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I don't think it's necessary to go THAT far to look for an explanation. Sea-run cutthroat will not be spawning until early spring (usually February to May, with the peak spawning month being March). Since, unlike steelhead and salmon, they continue to feed while in fresh water, they remain extremely aggressive. Like most other predatory fish they are attracted by any sort of commotion that might indicate injured, and therefore vulnerable, prey. It's not at all uncommon to have a sea-run cutthroat (or sometimes a Dolly Varden) take a crack at a smaller fish that has been hooked and is struggling.

I remember hooking a small (probably salmon) parr, no more than three inches long; I threw him some slack hoping he would be able to spit the fly out. He wasn't able to, so I started stripping him in rapidly to release him. About ten feet from the boat, the rod tip slammed down when a good-sized cutthroat grabbed the poor little tyke right across the middle. He wouldn't let go until I had him right up next to the boat, and he swam off looking rather confused about the whole incident. I released the parr, who was so cut up and mashed about the middle that he undoubtedly succumbed to his injuries.
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