October is for Sea-run cutts

Jim Wallace

Smells like low tide.
That's certainly a colorful cutthroat there in your pic, Preston. I once caught a chunky and heavily spotted 15"er with similar coloration in the upper tidewater reaches of a local creek here in early July. Didn't get a pic, but its burned into my memory.

Jim Wallace

Smells like low tide.
There is so much food available year-round in the Twin Harbors estuaries (Bay and Harbor included), that I'm sure that our Searun Cutthroat are very well fed.


Active Member
For years there was a very popular fishery for sea-run cutthroat (and bull trout) in the tidal reaches of the Skagit River in the early spring. The regulations changed from open year-round to closed until June 1st in the last cycle. Many of these cutts were fish which had finished spawning, dropped down to salt water and then moved back up to dine on the bounty of chum and pink fry migrating downstream (both chum and pink fry begin their downstream migration as soon as they hatch in the spring) and others were smolts, moving down to salt water for the first time. Ken McLeod developed one of the first pink/chum fry imitations, the Skagit Minnow, back in the forties specifically for this fishery.

Jim Wallace

Smells like low tide.
So we have the Skagit Minnow, Les Johnson's Thorne River Emerger, Doug Rose's Keta Rose, Bob Triggs' Chum Baby, and a whole bunch of other Chum fry imitations that members here have been coming up with.

I'm just glad that Spring is a long ways off, which will give me a chance to tie some up.


Active Member
skyrise -
I have seen no information to indicate that the south Sound cutthroat are longer lived or faster growing than their cousin's to the north. It does seem like the north Sound rivers have a lot more smaller immature fish in the population which may skew the age structure of the population a bit. However my experience has been that my catch rate (fish/trip -especially the last couple years) of those large fish (say over 18 inches) compares well from the reports from down south.

While we talk about the differences between north and south Sound cutthroat the reality is that one can note population differences even between rivers within the larger regions (north/south Sound/Coa).

A simple fly that I have had success with for decades on the lower Skagit (and elsewhere) when the fish are taking pink or chum fry is spider with a silver body with an over wing of 12 or 14 bucktail hairs. For the generic pattern I use a half and half bucktail mix of chartruese and blue. I tie them in 6s and 4s matching the fly length with fry size. I often use the larger pattern using brown bucktail when I think the cutthroat/bulls are targeting chinook fry migrants. While that lower Skagit fishery is mostly on cutthroat and similar sized bull trout it is not uncommon to take several larger (in some cases much larger) bull trout on those fry patterns.

In this year's WDFW regulation recommended for consideration is one to re-open that lower Skagit fishery during the March to May period under selective gear rules and 1/2 inch hook gap minimum size. Those that have enjoyed that fishery in the past or would like to experience it for the first time may want to provide a comment to the WDFW commission.

Tight lines

Chester Allen

Fishing addict and scribbler
Happily, I've been catching a lot of smaller fish as well, including a few small fish that are clearly on their first trip into the salt. I tend to leave a beach -- or that section, anyway -- if a lot of small fish snap at my flies.

I also usually don't take photos of fish unless they're special in some way, and, yeah, size factors in there.

I don't have your biological training, but my catches this year show me a pretty good mix of sizes and ages here in South Sound, which along with Hood Canal, is where I do most of my sea-run cutthroat fishing. Larry Phillips, the South Sound biologist, might have some harder data for you.

Over the years I've fished South Sound -- since 1993 on -- I've noticed more larger fish and more fish altogether on a consistent basis since then. Kudos to WDFW and the commission to make catch and release for cutts in the salt! I also suspect that the effort to improve salmon habitat has paid off for cutts as well, particularly in the removal of bad culverts and the removal of the dam on Goldsborough creek.

Now, if we could just convince the city of Olympia to let Capitol Lake revert back into a natural estuary. :)

Fish cycles are fascinating. I've also been fishing Oregon's Deschutes River a lot this summer and fall. I've fished this river since 1982, and I've seen cycles of lots of big fish but few small fish and vice versa. I just got off the river -- near Maupin -- and we seem to be in one of the golden areas where the average fish is probably 12 inches or so, but there's a good number of larger and smaller fish as well.

I think the Crooked -- trib to the Deschutes -- is on a cycle of lots of smaller fish right now, and that happens a lot on that river.

This is just what I've seen, and I know that doesn't make it science. :)

Chester et al

Some very nice fish!

I don't fish South Sound but from reading the reports it seems like there are not many small fish (those 9 to 13 inch). Is that the case through out the area?

Our sea-run cutthroat tend to be slow growing and relatively short lived fish. It is rare to find fish more than 7 or 8 years old with those generally being the giants for that life history for the species. As a result the fish in the fishery tend to be composed of 3 (immature first time returns) to 8 year olds and on the average in a stable populations the portion of the population at each age class should be smaller than the younger classes; the 3 year olds being the most common and the 8 year olds the rarest. Of course in the real world the is considerable variation in the strength of each year class. While it is fun fishing on a population with few younger fish and mostly larger/older fish one has to wonder about the coming years. Who is going to relace those older fish as they die?

Here on the north Sound "S" this season (as well as last year) my fishing also had an exceptional number of very large fish (those over 18 inches). Using the Stillaguamish as an example this fall there were tons of first time returning fish (9 to 12 inch) , as I said an exceptional portion of the older fish, but not so many mid-size fish. As those older fish leave the population there appear to fewer fish that are a year or two younger to replace them. The great news is the lots of new fish and we should those fish contributing to the populations as older/larger fish for the next several years. However at the same time I expect to see fewer fish over 18 inches.

In short a robust population should be more complex than just one dominated by larger fish. I always enjoy those years when the exceptional becomes more of the norm but also realize that such a situation is not the long term norm.


Chester Allen

Fishing addict and scribbler
Nice fish, Preston!

I agree that South Sound and Hood Canal fish spend more time in the salt than the fresh. I mostly see cutts in freshwater when they're spawning in the skinny headwaters -- they get up there, do it and leave asap -- or when they're dining on salmon eggs and flesh in the fall and winter.

Since many (most?) of the South Sound and Hood Canal streams are smaller in size than those in the North Sound, they are less hospitable in terms of food and habitat. In many cases these streams carry so little water that access to them by cutthroat is not available until flows stabilize at higher winter levels. This has led to a somewhat different life cycle among cutthroat than that common to rivers like the Skagit, Stillaguamish, or even the Cowlitz (in the days before construction of the dams, hatchery etc., the first major runs of harvest trout were expected to occur right around the Fourth of July).

It has been pointed out to me by anglers with lots of experience with South Sound, Hood Canal and Willapa Bay cutthroat fisheries that cutthroat not only enter the creeks much later in the year but tend to spend much less time there. I fished the Naselle River last spring with an acquaintance who assured me that the largest numbers of cutthroat enter the river in December and a few were still dropping back to salt water in June. The fish we caught were fat and well-conditioned, obviously not too adversely affected by their spawning exertions. Doug Rose and Jeff Delia assure me that areas, in and around Hood Canal, like Quilcene and Indian Island, provide an almost year-round salt water cutthroat fishery, and I hope to spend some time there with them this winter and next spring.

Since maiden cutthroat can grow as rapidly as an inch a month on their first season in the salt it should not be surprising that, with less time spent in fresh water, the opportunities for growth would be enhanced. View attachment 20044
Here's a picture of a Naselle River cutthroat, spotted clear down to its belly and with brilliantly-colored ventral fins.

Go Fish

Language, its a virus
Great info from the Coastal Cutt crowd.
I'm not a biologist but I do play one on TV.
In the 14 years of living on Case Inlet, which is
then furthest you can go on Puget Sound, I have
found more cutts and bigger cutts on average. Biggest
here was just over 20 inches with a handfull in the 18
range. The fishing usually is good through Turkey Day.
The reports from the East side of the Canal have been even
better than here. I would not be suprised to see the State
Record (photos only) broken on Hoods Canal in the next few years.

Here's a nice 14 incher I got last week in my local South Sound creek. Next cast I got one that pushed 18 but didn't take a pic. All in all got 4 on a simple unweighted brown and grizzly woolly bugger. I agree every year in the last 6 or so has seen more and larger fish. This creek implemented catch and release last year and that's helped as well.


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