 inches long and they will feed recklessly on anything that looks like food. When you fish around these fish with small flies with small hooks you are going to hook lots of them, and what you will often find is that you will be hooking these little fish in the eyes, throat, etc. If you put a large waker, dry (or larger wets) on you will find you will catch far less of these little fish which are the future of the fishery you are enjoying. Another reason is that often if you watch sea run cutthroat feeding on mayfly or other small insect hatches is that the fish rising are often smaller. Recently a friend and I found ourselves on a sunny afternoon on a mid island river this spring several types and sizes of mayflies starting coming off on a nice moderate run with a very nice tailout. My friend was fishing spinners and I was fishing various cutthroat flies on my switch rod. Some cutthroat began rising on these mayflies but every fish that was coming up was small and looked to be about 4-10 inches long. Anyways not long after the hatch started my friend with his spinners hit a very nice adult cutthroat in the deepest slot of that section, followed by another in a nearby shoreline slot. In the hour we fished this stretch we did not see a single large cutthroat rise. Big adult sea runs are largely piscivorous and do not often come up and feed on little insects, they eat the little fish that are trying to eat those insects. My point is not about spinners but that the traits of larger sea runs.
Like Summer run steelhead you can catch them with a downstream waked pattern, but most often I find that stripping your fly back upstream or across is what actually triggers a response from these fish. The hook up to landed ratio is pretty low, but again it’s a lot of fun to have big sea runs or resident cutthroat blast your waker. You can also follow up with a subsurface or sunk fly. As far as waking in current make sure your fly has enough resistance to wake properly. The small gurglers I use at the beach will be pulled under by the current in a river, so smaller versions of flies that are designed for heavy current pull such as summer steel flies like the grantham sedge, steelhead caddis, cutthroat waker, bombers, Lambroughton skater, after dinner mint or thompson river caddis are all good choices. Stimulators, fat alberts, and chernobyl ants are also quite fine. What I like to do is cast slightly downstream and swing the fly downstream into soft edges, eddies, and seams and then strip it back, if they are going to hit they usually do with reckless abandon. Stripping or swinging the fly across tail outs is also another good tactic and if you are fishing rivers with summer steelhead then that’s where the “tweener” 5 and 6 wt. switches or a (6 wt single) come in handy just in case there is an aggressive summer in the vicinity. This style of fishing is best suited to switch or spey rods on island rivers. Not all water nor times of day are suited to this approach, but you won’t learn the where’s and what’s unless you tie one on and leave it on. It usually takes faith to put on and stick with a waker, but the results are more than worth it.
a nice cutthroat caught on a big waker in the ______ river
like all other posts, this is purely my opinion based on spending a lot of time chasing cutthroat in rivers and beaches, your mileage may vary.
When I read what a lot of the Puget Sound anglers on forums such as the washington fly fishing forum have to say about sea run cutthroat I generally agree or understand what they are talking about. The only exception is tidal currents. Most of the areas I have ever fished don’t have any rips or significant tidal pull or speed, whereas most of the spots favoured by anglers like Chester Allen (as documented in his book) contain fast flowing tidal current with surface disruption almost like rivers. I can’t really swing a fly in the spots I fish, due to the slow movement of the current and yet cutthroat are found and caught year round on the beaches that I know really well. I probably wouldn’t look for the faster water as is described as being prime water and yet we both catch fish in our favoured locales. I have noticed that fishing is better on a tide of greater height differential but it doesn’t neccesarily translate to faster water here. One thing I do know is that the mystery of chasing cutthroat is never formulaic or obvious and if I ever get bored of it then its probably time for me to go on to the great cutthroat beach in the sky…or the great wormy pit in the ground…whatever.
I have made many mistakes over the years in the learning process of catching and handling these fish(and other anadromous fish) and I have found that these are topics that anglers will either gloss over and not mention or just call it a bloodsport to excuse. It’s not that you should feel guilty about going fishing, my hope is just to try to limit mortality on wild cutthroat trout.
Sea Run Cutthroat are a piscivorous trout. They are an opportunistic fish that will eat many types of organisms and they take flies and gear aggressively. This makes them vulnerable and I have had or seen many many fish take hooks deep, especially with bait, large spoon or spinner siwash hooks and long shanked streamer hooks. They have a lot of blood vessels in and around their tongues and relatively small mouths. It is the angler’s responsibility to make sure to use debarbed short shanked hooks, and minimize the use of bait. I have seen and had tongue hooked large wild female sea runs bleed out very quickly. You honestly do not need bait to catch these fish, I promise you that. I have learned a lot of these lessons the hard way, and have unfortunately by having let go a number of bleeding fish.
A lot of anglers I have met seemingly due to a poor understanding of these fish, think that most rivers are teeming with them. This is not true at all. Many sea run cutthroat populations have followed the declines of salmon and steelhead. They are in several ways more sensitive to in stream habitat and spawning area loss, siltation than other salmonids. A lot of rivers have lake resident or stream resident cutthroat, and anglers catch these and assume they are sea runs or that there are lots of them around. Remember these fish spawn in a lot of smaller creeks, and those big adult sea runs that make up the spawning population are often 4-6 years old and are not at all numerous.
I have always thought that sea run cutthroat trout were visually stunning fish and taken lots of pictures of them, sometimes to the point that I shouldn’t be because the fish was out of the water too long, or handled too much, this is a mistake, these fish will usually not lay gently in your hand, often they will just keep thrashing, so if you need a picture it should be a quick snap and the fish should be gone with a minimum of contact, to protect their mucous layer. If you need to revive a fish, you probably took too long to land it, (sea runs will often continually fight hard and will exhaust themselves easily even though they are relatively small, especially on light gear) they should swim away quickly. Better yet to just pop the hook out. Believe me the pictures only occasionally highlight the beauty and in the end your memory of that fish is what is more important. Many of my pictures embarrass me when I look back on them.
These fish are a surprisingly hardy. I used to catch wild broodstock cutthroat for a local hatchery in the lower mainland and we would have what was basically a tackle box with a small aerator to transport them back to the hatchery. The areas we fished were hike in and overgrown and had drop banks, and usually to get these fish you had usually lift the fish out of the water into a net or onto the grass. Often even with a net they would flip out into the grass, then they went into the box, usually with a few other cutthroat, then they were hiked out, transported by car to the hatchery, placed in a small completely dark holding tank, get picked up by the fraser valley hatchery guys taken for a 30 minute drive in a holding tank on their truck, placed in holding tanks at their hatchery in abbotsford, left to ripen for months…seriously months, spawned by non lethal methods, then brought back to the river and released…netted and handled multiple times, and then spawned and these fish survived. In the end though every one of them could have died not long after release and so it is very important to remember that they are vulnerable.
My last topic is poaching. We don’t like to acknowledge it very often but there is a real issue with poaching, especially in this era of depressed wild stocks. There is also a correlation between the internet and poaching. Most cutthroaters are tight lipped, and will even go as far as to wipe out the backgrounds of pictures they post on the interweb. Most people you meet out and about will also be unwilling to share much. There is a reason for this, and that is because if you go around posting kiss and tell reports with pictures and GPS locations, go into tackle shops and brag loudly about fish you catch, and tell every Tom, Dick, and Harry about how, what and where you just may find a guy with a stringer of 6-8 cutthroat at one of your favorite spots next time you visit. Take the time to learn what this fishery is all about, and you’ll probably feel as though you’ve earned your knowledge, and that it is not free, and that this is a resource worth sharing but also protect…carefully
I imagine that fly fishing for sea run cutthroat must be a bit of a mystery to most people. One warm and sunny august evening along time ago when I was young my dad took me to a local rocky beach to spin fish with silver spinners for sea run cutthroat. All you needed was a pair of shorts, an old pair of runners (barnacles on the feet suck) a light spinning rod, (and the ability to cast it), a few small spinners or spoons, and a tide table. Oh yeah and you need the fish too. We went down a few times that summer, and I caught one fish, a ten inch wild feisty cutthroat. The rod was too powerful for this small fish but it danced, dug down, spun darted and did it’s best to shake the hook, for it’s size it went absolutely crazy. Through the weird window that is looking down into salt water at the beach it was hard to get a look at the fish. My dad waded over and helped corral the fish and held it in his hand for what must have been ten seconds. we didn’t have a camera or a net or anything but that fish has always stayed with me. I remember the excitement. I also remember the late summer/early fall evening light, the cool water contrasting with hot air, the smell of the sea air(rotting seaweed), squinting into the low angle sun watching for rises amongst to floating eelgrass and light ripples of the tide. From that simple beginning my fascination with these fish has blossomed into a full blown obsession.
The colours of a sea run cutthroat trout are absolutely captivating and the places they live are second to none. Sitting on a beach enjoying the warmth and the sunset in the evening on a protected beach on the west coast is something that most people enjoy. Fly fishing for these fish on the beach is just one step beyond doing just that. I enjoy it whether I catch nothing, a ten inch fish, cabezon, coho, surf perch, or a 17″ silver gold husky adult sea run covered with spots, and spotted with sea lice.
I have definitely made it into something much more complex than those simple beginnings but it is not like almost any other fishery that I have ever seen. Switch rods, high tech salt water resistant fly reels, winter fishing, tying 100 variations of every fly, travelling to far off locations, have all added to this but fly fishing for these fish need not be complicated or expensive. If you can cast 40 feet with the cheapest or old setup and you can get your hands on(or better yet tie) a few simple minnow patterns or woolly buggers then you can catch sea runs. I know I can catch far more with spinners (and I have caught hundreds this way) but in spite of that I have chosen to fly fish for them. I don’t need to catch every single fish around, and usually I am targeting the larger older fish. One fish in a trip makes me happy and grateful that I get a chance to do this. There is way more to this fishery than just late summer along the beach. there are many food sources, tides, unique traits for individual runs, types of water and beaches, fishing from boats, dry flies. You can make it simple or complex. I have caught sea run cutthroat in every month of the year both on the beach and in rivers.
The best analogy I can make is that it is like steelheading but it’s fun and there is no BS, or angry people. My father was a winter steelheader and although I have tried I just do not understand or enjoy anything associated with this fishery. I have never seen more oneupmanship, bitterness and negativity associated with recreation in my entire life. Sea run cutthroat fishing is a challenging and fun antithesis to that fishery
It is as always my hope here to foster that fascination and appreciation for these fish, and the desire to protect them more than anything and I apologize for the ranting (another trait inherited from my father)
drink in the beauty, and then ask yourself if you couldn’t make money off of, fish for or catch these fish could you still care about them. I do care and that’s why now that the abdication of choice does not absolve you from responsibility for your apathy, so if you didn’t vote then you cant whine about the economy, state of our fisheries, pipelines, taxes, education, health care, first nations etc. these are all controlled by decisions for the most part made by elected officials. I often hear people complaining about lobbying by “special interest groups.” If one quarter of a place votes the ruling party into power then imagine how much more power those lobbyists have. Why do you think the Kokish river is going to be running through a pipe to produce a small amount of power that in the end actually loses money for the province? It is absolutely not about jobs for native people in the Port Mcniell area. The current IPP policy and the dismantling of environmental regulations has been enacted by parties that have received a quarter to a third of the popular vote. Why? It’s because a lot (approx. 39% in the last federal election, and 48-52% in the most recent BC provincial election) of people don’t vote. The federal conservatives won a “majority” in the last election on approximately 40% of the popular vote out of the 61% of the population that voted. While it’s clear that I am no mathematician you can’t really cook these numbers. I do truly hate politics but I do not for one second underestimate their importance and power over my life and values. So take your apathy and politely go fuck yourself.
I’m not going to endorse a philosophy, candidate, or party or talk about why you should vote one way or another in the upcoming provincial election( go “party party!”) but I do have to ask why does the election prattle always seem to come down to go jobs fuck yeah, lets go chainsaw some baby eagles versus I want to save the world as a utopian paradise where the fairies and gnomes can run free? Is there no in between? Please try harder because I’m sorry but the economy is already shit here after quite a few years of supposedly pro economy liberal policies, and adrian dix is the same scumbag who had his dick in the apple pie of the bc economy previous to the liberals. Neither of these parties holds the BC economy, environment, social security, health care system etc. dear in any way. It is clear that some creativity and imagination is required to solve the very interconnected issues we face locally as well as in BC as a whole, especially with regards to the economy. Not the same old red/blue, capitalist/socialist nonsense that further obscures the fact that there is nothing much new on the table. The pipeline isn’t the future of the BC economy, so how about stop talking about it like it is. Short term resource extraction is not the magic bullet to sustain or fix the economy because if it was then BC’s economy would be like Alberta’s. Heavily subsidising resource industries that produce resources that every other country wants and then selling them for peanuts isn’t a plan for the future. So please vote, and vote for people regardless of party who put the future of the people of this province first because Glen Clark, Ujjal Dosanjh, Gordon Campbell, Christy Clark, Adrian Dix didn’t, haven’t and won’t.