Friday, November 13, 2009

Searun Cutthroat, OR, July 2009

After returning to Portland with my dad from the trip we took together, I decided to spend a solo day in search of searun cutthroat. I visited the Wilson river, another place of my youth, and a coastal stream that is known for strong runs of chinook and coho salmon, steelhead, and cutthroat. Searun cutts are the anadromous form of coastal cutthroat, and while they do not reach the size of steelhead and salmon, they are beautiful fish, and perhaps the best indicators of a coastal river's health in the Pacific Northwest, since they spawn in the uppermost tributaries of a watershed, and require extremely clean, oxygenated creeks to reproduce successfully.

The Wilson river is typical of coastal streams in the Northwest, surrounded by lush vegetation, bigleaf maples and looming conifers. It is a classic freestone river, and relies on rainfall to feed its flows. Fortunately, I visited after a bout of rain, which can often trigger a run of fish (both cutthroat and steelhead at this time of year) into the river system, and the fish seemed to be invigorated by the overcast skies and recent precipitation.

I hooked a handful of searun cutts, including a good one in the run shown above. I fished a #10 Crawbugger, a brown wooly bugger I tie with rubber legs and weighted hourglass eyes, that seems to imitate both crawdads and baitfish well, and swung it through the currents of the run. Near the tail end, a cutthroat hammered the fly, and then proceeded to jump repeatedly, and fought tirelessly. I pulled the fish towards the bank eventually, and admired the bright silver, brassy yellow, and violet hues of a perfect searun cutthroat, fresh from the salt.

This fish measured a good 15", nice-sized for a searun. A close-up of the head is shown below--note the orange-red slash under the jaw (this marking becomes more vibrant as the fish remains in freshwater longer).

I proceeded to connect with another energized cutthroat in the next run downstream, in a deeper, slow-moving pool.

This fish also repeatedly ran and vaulted from the dark currents. The trout emerged as another lovely searun, a solid 14" or so.

I also managed to hook into a bright buck steelhead further downstream, which I estimated at about 12-14 lbs. Unfortunately, the fly simply came out of its mouth after I battled the fish for several minutes (it would have been challenging to land on my 9' 5 wt anyway). It was good to see a fish like this in the river though, and along with the cutthroat, indicates that the Wilson river is doing well with the health of its fish runs.

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