Words by Brett Wedeking
I live and die by the tides. The ebb and flood dictates everything about when I launch my boat and where I choose to fish. If the tide dictates I meet my clients at the boat ramp at 4:30am I obey. Bleary eyed, too early for coffee, my clients obey too, though they much prefer banker’s hours tides. However, once I hit the throttle all sleepiness melts away with the Seattle skyline as we head west in search of saltwater trout.
Sea-run cutthroat (SRC’s) are anadromous salmonids. Much like steelhead, they are born in creeks and rivers and then migrate to saltwater where they grow into adults before returning to their natal waters to spawn. Cutthroat however, don’t travel into the open ocean, instead making their living in the nearshore environment throughout the West Coast of North America. My little slice of water is Central Puget Sound, where sometimes we catch cutthroat within sight of the Space Needle. This is my favorite fishery in the Pacific Northwest, not only because the boat ramp is 15 minutes from my front door, but because the entire quest is unique, dynamic and always challenging.
SRC’s roam the shallow waters of Puget Sound in pursuit of a number of food sources including herring, sand lances, salmon smolts, shrimp and worms. Consequently, the fishing is pure joy for the streamer junkie. Stripping small, sparse streamer patterns is the preferred tactic for the fly rod and an absolute blast when with these aggressive fish.
The grabs are hard and the fish scrappy, their beautifully spotted fins and flaming jaw line a works of art. They aren’t near the size of their steelhead relatives but SRC’s occupy an important ecological niche and the Puget Sound population is robust enough to support a thoughtful catch and release fishery. The fishing is seriously visual too; you can often see one or more fish chasing down your fly as you frantically strip it back to your rod tip. Follows, grabs and hookups are common, but these aggressive fish are wily. Sometimes we see large numbers of cutts but only bring a few to the net. Like most fisheries, we don’t base success on how many we land, though when times are good it feels like the net will get worn out. I know I’m biased, but I think this is the most underrated trout fishery in the country.
The tidal waters of the Sound move more than the uninitiated expect, with some spots looking and flowing like a river. I fish from a boat and use an electric trolling motor to control the boat as we drift along with the current, casting to juicy spots along the beach. SRC’s are ambush predators, they use the current along with boulders, shelves, eel grass, and whatever else they can us to disguise themselves, and wait for prey to make a mistake. Sometimes we can induce them into making a mistake too. This fishery is fleeting so when the fish are hot and grabby we make the most of it before it disappears. With the tidal changes go the bait and therefore go the cutthroat. The constant fluctuations keep me thinking and make it hard to get bored since we never fish the same exact piece of water twice.
One of the pleasant aspects of the fishery is we aren’t out there blind-casting 10-weights all day. We mostly fish 6-weights and slow sinking shooting heads. Rods like the 9’ #6 Alpha+ or the Air 2 are the dealer’s choice for this type of fishing. They are powerful and accurate for breezy days yet sensitive and supple when it counts. Line speed is key to turning over weighted flies at distance and these new Winston offerings shoot laser beams.
Fishing Puget Sound is about more than just cutthroat. We often incidentally encounter salmon on the same beaches as we fish for cutts, though I’m not licensed to specifically target them, salmon are fun bycatch. Seals, sea lions and bald eagles are ubiquitous and we often spot porpoises, otters and deer through the day. If we get really lucky we may even see orcas, that is if we have time to look away from bent rods and a net full of fins.
For more info on fishing for these native saltwater trout, check out Brett’s website: www.tailoutanglers.com or @tailoutanglers on Instagram.
Photos by Cole Leishman