I’m the islander

I’ll be brief, it is damn good to be back on the island. Anadromous fish and their stream resident brethren are doing pretty shitty over here, and that really hurts, because this island is a special place. It’s also home, and I’m back, in the comox valley this time, and I ain’t leaving unless you chain me to the ferry to hell(tsawassen)

There are many things to reflect on after a year of living on the mainland, and working in the tackle industry.

1. The tackle industry is a poisonous farce, manned by a bunch of “guides” and “professionals” who if left to their own devices are going to destroy every last fishery that exists on earth.

Buy whatever you can afford and be happy with it, only human waste look down on others because of the cost of their tackle, Farbanks and all the other purveyors of high dollar cool can all go suck a bag of dicks. I have never felt less interested in fishing in my life than the time I worked in this industry.

2. The island is a special place, the vedder river, not so much.

3. I am still going to keep this catastrophe of a blog going, if only to piss off idiots and entertain my ambitions to be a Walmart level fly tier, and more importantly because fish like the coastal cutthroat are magnificent creatures deserving of our awe and reverence.

There are still some signs of life in some streams here (the water in this stream stays cold, don’t worry)


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


On Go Pro cameras and moral decline

I find it really interesting that there seems to be a consensus amongst otherwise completely reasonable, and conscientious anglers that go pro cameras are the devil itself. As if the shitty behaviour they record exists because a camera is running. Do you think that the lame hyperbolic extreme sports Ya brah behaviour displayed on go pro videos and Facebook and blogs these days is new or truly there because of the technology that is now so readily accessible? I don’t. You see, I remember before all this technology was there too and what I remember was that salmon and steelhead fisheries here in BC were hyper competitive kill fests and full of crowds of people who would kill anything that swam. People booting Chum, Chinook, Coho, Steelhead out of spite, holding fish out of the water for pictures for 3 minutes and getting cheered on. People picking up wild non-retention salmon up by the gills, cutting off adipose fins, fishing with barbed hooks, flossing, snagging, bragging, the ever present jealous stares directed at the one guy in the pool who flossed a nice bright spring, clueless fuckheads taking 4 minutes to pull the esophagus out of a wild sea run cutthroat they caught on worms, then throwing it back dead, rebaiting and casting back out as if it doesn’t matter. It’s not new, if anything these behaviours are less acceptable now than ever. There is an illusion that is being presented as if the decades long gone were better and that the hyper exposed world of fishing we live in now is in a state of moral decline. Nymphing for steelhead is not moral decline. I have a popular fly fishing magazine with a major article on Steelhead nymphing the west coast rivers from the early nineties. It ain’t new, it’s just a different type of fly fishing. Honestly, put it into perspective, a bunch of people fishing with dink floats and roe, or a bunch of people fishing with globugs is same shit different pile. There is nothing wrong with it, and if there truly is then really nobody should be fishing these rivers or these fish. You can’t honestly bitch about gear guys fishing so why are you bitching about nymphing. Just put aside the anger and disdain for all things new for one second and look around. The world of fly fishing and anadromous fish is in the terrible state it is because of indifferent unsustainable resource extraction and a too large world population, governed by and large by a bunch of greedhead mega politico-corporations. Within that wonderful context anadromous fisheries have in the past, and in many cases continue to be, managed by a generation of people who thought nothing of catching and killing the most celebrated anadromous fish that swim on this earth. None of this is because of graphite, fluorocarbon, tungsten, buffs, blogs, the Internet, or go pro cameras.

Here’s a positive thing for you to consider about go pros. They allow you to capture the moment as it is, without lies, you can release a fish without touching it and still get a true record of it, I think that’s great. Don’t like all the videos out there? Don’t fucking watch them. If you aren’t having fun fishing then truly what is the point. Don’t like people fishing for depleted stocks? Stop fishing for them then. Fly fishing needs to lose the giant chip on its shoulder that has nothing to do with conservation and everything to do with empty hubris. Open the holes on your face and see that anadromous fish stocks on the southern coast have already been in essence destroyed; promote conservation and values that respect, restore, and protect what’s left, enjoy what you have, and lose the ‘my shit don’t stink’ attitude.

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


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*






The HBFFA at Colquitz Creek


Above: An awesome Colquitz sea run cutthroat

Earlier this summer I was contacted by a representative of the Haig Brown Fly Fishing Association to volunteer for an in stream survey of salmonids on the Colquitz river (creek) in Victoria. Naturally I accepted and over a weekend, at two separate sites, selected stretches of the creek were isolated, electro shocked and then seined. This survey is intended to establish population numbers of salmonids and help determine the productivity of the creek for rearing coho and sea run cutthroat (it was carried out by volunteer members of the association which is generously funding the work on the creek). All fish (and crayfish) were anaesthetized, then counted, weighed, measured, revived and released. Stream flow recordings were also taken at various locations. Interestingly there were smallmouth bass, pumpkinseed, sculpin, coho fry, and cutthroat of various sizes. These studies are a prelude to habitat improvement work to be done at a later date.

Colquitz Creek has had a myriad of spills in the last several years. It contains non native species, has warm water/low summer flows and suffers from all the other burdens that an urban creek faces and yet remains incredibly productive. Last fall/winter somewhere in the range of 1400 adult coho, and an as yet uncounted amount of sea runs returned to this small creek. There is a fish counting fence located next to the Silvercity Tillicum movie theater at Tillicum mall in Victoria, which is manned by volunteers. In the fall, especially after a good rain, you will get a chance to see urban coho up close and in large numbers at times, as well as sea runs. You can also walk the creek and watch coho spawning at various points along the river. Check it out, the real world beckons!

This was my first encounter with the Haig Brown Association and they really are a classy bunch; generous and friendly. It was certainly a pleasure to meet people who care about anadromous fish and their environs as much as they do. The club has a very strong emphasis on conservation, as their namesake indicates. They have completed many in stream projects (including an interesting one on Sandhill creek for sea run cutthroat) and always have more on the go. Check them out, consider joining or, if you don’t live here, consider joining your local conservation group or angling club. There are many of them out there all over the world. Against a backdrop in which the natural world and its creatures are little more than cannon fodder (even as we still rely so heavily on them) we could all use more people who make real the words that they use so casually. Besides, the internet really doesn’t need anymore meaningless bitching.

HBFFA website:


Here are some photos from the electroshocking and seining sessions


(Below) the venerable cutthroat in fry form


Coho being measured and weighed


One of several larger cutthroat collected during seining


Pumpkinseed and smallmouth bass were also present, visitors from creek source Beaver Lake


I can only imagine what this cutthroat thought was happening


Another nice cutthroat



The usual suspects

Well, life’s been a touch crazy lately, and since I last posted the feds rubberstamped Enbridge Northern Shitway to the shock of absolutely no one, the Chilcotin band’s legal decision regarding native title on land outside of treaties has blown the whole concept of crown land and maybe mega projects like Enbridge on it’s head (or so it seems), and an endless lack of rain has pretty much shut down the whole summer steelhead thing, at least for those of us with a conscience. However in spite of the many obstacles I have still managed to get out for a good amount of fishless outings, so life is good, no?

Lots of these around


Sea runs have been slow at all my usual haunts but there apparently are a few uneducated specimens still left


Too many muddlers, not enough time


Rainy Wales

Dear 2.5 readers, I am back from a brief jaunt to storm battered Wales to visit my dream girl. My usual rate of drivel shall now resume.

This is as close as I got to fishing on this trip, although with the truly heinous weather I doubt anybody in Wales is doing much fishing of any kind anyway.


Cardiff castle/millennium stadium/shitty weather


They say that the continuous high winds and rain that are causing so many problems in the UK, as well as the much discussed “polar vortex” are the result of another extreme weather event in Indonesia last year acting through the disruption of the jet stream. Whilst the climate is a complex system and consensus on global warming/climate change is difficult to achieve or prove, I’d suggest that listening to what climate scientists have to say about it is more prudent than listening to politicians (Do you think Chevron lobbyist Steven Sayle, who laughably now heads the House Committee on Science, is going to be even remotely objective on climate science?) media outlets, commercial enterprises, or authors (Micheal Crichton) who have an axe to grind, or receive financial and/or political backing from the energy industry or one of it’s many sleazy lapdogs.

Just a thought.