24" SRC in Doubt

While I've caught a few myself, I am no expert at all on SRC's. However, many years ago I had the pleasure and privilege to fish with Mike Croft and Captain Tom Wolf, to write an article for the venerable but now defunct NW Fishing Holes magazine. Mike and Captain Tom are two very experienced anglers who likely know as much about fishing for SRCs as anyone in the region. I say this with all due respect to our own resident experts (and I'm sure they'd agree).

We had as I recall a pretty exceptional day, catching a bunch of big cutthroat on the morning tide, and then a bunch of staging coho through the afternoon. Those two chaps know their business. Most if not all of cutts were in the 16 to 19 inch range, at the time (and still) some of the largest SRCs I'd seen. Since I was more or less on the clock, I had the responsibilty and excuse to pester my two hosts with questions, and of course one of the things I wanted to know was why the fish were so much bigger than the cutthroat I'd been catching in my home water around Seattle.

Both Mike and Captain Tom believed large average size of the fish was due to C&R regulations below the Narrows, which had been in effect for much longer than they had in waters north (if I remember correctly, C&R had just been instituted north of the Narrows). They also noted that they almost never caught any cutthroat longer than 20". They believed, and I have to say it sounded very reasonable, the the bigger fish were selected out of the population by the mesh size of the tribal fishing nets that target the resident coho produced in the Squaxin net pens.

Is it possible that could as easily explain the lack of SRCs between 20 and 24 inches as hybridization? (Or at least contribute to the phenomenon?) I certainly don't doubt that mykiss/clarki hybridization occurs and is even relatively common in PS, but why wouldn't there be any 22-inchers of those? Differences in growth rates notwithstanding, the hybrids aren't born two feet long.

I know for sure that Curt is likely to have a better grip on this than I do, but might a 26" SRC be outside the selection range of the gillnets being used to catch resident coho (which rarely exceed 24 inches)? Or might those specimens be so rare that they're as unlikely to be caught in nets as by fanatics with fly rods?

Anyway, I thought I'd throw that out there. Nobody mentioned it and it seems reasonable to me. So does Bugthrower's original post, by the way. We are anglers after all, which makes us pretty reckless and impulsive liars. Though to be fair, bugthrower, it seems to me I've seen a photo of yours showing Captain Keith releasing a fish that has to be pretty damned close to 24".


Active Member
They believed, and I have to say it sounded very reasonable, the the bigger fish were selected out of the population by the mesh size of the tribal fishing nets that target the resident coho produced in the Squaxin net pens.
I agree with this 100%. And have seen some big cutts come from the nets that used to be around here.


Active Member
Please read my Trotter quote more carefully. It didn't offer a length for the record-weight fish, merely commenting that these fish "... do not normally grow much beyond 500mm in fork length." There is no length given for the state record fish, obviously it must have been over twenty inches.


"Chasing Riseforms"
Since the sportsmen of Washington pushed through a regulation that cutthroat could not be killed in marine waters (1997) the cutthroat have indeed had more time to grow to maturity. In south Puget Sound they also have a rich diet primarily feeding in saltwater which helps pack on the inches and pounds. This has been stated many times in the cutthroat threads on WFF.
I doubt very much if any gill nets used by the tribes or commercial fishermen are of a size that they will take cutthroat....not yet anyway.
Les Johnson
I think beach seining has taken it's toll on SRC's at times. I had an experience in Hood Canal back in 2004, I believe, while the tribe was loading up on coho. They no doubt impact the cutthroat when their net is hooked to the beach and semi-circled back in. I watched it. Turns out they were illegally fishing within a 1000' of a creek mouth which is against the rules (at the time anyway). I spoke with the Tribal Officer about the incident and he told me he caught them doing it again. Anyway, the year prior to that I beached 7 or 8 cutthroat in the same area that ranged from 18 to 22 inches. Unfortunately, I didn't have my camera but just memories. Three of the fish were over 20". It was an incredible afternoon I will remember. Since that time, I have fished the beach with a couple being 19 with a nice 18 incher about a week ago and good numbers of fish from 14-17 in November/December, It was slim pickens a couple of years ago, and I think the Tribal net may have impacted the fishery.
24.25 inches for Walt's 6-pound cutthroat is in keeping with the big one I caught. Mike Kinney who netted my 26-incher which had a huge shoulder, estimated its weight at about 6-pounds. He also said that he'd seen them larger in the Stillaguamish River, perhaps up to 7-pounds or more.
And, to the people who have caught cutthroat bearing net marks I stand corrected. I just haven't personally seen any with net marks.
However, after reading this thread I can say without hesitation that I don't catch nearly as many cutthroat in the salt as most of you.

Richard E

Active Member
up here in AK resident coastal cutts can get prett freaking big, theres a bunch of lakes that the minimum size to keep one is 25"
Where can a person find a list of those lakes?

And, sounding a little naive here, but isn't there a difference between coastal cutts and searun cutts? Doesn't the coastal cutt reside in fresh water, where obviously the searun cutt resides in salt . . . ?


Active Member
No, they are all Oncorhynchus clarki clarki, the coastal cutthroat subspecies that ranges from the Eel River in Northern California to Alaska's Cook Inlet and along the western slopes of the major coastal mountain ranges. They exhibit a very wide range of life histories including anadromous (semi-anadromous according to Behnke), fluvial and adfluvial. Much like steelhead/rainbows, some of the fluvial fish tend to seek richer pastures and find themselves spending a part of each year in salt water.

It's a bit of a mystery how, and at what rate, recruitment occurs from fluvial to anadromous populations. One of the reasons that ESA status was denied sea-run cutthroat populations in Southwest Washington streams a few years back was that the fluvial populations were deemed to be healthy and NOAA/USFWS felt that recruitment from those populations would restore the numbers of the anadromous populations. I haven't seen any recent numbers to show whether sea-run cutthroat populations in that region have shown any signs of recovery.

Come on Richard, I know you've got Les' book and if you'd study it you'd know all this stuff.:thumb:


Active Member
Les -
Obviously you and I need to get out more and catch a cutthroat now and then. I too have seen very few with net marks. While there is no doubt the occasional fish is caught in a gill net and beach seine fisheries such as that at Tulalip can and do catch cutthroat (though not gilled) I before today never considered incidental gill nets to be much of a factor. I do though see lots of scarring on cutts, especially the larger older fish. I had thought most of those scars were from predators and injuries associated with spawning.

Ray Healers -
Good questions/thoughs about where are the smaller hybrids.

I actually stumbled across the thoery that those exceptional large "cutts" might be hybrids when discussing the fate of cutthroat/steelhead hybrids. It is fairly common to find a reasonable % of the pre-smolts in many basins to be F1 hybrids but F2 hybrids or even adult hybrids are surprising rare. It looked likes for some reason the hybrids once they left the river systems have poorer survival; the question of course is why?

We know that sea-run cutthroat when they go to the salt that they stick around in Puget Sound not straying too far from their natal basins. Steelhead on the other hand seem to quickly vacate Puget Sound and head to the open ocean. What do the hybrids do? Stick around home? Head out to sea? or something inbetween? Don' think anyone knows however if they do anything different than the sea-runs we may not ever see them until they return as mature fish. Further the survival of the cutthroat smolts appears to be much higher than the steelhead smolts. How the hybrid smolts would fare again is unknown but it may not be much of a reach to think that they may perform more poorly than the cutthroat and in fact given that two species do not form hybrid swarms might argue that they do not survive very well at all.

It should be stressed that this theory that those exeptional large fish might be hybrids is merely a pet personal theory of mine and there certianly may be other logic explainations. However the theory seems to be a plausible one to me and I have not heard any others. That said folks should keep in mind that few folks in the fish management business have been wrong more often than I have.

Still looking at the available information, forming theories as to the fish's behaviors and investigating that behavior is valid method of increasing our knowledge of the critters. In this case genetic sampling or even scale collections from those exceptional fish (are they older than say a 20 inch fish?) would provide valuable feed back to the validity of the theory.

Tight lines


Active Member
Preston, thanks for clarifying.

Richard, ADFG used to recommend trophy cutthroat lakes but I don't know if they still do. You might want to poke around on their website. Or grab a map of areas in SE Alaska. If you find a decent sized lake with ocean access and a sockeye run, chances are there will be some large cutthroat available. However, most of the better lakes are pretty inaccessible, meaning you will need to be dropped in by plane. The good news is there are many cabins for rent through the government that are relatively inexpensive.

If none of that works, feel free to PM me and I can provide a few names for you.

As far as the name, I'm pretty sure that all sea-run, anadromous cutts are of coastal cutthroat variety but not all coastal cutthroat are sea-run. This is pretty similar to the situation with rainbows and steelhead. The sea-run elects to grow in the salt where residuals elect to grow in the river (or lake). So technically the same species but with different growth strategies.
I have been fishing for "searuns" for over 30 years now, and during that time I have caught only about a half dozen that were 20" or over. Since the no kill regulations (unfortunately for salt water only) went into effect, it's been my experience that the average size of the cutthroat has increased significantly, at least here in the South Sound. All of the fish 20" or over that I caught were accurately measured with a tape, 2 of which measured 22". I'm sorry, but I have no photos. As has been posted, I would definitely agree that searuns 20" or over are VERY RARE!!


"Chasing Riseforms"
So the next time I beach a fish in the 20" range I should check it's back teeth? They're not as "prominent"? Gees, I think if I was that old and fat, eating many meals in the saltchuck, my backteeth would be worn a bit too! So these would/may look like a "cutt-bow"? I have seen coastal cutthroat cuttbows in a lake I fish, so I think I could maybe identify one, although I don't think I have ever seen one in the salt that has resembled one.