We are having a motherfucker of a drought here in BC, (and Montana, Washington, Oregon, California, Mars, etc.)

*warning, the following is the same info you’ve probably read somewhere else, written in a more cogent and grammatically correct way, so in the interests of not creating more pointless internet noise for you tune out skip to the last paragraph.*

This is resulting in rather unprecendented low stream flows/high water temperatures/ and in some cases low in stream dissolved oxygen, and fish mortality. Thankfully regulatory bodies whose usual body of work appears to rarely cross into the realm of competency have been forced by a great deal of noisy conservation groups to implement stream closures across BC and much of the western U.S. This by proxy is forcing many anglers (who in some cases have been forced against their will to consider their impact) to focus on the “ethical” water temperature range to practice catch and release fishing for salmonids and char.

Now look this isn’t the first bad drought in the history of salmonids, nor is it the last, these fish by and large are very hardy and have adapted to their environment, but ask yourself, in these days of such grim returns in so many places do you really want to kill or harm them for catch and release fishing?

A typical range that is stated by many anglers to stop fishing for salmon steelhead and trout is 65 degrees Fahrenheit or roughly 18.3 degrees celcius. My suggestion is to:

a) Do some homework on the tolerable temperature ranges of the fish you are targeting and the effect of lactic acid buildup in the body of a fish while being “played”.

b) Follow that as a basic guideline, keeping in mind that in some places there are springs, weirs, dams, salt water influx, deep pools/ cover etc. that can create a difference between surface temps and stream bed temps but that is highly variable between locations or even within the same system…and if you start thinking that you might want to stretch it then you probably shouldn’t be fishing, in warm temps it is very easy to play a fish to death even if they swim away.

c) On a nice hot day ( like 30 degrees celcius say) try out my warm water salmonid catch and release simulator. Go up in your attic, sit for an hour and then do a bunch of push-ups and see how you feel. *warning: may induce cardiac arrest, heat stroke, nausea, vomiting, exhaustion, hyperventilation, headaches, dizziness, fainting, incapacitating muscle cramps, and or death*

Here’s a few guidelines on what you can do to minimize your effect on salmon, steelhead, trout and char in these high stress conditions:

Consider that if you have to ask the question, you probably shouldn’t be fishing. As stewards of our fisheries (and all anglers are) survival of the fish you love should trump your good time. If you still must fish it is imperative for their survival that you play them very very quickly.

Carry a thermometer, they are cheap and easy to find, measure water temperature before you fish, do some homework before you leave the house.


There are tons of other fisheries out there so go and explore, find places where water temperatures are lower, find species that are more hardy, for example on South Island we have many fine smallmouth bass fisheries, largemouth bass, vile invasive perch in several lakes (and Colquitz creek) deep cold water trout in every big lake, sunfish and carp in most south Island systems, lingcod, rock cod, flounder etc. etc. etc. as well as saltwater salmon fisheries like pink salmon and Chinook (water temps are usually fine here). Every one of these species will readily take a fly and fight hard. A 3 lb smallmouth on a 5 weight is a lot of fun (see below) and they readily take surface flies too.


Forget about all this “Is it still ethical if” BS and take a page from Lee Spencer who has dedicated his life to protecting Oregon’s North Umpqua river summer steelhead whose canyon pooling behaviour at steamboat creek leaves them vulnerable. He also fishes with hookless flies.

Where is Vancouver island’s Lee Spencer? We have just as many storied summer steelhead runs who remain just as vulnerable in specific key over summering canyon pools, and yet the only people you usually find there are poachers or clueless anglers. There are so many examples out there of stranded low water Chinook and summer Steelhead who are mercilessly and endlessly harassed by anglers. Three or four months from now, this drought is going to be the last thing on everyone’s minds yet every single one of the issues will still remain. How about you figure out a way to step up and protect your resource instead of blaming the weather, natives, the lack of 22. ammo or whatever other garbage is clouding the collective minds of anglers these days.

Weird Fishes

Found this strange little creature on a west coast Vancouver island¬†beach recently. It’s apparently a pacific snake prickleback¬†according to my diligent search for answers (half assedly combing through my coffee table copy of Marine Life of the Pacific Northwest). The extreme low tides of the spring exposed large eelgrass beds normally not seen and this guy was just ambling around the shallows. Prickleback fry patterns anybody?



A definitely living garter snake that just was sitting underwater apparently no worse for wear in the shallows of a local river


And of course the mysterious sea run death trout


An armchair biologist’s guide to identifying sea run cutthroat trout

Coastal cutthroat trout, variously known as harvest trout, yellowbellys, cutts, bluebacks, or golden death trout, are found throughout a truly wide range of marine and freshwater environments as well as conditions. Their range is from the Eel river drainage in California all the way north to Prince William sound in Alaska and they live in and around ditches and irrigation canals, urban creeks, brackish estuaries, harbours, marinas, lakes, beaver ponds, beaches, and indeed almost any other waterway found on the west coast of north America. It is important to remember that sea run cutthroat aren’t a separate species of trout, but the anadromous (migrate to the ocean) form of the coastal cutthroat trout’s (onchorhynchus clarki clarki) various life histories. Other life histories of the coastal cutthroat such as stream resident (often found above barriers/in headwaters) fluvial (migratory within a river and its tributaries) and adfluvial (lake dwelling fish that drop into rivers seasonally to feed or spawn), can be found intermixed with sea run cutthroat depending on the specific waterway (the Fraser river mainstem being a good example). A highly nomadic species, at times sea runs have been documented ranging far out off shore in the open ocean and conversely will also range largely with estuarine areas without venturing into open ocean. Their colouration is wildly variable depending on location, time of year, and life history. If there is one thing that is true about these fish, it’s that they are good at defying the conventional wisdom of anglers throughout it’s range.

Hatchery sea run


The size of this species is more diminutive than other sea run trout, with a common size range between 10″ and 16″ but truly remarkable specimens have been caught up to at least 7 or 8 lbs in salt water especially on Vancouver island.

A large (20″) sea run cutthroat


It can be fairly difficult by eye to determine if a cutthroat has an anadromous or resident life history when observed or caught in many rivers, however, the presence of sea lice on the trout, or the capture of a particular trout in salt water is an indication of likely anadromous lineage. Most people have difficulty identifying cutthroat trout, so here are a number of simple ways to identify these fish.

trout close up

Anecdotally these fish are very handsome, visually striking fish, they have a relatively square fully spotted tail…

Captured 2008-8-19 00000

an often golden yellowish hue with orange or yellowish fins…


irregular widespread spotting…


and a predisposition for trying to eat well presented streamers.


While experienced observers can tell them apart fairly easily, localized traits and colouration of individual stocks and life histories is variable in coastal cutthroat and as such are best identified by the following quickly established traits:

A typical sea run cutthroat from a local south VI estuary


Red or orange “slashes” located on both sides of the lower edge of the lower jaw, it should be noted though that some fish display little, faint, or no slashes.


Unlike most rainbows the coastal cutthroat’s maxillary fin (upper jaw) extends to the back or beyond the eye on a true coastal cutthroat.


anal fin rays numbering 12 or fewer (salmon have 13 or more)


black pigment ring around the outer edge of the adipose fin interrupted once or twice


two rows of teeth on the base of the tongue, and two to twenty teeth on the basibranchials(floor of the mouth) plus teeth on the head and shaft of the vomer(vomerine) a bone in the upper jaw connected to the maxillary. It should be noted that these are not always present in all specimens. (thanks Frank for the names)

I haven’t got any pictures of these teeth, because it’s too hard on a live fish to get a photo. Having said that you don’t need to see these teeth to identify a cutthroat effectively.

If that’s not enough here’s a few more obscure traits used to identify cutthroat listed in Les Johnson’s Fly fishing coastal cutthroat trout:

*Note* please don’t use these techniques on living fish, while I can give you some impressive stories of their fortitude, a quickly snapped photo while in the water is all the handling these fish should undergo. Holding a live wild fish down or out of the water to count it’s dorsal fin rays is a douche move.

150-180 scales along the lateral line (steelhead have fewer than 150)

The dorsal fin is narrower than in rainbows and has rays numbering 9-11 individual rays, and usually feature 10(rainbows/steelhead have 10-13, usually have 11-12)

pelvic fin rays usually numbering 9 rays(rainbows/steelhead usually have 10)

Cutthroat parr


A recovering post spawn cutthroat caught in late may


A darker pre spawn male caught in mid november


Just to blur the lines a little bit there are also “cuttbows” or rainbow trout/coastal cutthroat hybrids in many systems which display various colourations and mixed traits, and like regular cutthroat, are easily misidentified. There has been the assertion that the larger sea run cutthroat specimens in excess of 20-22″ are such hybrids, and indeed even some of the pictures I have posted seem as if they could be as well. Lake “run” coastal cutthroat can attain much larger sizes than this, easily in excess of 10 lb.

Here is an interesting fly fishing based discussion on just such a topic:

These are coastal cutthroat trout



And these are rainbow trout



And these are coho jacks, not to be mistaken



Here are some helpful links and resources on salmonid and sea run cutthroat identification and traits:

A population survey of salmonids, differentiating coastal cutthroat from other species:

A nice accessible succinct summary of the coastal cutthroat and it’s characteristics is found in:

Fly Fishing Coastal Cutthroat Trout by Les Johnson

The BC government sport fish identification page

WDFW’s simplistic description of sea run cutthroat and other salmonids


80’s US government info

Click to access 82_11-086.pdf

Some interesting info from the 1995 cutthroat trout symposium (referred to in Les Johnson’s book)

CRD bio of the species

Umpqua river coastal cutthroat data

* I am currently searching for more hard data on these fish and will update as I locate more info*