SRC Fishing in Oregon


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I'm temporarily living in central Oregon and am getting jealous reading about all the winter time Puget Sound SRC fishing. I know there are sea run cutthroat in some coastal streams in Oregon but are numbers so low that it is a relatively silly idea to target them in estuaries? Or have I just discovered an entirely new fishery just waiting to be exploited?


Active Member
Oh you have them;) ....but from my experience late summer/early fall has been best. But then again that is mainly the only time I go down there and I fish them in northern coastal waters so not sure about other times and waters. Good Luck!


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The Oregon coast lacks any feature like the many miles of sheltered inlets and waterways of Puget Sound. On the actual Pacific coast, even in Washington, the immediate inshore zone is a very hostile environment to sea-run cutthroat and cutthroat normally move 8 to 10 miles offshore during the saltwater phase of their lives. Some estuaries (I believe I've read references to that of the Umpqua), seem to retain some numbers of cutts through a good part of the year but don't provide the numbers of fish or the miles of shoreline that Puget Sound and the lower Strait of Georgia do. Even in the Puget Sound area, I don't think many folks realize what a unique fishery we have.


We don't fish the salt for SRC in Oregon as in Washington. We don't have Puget Sound. The closest you can get is to fish the estuaries (which is kind'a salt water) from a floating craft starting in June. It's really quite fun and a challenge. You fish for them the same as you would bass. You look for "dark water" under vegetation. It is tricky casting to present the fly under the overhanging branches. If the sun hits the water where you are fishing, you're done. Thus, the best times to fish are during cloudy or rainy days or during the late evening.

You use a sink tip with a streamer pattern. Once the fly hits the water, you wait a few seconds then start stripping like a banshee. If there are SRC present, you'll see a sudden flash of silver and you'll be hooked up.

The Oregon SRC hang out in the tidewaters until Fall when the salmon/steelhead start moving upstream to spawn. The SRC spawn at the same time so they follow the larger fish.

This is when you start fishing the upper rivers. If you find actively spawning salmon, you'll find large SRC a few yards downstream from the redds.

For reasons I'm not quite sure, the SRC will sometimes move upstream on their own during the summer months. When I first got into flyfishing I started fishing the Alsea River, I had no idea the only fish in the river during the summer were resident cutts and smolts. It was one July that I was fishing the river and catching nothing but small trout. Then, I came to one specific spot where I started catching 18-inch trout. I had no idea what they were. I thought they must be some manner of small steelhead... which of course was wrong.

I had no idea what a sea-run cutthroat was and in those days, the locals called them "blue backs".

Eventually, I learned about SRC and realized what I was catching were in fact SRC that had come up from the estuary.

Once in a blue moon you can run into this situation in the upper rivers but as a rule, you fish the estuaries during the summer and the upper rivers during the Fall and early winter.

Jim Wallace

Smells like low tide.
Nice post, Gene. I think you summed it up fairly concisely. On the WA coast, we also have a few early searun cutts starting to trickle into the rivers during the summer, usually with any decent rains. I actually caught my biggest ever searun coastal cutthroat several miles upstream from tidewater on a southern OP river in early Sept, in low water after a dry summer. It was a nice surprise, but I had left my camera in the drift boat a hundred yards upstream.
Seems like all of my best fish brought to hand manage to escape the camera and get the last laugh!

Jim Wallace

Smells like low tide.
JohnB, There are some estuaries around the mouths of tribs in the lower Columbia near Astoria and Warrenton. That area is actually the estuary of the Columbia River. I am not familiar with any of the fishing on the OR side, but you might want to research the backwaters of places like Youngs Bay, for starters. I'm not familiar with the OR fishing regs, either.

Now might be a good time, too. The SRC on the coast here sometimes will be around the creek and river mouths that flow into Willapa Bay and Grays Harbor, usually in the backs of the estuaries, sometimes upstream a bit around the mouths of the spawning tribs, where fishing doesn't open again until June. They are intercepting any outmigrating Chum salmon fry, just like up in the Salish Sea.
The locals used to talk about a "Spring run" of "Bluebacks." They are back in to eat the fry, before again heading out into the salt. Maybe some are more recently post-spawn, still hanging out for the salmon fry. I haven't seriously fished for these Spring SRC here, though, since the season is closed in the areas I usually go. But I might start exploring the year-round open waters more. I can paddle around suspicious looking waters while dragging a fry pattern, and might get surprised.

I did fish for cutts once in the Bay (during April), wading the shoreline below a river bridge, and I managed one 8.5" little chromer that had probably recently dropped down into the salt for its first time there.
Then an otter started following me around, and I didn't have any luck after that. Next time I'll be in a boat, and the otters seem to flee from boats.

These Spring cutts in my local estuaries aren't easy to find, and are usually dispersed to "who knows where?" Your timing has to be lucky, and you have to fish out in the Bay or Harbor, below the hwy bridges that are used here to mark the legal fishing boundaries between the river mouth and the larger estuary. In both the Bay and Harbor, its open year-round for C&R below the lower hwy bridges (SR 105 and the parts of US 101 that circumvent the shorelines).

One of the reasons I don't go after them this time of year locally, is that I'm either fishing for bottomfish, or heading to a lake.


My first experience with SRC was in the tidewater. We didn't think about trying for them upstream until later in years. Three of us would cram into a 17-foot canoe and hit the frog water in the tidal area. You had to fish under the vegetation over the dark water so three guys casting from a canoe to manage to miss the vegetation was a neat trick but we did it.

I loved that manner of streamer fishing. You had to be accurate and then stripped the line very quickly. The SRC would hit the flies like a missile.

We used two flies at once. Usually a Borden Special and a Royal Coachman streamer or a Purple Joe. I modified the Royal Coachman and used pink floss instead of red for the belly wrap. I called it a Lady Coachman and it worked quite well.

However, we started catching the larger SRC when we fished behind spawning salmon. Egg patterns were the thing to use but sometimes, we could catch SRC away from the redds with a Muddler Minnow. The largest SRC I've ever caught was while fishing for summer steelhead with a Freight train. At least I'm pretty sure it was a SRC.

This was decades ago and he/she was alone... which is odd. Normally when you find one SRC in the upper river, you'll find a ton of the critters all within a limited area.


The schools of SRC also move quite quickly. You can find a pod of SRC one day and they'll all be gone the next.

I'm not really sure why the old timers called the SRC "blue backs". I have never, ever caught a sea-run cutt with a blue back. Also, in the tidewater area, they have hardly any slash color. They are completely silver like a bullet. The one shown above did have a hint of slash coloring or I would have believed it was a "jack steelhead"... which I have caught on the same river where I caught this SRC.

The SRC in the upper rivers in Oregon take on a golden tint, almost like a brown trout. Evidently, once they spend time in the fresh water, they darken down and the slash becomes obvious.

Sea Run Cutthroat are unique to the NW and the reason it makes me so mad when the ODF&W opens a fishery up for catch and kill of the SRC. The runs of SRC in Oregon are not even close to what they were when I first started fishing for the unique trout.

I've written a number of articles in regards to Oregon SRC and my research found that there is no way no how you should be allowed to kill these rare, wild trout.

Jim Wallace

Smells like low tide.
Thanks for yet another good post, Gene!
I agree that it is a bit disheartening to go on a gear or kayak angling forum and read all the bragging by OR anglers about killing and eating their coastal cutthroat. Some WA anglers, too.
I would never fish with any of those A-holes.


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Cutthroat are spring spawners. In larger rivers (Skagit, Stillaguamish, Cowlitz) they may enter fresh water as early as July but will not spawn until late winter or early spring. March is probably the primary month but spawning may take place anytime from February through June. In small rivers and streams, especially those emptying directly into marine waters they may not begin entering fresh water until as late as December, usually spawning quickly and dropping back to salt water. Those are the two broad categories: early- and late-entry but of course there are minor local variations. I fished the Naselle a couple of years ago in June and we caught fat, fully-recovered, downstream cutthroat and the local angler I fished with said that the major upstream migration was in December. As I said in an earlier post, early-entry cutthroat provide an excellent "trout fishery" through the summer and fall. they respond extremely well to a wide variety of flies. A couple of my favorites are the Knudson Spider and Mike Kinney's Reverse Spider but they are very responsive even to dry flies. October Caddis, Blue-Winged Olives and Lesser Green Drakes ("flavs") are among my favorites.
I would imagine that the bays on the Oregon coast would all harbor SRCs. I've spotted a good number in several spots in bays while heading elsewhere (My wife always hates it when I have to stop just to "look at the water"). I've never specifically targeted them there though. I think that's one of those things that's gotta change.


the Menehune stole my beer
Try the lower, tidal stretches of the Wilson, Trask, Necanicum, Kilchis or Miami rivers near Tillamook Bay, or the lower reaches of the Alsea, Yaquina, Salmon and Yachats rivers in the Central Coast region. August is a good month. Reverse spiders in orange and red are good choices. Have fun!

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