Summertime, finally, and we are faced with so many possibilities of where to fish that it is mind boggling, at best. Sturgeon, Carp, Smallmouth bass, High Lakes trout, Willamette summer steelhead, McKenzie Redsides, Chinook (nah, none of those around here in Oregon). And finally, the humble but lives almost everywhere coastal cutthroat trout.
Oncorhynchus Clarki – the coastal cutthroat trout – is taxonomically grouped with the Pacific Salmon. This fish is really cool. the coastal cutthroat does not achieve the size of steelhead or salmon, but it makes up for size with its bold nature and the fact that this fish inhabits many more rivers than the rainbow/steelhead fishes. The extremely wide distribution of coastal cutthroat means that we have ample reason to go fishing somewhere close or far from home here in Oregon during a huge part of the year.
Cutthroat trout will be found in virtually every watershed in the coast range, and many of these fish are capable of expressing an anadromous life history, of becoming sea-runs. Cutts are equally well distributed in the headwaters of Willamette Valley watersheds and some of these fish express an in-basin migration referred to as potadromy.
Cutthroat trout in the Lower McKenzie, for example, probably spawned in the Mohawk river, may have reared there as juveniles for a few years, and then migrated to the McKenzie or Willamette mainstem, where they will live, feed, grow, and then migrate back into the McKenzie to spawn. Historically, migrations like this occurred into the upper reaches of the Long Tom River. Most places where cutthroat exist in the Willamette Valley will see cutthroat making in-river seasonal migrations that allow them to take optimum advantage of spawning and feeding conditions throughout the year. In coastal rivers, the cutthroat’s migration may take it to the estuary or out into the ocean, or the fish may only migrate within the river.
Point is, coastal cutthroat are in just about all of the Willamette valley streams at one time of year or another, just as they are in coastal rivers. Because they become sexually mature at younger ages than rainbow trout, cutthroat are usually a smaller fish, but cutts in the lower McKenzie, Willamette, and the Black Canyon area of the Willamette above Lookout Point Reservoir can reach the 20″ range, just like sea run cutthroat do.
Ok, enough rambling about fish biology. Cutthroat trout are bold feeders, and when they aren’t selectively feeding on little caddis or BWOs they like chunky food. They like buggers, muddlers fished wet, streamers, and they like brightly colored modest sized wet flies too. The style of fly featured in this video is tied with resident or river-bound cutthroat in mind, but it works well for sea run cutts as well. The philosophy of this fly series is simple and retro: provide a bright colored body, dark wing, collar hackle, a hint of flash and a dab of contrasting color on top of the wing.
These flies attract Cutthroat in virtually all of the range where O. clarki swim, so tie up a few, throw ’em in your vest, and hit the river. Oh yes, please pinch those barbs, because you are likely to encounter many feisty little 6-9″ cutthroat for every 12-14″ fish, and the barbless hooks are much easier on the fish.
Coastal Cutthroat Wet Fly
Hook: TMC 3761 # 10
Thread: Lagartun 95D
Rib: Lagartun Oval Small
Body: Uni Yarn Hot Orange or Scarlet
Underwing: ringneck Pheasant Center Tail, 2 strands Hot Orange Krystal Flash
Overwing: 2 Strands of Hot Pink uni Yarn
Hackle: Metz Grizzly Hen Neck