Drunk and high

While there are many times on a river when the assemblage of fishers lining a river bank resemble an episode of the trailer park boys, there is but one time of the year where the fish themselves avail themselves on flesh flies as Ricky and Julian would jump on a driveway paved with hash or steve french would annihilate a field of weed. It’s that time of year when on the streamside trail the ammonia waft of rotting chum and coho hits your nostrils half a mile from the river and melting salmon are hanging from the lower boughs of trees, there is but one tactic to turn to…flesh flies.

DSCN3369

There is usually a lull between runs in November and December, too late for summers, too early for most winter steelhead, and too late for fresh coho or chum, where most of the years fish are spawned out and this fishery fits that time period perfectly. No the technique, flies, and streamside detritus are not pretty, and the upstream dry and tweed types are advised to stay well away, but the results are definitely worth it. The trout almost become positively drunk on this rotten flesh and are feeding with abandon. If you like catching cutthroat, browns, rainbows, or bulls both sea run or resident from rivers hosting a decent salmon run of any species then this is just another tool in the arsenal to extend the season past the first blowouts of the fall that for many effectively end their river trout season.

A flesh fly, is usually either a weighted or unweighted chunk of marabou or rabbit fur in a pale peach to tan an inch to three inches long. If you cant visualise this then go to a salmon river in november find a stick and poke a hole in the side the of a dead chum on the bank. That’s right, it’s a sort of a rotten peach colour. The colours of flesh actually do vary a bit depending on the fishery and state of decomposition eg. white spring flesh is different than coho or sockeye.

When the banks are littered with these it’s prime time

IMG_0043

Usually the approach is to dead drift the flies into the trout’s feeding lanes just like globs of rotting salmon would drift downstream, and most of the time this is the way to fish them, however I have caught fish swinging , stripping, and hanging the fly. Tailor the weight of the fly to the water conditions, if fish are sitting at the edge of a drop off and the water is up and moving then cast up stream with a weighted pattern to get it down into their lane, you don’t often see salmon flesh floating on the surface downstream. If the water is lower then you’d be advised to use little or no weight as I have watched people incidentally snagging spawning salmon by using too heavy an egg pattern when targeting trout sitting behind those said spawning salmon, especially in the lower water earlier in the fall.

If this is all a little ugly for you, and you want to class it up a bit then what I suggest is tying small peach coloured intruders or something like a borden special and then swinging them and letting them hang into likely spots for half a minute or so, like I said these trout are drunk and high this time of year and will often smack flesh flies swinging or even when they are hanging seemingly mid river. Flesh patterns are a nice alternative (with a smaller time frame) to egg patterns which understandably many don’t or won’t use.

The best setup to use is entirely your choice and also dependant on water conditions, It can be almost like steelheading with long casts in big water and big tips, or it can be roll casting little flies on a five weight in low water, the biggest thing is to get the flesh flies into the vicinity of feeding trout if you do that then chances are you will find success. For what it’s worth I usually use a 9’3 6 wt, without issue.

While I’ve never encountered it I have even read about sea runs at the beach and estuary taking flesh flies when big rains wash chum and chinook carcasses out of smaller creeks. There are many different versions of this fishery to explore, tie up a few flesh flies and keep them in your box for that one day where you find yourself on the river during these conditions, you may just be in for a suprise.

Advertisements

The golden ghosts

What can I say but October is a good month to chase sea run cutthroat trout on southern vancouver island. These fish are almost in the golden death trout size range, both measuring in at 17″. Interestingly to me anyway these fish are probably at least 4-6 (possibly older) years old, and have most likely spawned a couple times, and survived run ins with numerous inshore sea predators, humans, and significant pollution including a massive fish kill in their natal urban creek and though not at all numerous still they exist. Next time you drive by that neglected little urban ditch, try to think of what may still be and not necessarily what has been lost.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Obsession

I am obsessed with searching for and catching sea run cutthroat trout. while this blog is usually directly about that obsession I find that It’s really easy to become lost and mired in your obsessions, to build them up into something unreasonable and even unhealthy. It’s quite easy to lose focus on what’s important and what is reality.

First of all, sea run cutthroat are a creature that exists not to fill our obsession, fulfill expectations, they are not an object, nor are they tangible in dollars, pictures, likes, views, fly rod sales, or numbers of fish which you’ve held, exhausted, and accepting their fate in your hands. They are not a commodity because they aren’t one thing, they are a small part of a very large thing with lots of individual parts. They exist because they exist and in spite of the context that they are viewed in. Human ego and explanation has nothing to do with it. Pegging any part of your existence to the temporary capture of a small fish that is simply existing for it’s own sake is foolish beyond words without a context of respect.

The existence of a steelhead or sea run cutthroat is not something you can buy, in spite of the fact that the lodges and guides are trying to peddle them by the pound. They are not numbers, pie charts, grids, user/supply/demand, binaries or defined by any other simplistic tools we try to project upon ourselves and the world. Instead, they are an ecosystem, a living organism linked to many other organisms within a vast area of the west coast of north america and the wider world. Minimize the harm you inflict both through the gear you use and through restraint. You are not better than the fish, and the gear you own is not better than the fish, the fish is itself the point. It is a privilege to have the opportunity to fish for them.

One of my favorites place to be is at the edge of the river or beach, casting a fly rod and hoping for a brief encounter with the sea run cutthroat and there is absolutely nothing wrong with that, but it must be in perspective of the collapsed runs, closed rivers, lost battles, and poisoned watersheds and that the reason that there are even now the scraps of runs left is that people have been fighting for them.

Fight to preserve the many organisms of the west coast ecosystems of which the diminutive and handsome cutthroat is but one link in a long chain.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Of frogs and men

Of the many streamside species a person runs into over years of hiking rivers, estuaries and lakes, frogs are not much spoken of. Here’s a bunch I’ve run into over the years.

Had to dodge a whole bunch of these micro frogs hiking along a forest river trail up north island

DSCN3319

Usually I almost step on them as they favour the same streamside areas I frequent

DSCF7059

DSCF5360

IMG_0659

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

and of course the now infamous western flat frog

DSCF5495

Sea runs on a switch rod

So I like fishing for sea runs with a switch rod. I find them more useful in some situations and conditions than a single hand rod.

*Switches or speys are not at all required to effectively fish sea runs or resident trout, but some find them fun. You may not like them once you get one on a river and fish them, so my best advice is to try these rods before you buy them. You may find they are not for you, and that will save you buying a bunch of gear. A lot of people don’t like them for stripping flies as the head connection catches the guides, and then you have to get the head back out of the tip every time you cast. Casting a rod before you buy it will help you avoid getting into something you don’t like.*

Most often I use a trout switch for swinging and stripping small flies on rivers at low to moderate flows, rigged up with an appropriate 250 grain switch line or scandi head. Trout switches are often too long a rod if you are on small or really small rivers, but if you have a bit of space then they’re perfect. I’ll even throw large streamers/small intruders on this setup, as large cutthroat have been known to eat intruders rather readily time to time.

One of the better uses I’ve found is using the rod for nymphing egg and flesh patterns, usually rigged up with a small tip and a light skagit at 300 grains. This can be a very effective way of catching sea runs (and any other type of trout (big browns?) in the vicinity) in the fall and early winter.

Two hand overhead casting at the beach makes it far easier to cast farther than with any reasonable single hand trout rod, especially in the wind, and especially if you fish windy beaches often, I know my wrist thanks me.

While I’ve owned a bunch of trout switches the rod I’ve settled on is the Beulah classic 4/5 10’6 switch rod. It is the best all around sea run cutthroat trout switch I have fished, and is fairly reasonably priced. I don’t target 10″ trout on spring creeks and therefore I don’t use a rod that matches up with those conditions. It is a bit beefy for small fish in the 8-12″ range but is perfect for sea runs from 14″-18″ and will effectively handle fish all the way up to surprise fish into the four or five pound range. It’s also a bit heavier than some of the rods but it’s tough, or at least I beat the crap out of it for two years now with no problems.

If you are looking for something that is perfect for the smaller trout that average in the 8-12 inch range, the mystic 11’3″ 3 or 4 wt switch, Anderson 11’9 2 wt, Meiser custom rods or speywerks 11’2/3/4, echo SR 3 wt, are the rods you should look at. Most of the other rods are more powerful and better for larger trout.

There is absolutely a use and niche for these rods, just look to sites like 2handedtrout, the interest in building single hand conversions on the skagitmaster forum, and all the queries on spey pages. The interest is there, and there is gear as affordable as anything else.

DSCF7021