Life gets so busy sometimes eh? While November (belatedly so) is probably the last of any month that anyone is thinking of sea runs…at the beach…with a topwater pattern, I find that this time of year, weather permitting, and with fish actually around, of course, Sea run cutthroat are usually quite amenable to a small skinny topwater patterns of which the gurgler has been my most successful. Many of the best sea run patterns are simple and adaptable, and this one, like many I’ve posted about is no different. Cutthroat in salt water this time of year are variously staging, roaming or fattening up for the winter’s spawning run, and while many have entered freshwater, there are areas that will hold fish throughout the year. (here’s a hint, half the fun of cutthroating is searching and striving to find these places) I find these fish to be hungry and aggressive and a gurgler tied fairly small, stripped slowly and periodically paused will often get a response, even in colder temps.
The gurgler was originated in 1988 by Jack Gartside, a well known fly tier who has many unique and interesting patterns http://www.jackgartside.com/ It is a wholly adaptable pattern tied in a myriad of ways, for a truly wide range of fish species, The pattern displayed is my simple adaptation for our diminutive and sometimes strange anadromous quarry.
Tied short and fat or long and skinny changes the way they push water, depending on your intent
Hook: A nice small light saltwater hook like the Gamagatsu SS15 size 10 or 12 or similar such as the Daiichi X452 size 6 or 8, or the Mustad 34007 in size 6 or 8
Thread: your choice of 6/0 thread to match colour
Tail: wiggly material of your choice. The original pattern has a long bucktail tail 2x longer than the body, but I like a short one due to the tendency of cutthroat to strike short. A couple strands of krystal flash or other flashy material never hurts either.
*Tier’s note* a small short trailer hook eliminates this problem.
Body: skinny in a material of your choice, I have used everything from seal to Arizona diamond braid, to marabou. My preference these days is trimmed elk in various colours.
Foam: 3 mm closed cell white foam, or a colour you prefer, white tends to wash out a bit in the cloudy evening diffused light situations many cutthroaters find themselves in so often. I trim it in a skinny long wedge shape, tie it in at the back just before the tail facing backwards and then once the body is complete, fold it forward tying in place just before the eye. The widest part of the foam is tied ahead of the hook eye and kicked up slightly to pop, spit or chug, depending on the need.
Hackle: optional, a material of your choice, I like sparse saddle, or an elk beard
I have tied them small like this in tan, olive, and brown with success, but I’m sure other variations like light yellow or black with a red tail would work just fine. As far as fishing this pattern goes just a moderate slightly erratic short strip with random pauses seems to work wonders.
Finding sea run cutthroat in January can sometimes seem like a battle of attrition, be it weather, lack of fish, or the post Christmas turkey fug depression that many sink into, but just like that early January ice chrome winter steelhead that haunt so many fly fishers dreams, not too many things are more awesome than a big angry sea run trying to go apocalypse now on your streamer on a cold winter morning. While lots of winter sea run flies are small, muted, and sparse, as these fish at times seem to limit their feeding and foraging activities most likely due to the cold/lowered metabolism, there are times where a large fly will net you a large response.
Jeffrey Delia is a well known fly angler with an awesome blog http://oysterchannel.com/new-blog/ (check out the photo of a 22″ winter sea run) and his conehead squid is a good call any time of the year for sea runs. In the winter my preference is to fish it deep and strip fairly slow, but like many sea run fishing situations varying your depth and speed of retrieve is sometimes the difference between success and failure. Regardless, it is a very fun fly to tie on as a sea run addict in the middle of winter, full of a weird hope, dimmed by reality, but with an image firmly ensconsed into our minds, of that 20″ golden death trout dancing on the end of our line.
So instead of tying on a size 20 piece of shopping bag on a hook shrimp pattern, or endlessly dredging for winter steelhead with 200 of your closest mouthbreather friends, go big and nasty this January, that 26″ supermaster cutthroat is out there somewhere.
Hook: Teimco 5263 or Mustad R73-9671 or similar size 6-10. Jeffrey has listed a variety of streamer hooks including Mustad R75 79580 or the Hayabusa 37073E, he recommends size 8-10. Many different streamer hooks both salt and freshwater meet this standard.
*If using bronze hooks make sure to rinse thoroughly and dry outside of your fly box to reduce corrosion.*
Thread White 6/0
Tail: Tan marabou, approx. the length of the shank
Body: Opalescent white petite esatz
*variably I have used pearl crystal chenille with a pearl frizzle chenille collar due to the fact that I can’t find the original material*
Bead: Gold conehead
Jeffrey also has some variations up on his blog, try them, I can tell you from experience they definitely work.
I love chugging this fly back out of the depths on a cold January morning, hoping against hope that an angry or hungry big sea run is going to stop my line dead. Sometimes it even happens.
*My apologies to Jeffrey Delia, I guess my computer autocorrected it to Jerry Delia, I’m a dumbass*
Colquitz creek is a small urban creek that flows from the well known Elk/Beaver lake system and winds its way through the backyards, parks, and roads of Saanich. It has numerous tributaries , many of which appear at first glance to be ditches, shrouded in non native blackberries and ivy, and yet act as important rearing and in some cases spawning habitat for the salmonids found in this watershed. The Colquitz feeds into the productive and beautiful Portage inlet which in turn leads to the Gorge waterway, past Victoria harbour and out to the Salish sea.
This year at the fish counting fence, conveniently located at the edge of a large mall parking lot, we have seen a record return to date of over 1580 large wild Coho, as well as 7 sea run cutthroat, and 1 lonely chinook jack. Nearby Craigflower creek also has a counting fence at which they have also seen a very strong run of Coho. The salmon here are just one of the many species that call this place home, from mink, to owls, to otters, and seals, to a large variety of migratory and non migratory birds in the shadow of a fairly large urban populace. Many still do not realize this and other creeks near Victoria hold significant populations of Coho salmon and sea run cutthroat trout, in addition to being part of an incredibly unique and productive watershed and marine ecosystem.
As always this creek remains entirely vulnerable to spills, urban pollution, habitat loss, and neglect. Just this fall, we have seen home heating oil spills, large scale flushing of poisonous roadway runoff into the creek, work crews flushing sediment, concrete, and debris from construction sites, large amounts of chlorinated water flushed from fire hydrants, dredging on tributary creeks, dredging in Victoria harbour, leaking septic tanks and many other forms of pollution unseen. In spite of this, and in spite of the fact that in 2011 there was a significant oil spill on Swan creek (a tributary creek of the Colquitz) that affected some of the parents of this run, this year, a hitherto unmatched return of Coho has arrived.
A large male coho with a small male coho
A fine colquitz sea run cutthroat
Upstream spawning area, with some competition hovering nearby…
coho milling in the trap
One incredibly random November chinook jack
This system survives because firstly nature is far more resilient than people will ever admit, and secondly because a small group of incredibly dedicated volunteers, groups and community minded individuals have fought tooth and nail to preserve it continuously and unceasingly. There are many volunteer groups working continuously to preserve different parts and sections of this awesome watershed.
I have spent a significant amount of time this fall volunteering at the counting fence and on this creek, and I tell you that it’s been amazing to meet so many people who are dedicated to preserving this place in all of it’s facets, of which the salmonids are just one small part of. As ever I admonish all of you to get involved in your local communities conservation groups, wade into and involve yourself in the local politics, cause your apathy does nothing, it only makes you weak and does nothing for the places, creatures or people who help make up your life.
So for any of you who think that nobody out there is working to help anadromous fish and their ecosystems, here are just a few of the many awesome groups working within and around this watershed (apologies if I missed anybody) If you know of more tell me about it.
Colquitz Salmonoid Stewardship & Education Society
Gorge waterway initiative https://www.crd.bc.ca/gwi
Peninsula Streams www.PeninsulaStreams.ca
http://worldfish.org/ world fisheries trust
http://www.hat.bc.ca/ habitat acquisition trust
Goward Springs Watershed Stewards
Friends of Swan Creek Watershed
Victoria Golden Rods and Reels
Friends of Cuthbert Holmes Park
Haig-Brown Fly Fishers Association
Victoria Fish and Game Protective Association Colquitz Watershed Stewardship Coalition
Gorge Tillicum Community Association
Stop whining like a bitch and get involved!