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coastal cutthroat

Fly fishing for searun cutthroat

The Searun cutthroat, also known as the Coastal cutthroat, is a popular fish for fly fishing enthusiasts.

The draw for fly fishing for searun cutthroat stems from the relatively large numbers of the fish, due to a good comeback, and the wide array of areas that searun cutthroat can be found. In the summer and fall, take a stroll down any Puget sound beach, or along the banks of any coastal stream, river, or tributary in the Pacific Northwest and you just might find a few coastal cutthroat hanging around.

At times searun cutthroat will slam flies with reckless abandon, and at other times they will display lockjaw to rival a coho salmon.

Once a few willing specimens are found, the searun cutthroat is a strong fighter, who can test a fly anglers gear. Although not nearly as large as their searun cousins, the steelhead, the searun cutthroat is a hard fighter and is a thrill to catch on fly fishing gear. Coastal cutthroat will grow to a decent size and can push the 20+ inch mark.

Fly Fishing Gear

Whether targeting coastal cutthroat with fly fishing gear in the saltwater, or in the freshwater streams and rivers they migrate in and out of, a 5/6 weight fly rod with a matching reel is adequate. A floating line will usually be your go-to choice, but sometimes an intermediate or heavier sink tip can be utilized effectively.

Clouser Minnow

Clouser Minnow

Searun cutthroat flies vary by situation. A good assortment of sandlance, clousers, deceivers, and muddler fly patterns will usually do the trick in the saltwater while spiders, reverse spiders, muddlers, rolled muddlers, and flies like the borden special work well in freshwater rivers and streams.

When fly fishing for sea-run cutthroat, it is a good idea to carry a variety of different sized flies to match the situation. At times, in the upper reaches of rivers and streams dry flies, and sometimes egg flies, will work wonders on hungry searun cutthroat.

Reading the water

Searun cutthroat like to hang in slow, protected water. This can sometimes pose a challenge when fly fishing for them since it is very different from the usual trout holding water. When fly fishing for searun cutthroat, avoid the usual trout holding water, and instead look for water that more closely resembles smallmouth bass water.

Slow water, around rock piles, undercut banks, and holding deep within submerged logs are key places to look for searun cutthroat.

Related articles:

Fly fishing for Searun Cutthroat in rivers

The best tide levels for saltwater searun cutthroat fishing

Washington state searun cutthroat fishing

Popular flies for searun cutthroat trout

Fly Fishing for Searun Cutthroat in Rivers

Throughout the spring and summer you’re likely to find searun cuthroat hanging out around estuaries near the mouths of rivers and streams in the saltwater. In the fall, searun cutthroat move up out of the estuaries and into the rivers and streams proper at which time fly fishing for them can be extremely productive.

Searun Cutthroat fishing in the river

Searun Cutthroat fishing in the river

This can be an exciting time to fish for them as they can be targeted around the various structures that will consistently hold searun cutthroat. Some of the best fly fishing techniques for catching searun cutthroat in rivers are to cast tight to shore or the structure and retrieve your fly with a few quick erratic strips before swinging the fly down with the current.

John Shewey points out, in is great book, Northwest Fly Fishing Trout and Beyond: Trout and Beyond, that searun cutthroat trout are more likely to be found in habitat similar to that of smallmouth bass, than other trout.

Fish in Non-traditional Trout Fishing Spots

You can fish riffles and slots where trout would normally be found, and have no success in finding searun cutthroat. Bluebacks prefer slow water, log jams, steep rocky drop offs, and cut banks. In other words, places to hide under cover.

Cast near one of these types of lies and you’re likely to be rewarded with a sleep silvery fish darting out and slamming your fly.

Learn to spot the likely holding water for searun cutthroat and your fishing productivity will skyrocket.

Once you’ve found a spot that holds searuns, remember it, because unless the river changes course or eliminates the hold, fish will be there every year.

The Best Tide Levels for Catching Searun Cutthroat Trout

Tide levels can play an important role in determining whether or not an angler will be successful in catching searun cutthroat trout on a given day or not.

A swift incoming or outgoing tide is often crucial to success when fishing for searun cutthroat. A moving tide tends to move baitfish and shrimp, and provide opportunistic feeders like the searun cutthroat with the perfect opportunity for a meal.

When reading a tide table, choose a day to fish when the low or high tide coincides with the early morning or late evening. Generally speaking, large tide swings are good because it gets the current flowing and helps move food around.

Even when in the saltwater, searun cutthroat like to hide around structure and obstacles and ambush prey as the tide brings it by them. An early morning on an overcast day an hour after high tide may be the perfect opportunity to cast for searuns.

If fishing an estuary area, or where the river flows into the salt, an incoming tide can help bring searun cutthroat into the estuary mouth to feed on crustaceans and baitfish. These can be great times to stalk bluebacks across the sand flats and around structure at river mouths.

Washington State Searun Cutthroat Fly Fishing

Washington state has opportunities for searun cutthroat fishing that are limited only by the amount of coastline available. That being said, huge amounts of areas within Puget Sound, the Olympic Peninsula, and south to the Columbia river have prime sea run cutthroat habitat. Any estuary area from full blown rivers down to small streams have the capability of harboring searun trout.

Searun Cutthroat Puget Sound beach

Searun Cutthroat Puget Sound beach

Puget Sound Cutthroat
From the southern part of Puget Sound near Tacoma and Seattle all the way up to Bellingham near the Canadian border, fishing opportunities for searuns are excellent. Puget sound is ripe with opportunities for anglers to chase searun cutts both in the saltwater and freshwater. With large areas of prime saltwater accessible to boat anglers and beach going anglers, Puget sound is a haven for searun cutthroat enthusiasts.

When fishing the salt, look for areas that provide cover and the chance for tidal rips or currents to move food around. Kelp beds, rocks, logs, estuary mud flats and more all provide premium habitat for saltwater searun cutthroat.

From small streams to full blown rivers, the Puget sound area is rich with freshwater opportunities. Pretty much any coastal stream has, or at one point had, runs of sea run cutthroat. In the late summer and fall when the searuns begin to move into the rivers, look for these seagoing trout in slow moving water around logjams, steep rocky embankments, undercut banks, and other hideouts.

River Searun Cutthroat fly fishing

River Searun Cutthroat fly fishing

Fishing the Olympic Peninsula
The Olympic coastal strip near Forks, Washington has many rivers and streams that provide excellent angling. Aside from the world class Steelheading, another draw to the area could be to chase the smaller, but equally spirited searun cutthroat.

From Neah bay all the way down to Queets, there are opportunities to catch searun cutthroat in the creek mouths, off the beaches, and in the rivers. A hike down any of the ample public beaches just might be rewarded with the opportunity to catch searun cutthroat off the beach and in the estuaries of any of the numerous creeks and rivers.

Searun cutthroat in Washingtons rivers
The rest of Washington state offers plenty of rivers and streams that searuns use for spawning and rearing. Google maps can be a valuable asset in finding small creeks and tributaries off major rivers. Anywhere where public access can be found to the mouths of such creeks and rivers can most likely be productive at times.