This is perhaps the part of my season that I’ve been the most eager to write about. There’s something about cutthroat trout that make me happy, and I find myself reverting back to them more and more each passing season. Many people don’t know this about me: when I started fishing, I rarely used anything other than my fly rod, and my targets for much of the year were cutthroat trout. Growing up I spent many days out on the sloughs and creeks around the lower mainland hunting these pretty little fish. Much of the allure around them was that they were seemingly ghosts; no matter how much I learnt or how well I thought I knew them, they would always disappear and make me hunt again. It was a constant game and a wonderful challenge. The scenic backwaters of the Fraser that were often vacant of other anglers were also a major draw compared to the exceptionally busy banks of the Vedder and other popular rivers around. As I developed as an angler over the years, I found myself using other methods more and more, and hunting steelhead as my primary target. Cutthroat slowly faded away into the background when I moved to the island.
Perhaps the reason that I never did go for cutthroat all that much when I first moved to the island, was that finding salmon and steelhead was relatively easy compared to the mainland. It didn’t take much to poke around to a new river or beach and have immediate success, and one didn’t have to drive far to find the scenic views that I craved. My first seven years on the island were spent solely chasing the “big fish.” It wasn’t until perhaps five years ago now, while exploring a bunch of brand new steelhead fisheries, that I re-discovered my love for these spotted beauties. Through my obsession of hunting the bigger ghosts, I ended up finding a number of really quality trout fisheries that I had no idea existed on the island. All of a sudden my passion for trout in general was reignited. Two years ago, a switch flipped and I spent almost the entire steelhead season searching new locations for big trout. I found some amazing fisheries, but it still felt like I had only just scratched the surface. The link below was some filming that I did back in 2018.
This year, I had made it a goal of mine to explore at least one new creek for cutthroat. I had gotten distracted by the better than expected steelhead fishing, and it was now nearing the end of peak cutthroat fishing. It was now or never, and my decision was finally swayed when Rodney said he wanted to come out and do a little bit of filming with Kitty for cutties specifically.
The first day out on the river confirmed my suspicions that the run, at least in the places I frequented already, was winding down. The first lower end pool on river #1 wasn’t holding more than 20 fish, and they appeared spooky and somewhat stale – trapped by the water that had peaked briefly, but dropped quickly. None of those would bite. Next we went up to the secondary stack hole, but a quick peek into the run only displayed another 5 spooked fish. After that we decided to go way up to the last stack hole I know in the system. The fish don’t typically sit here for very long, maybe 2 or 3 days after a rain, before moving up into the smaller areas of the creek to spawn. We arrived there to again only see a few fish, but they were large ones, and appeared to be willing biters based on where (and how) they were sitting. Rod sat on one side of Kitty with the camera, and I took the high point to sight her into the fish. The fish here will often grab your offering without you feeling it, and without registering even a bump on an indicator (if you’re using one); without being able to see them actually grab your offering, there’s almost no way to know you’ve had a chance. It took a few casts before Kitty finally got her line right, but she managed to get a really nice sized buck out of that pool.
After that we decided to head towards a beach nearby that is normally good to us this time of year. The creeks draining into the area further west seem to have a slightly later run timing than the east side creeks, and the fish will quite often sit at the mouths staging and feasting on early migrating fry before heading up to spawn. It’s not uncommon to get really large cutthroat like this one from last year.
As we headed for that beach, I decided to quickly stop at one more creek on the drive out, just for a look. It’s a creek I haven’t really spent much time on – maybe an hour or two per season the last couple years. I typically only fish it when it’s high and coloured, since it’s a tiny system, and it clears and drops very quickly. I was surprised when we arrived to see two large fish present in the low clear water. As we peered into the run, it was obvious they were fresh fish. There was no doubt in my mind that at least one of these would bite – they were bright silver and moving around the run actively. The setup and capturing of the fish Kitty got was maybe one of my favourite memories of the season actually, and the footage Rodney got was absolutely incredible! Another stunning specimen hit the net. Although the fishing was overall slow today with only a few chances, it was nice to see some quality fish around, and the clear water gave Rod some good filming opportunity.
After that first fish, Kitty did get one chance at the other large one with it, but she never got a solid hookup. After that run, I asked Kitty and Rod if they wanted to go explore a little bit more water upriver with me; it was obvious this particular creek was getting a fresh push, and I had actually never explored up stream from here. After a quick discussion, we decided to go to the beach to get a bit more filming diversity. Knowing what I know now, I’d be back here my next day out anyway to hike around. Unfortunately, the beach actually skunked us for the first time in three years. Although the last location was a bust, I was glad to have been able to show a friend of ours one of the fisheries that I hold dear. It wasn’t great fishing, but it was enough to truly capture what those fish and locations are all about, and Rodney did a damn good job filming and editing this short film:
After Rodney’s filming day, I made it my goal to explore at least 10 kilometers worth of water on the creeks in that surrounding area my next day out. I arrived at the first river early in the morning, and discovered that the two fish we had found a couple days previous were gone from the first run. There was no where to go but up, so up I went. I passed through five really nice runs before finally happening upon another holding spot. At first I sighted only one fish in the tail out, but as I crept up and around a tree to get a better approach from above, it became evident that the run had a good number of fish in it. What surprised me most was that every fish was large – they all appeared to be 20 inches or better in length! I anxiously set up my rod, and even decided to film my first cast on my cell phone in anticipation of a bite. Not much could have prepared me for the fish I was about to tussle with. Just as my float goes out of view of my camera, it hammers down. It was clear by the initial weight that this was a big fish. I soon see it, and have a little fit of excitement as I tried to film with my phone in my front wader pocket (there’s little clips of this fish in my instagram story highlights under the Cutthroat label). There was no way I was landing this fish from my side of the river on the high bank, so I hopped in at the head and bobbed my way across to the other side. At this point I didn’t care if the other 20 fish in the run wouldn’t bite – this was the one I wanted. It was quite the tug of war on my little 3 wt rainshadow as the big buck dogged deep, and at one point went into the root ball of the tree I hooked him in front of. I still have no idea how my rod had enough backbone to pull him towards me, nor how my measly 6 pound leader held up against the roots. Fate was on my side though, and soon I was holding my personal best cutthroat trout. I tried to set up my phone for a quick selfie before letting him go – this guy was worth a crummy pic. A couple quick snaps and he kicked away with one powerful tail stroke. That fish had absolutely made my day.
After that fish, I hiked upriver a long, long ways. I saw a couple fish here and there in the odd spaced out run, but nothing to really get me excited. Eventually I came to a split in the river, where both channels weren’t holding much for water. At the top of the split was a massive log jam, as expected when there’s a braid and gravel accumulation of this amount. I hiked for a good two more kilometers above the jam and only ended up seeing 3 small REDD’s, and zero fish. Below the jam I had seen well over 20 REDD’s from an earlier run of fish, and around 30 fresh fish moving through. I’m not sure what kind of passage issues that braid and jam represent, but it definitely seemed to present some migration issue. More exploring here would be needed on another day if I still wanted to do all that I had planned for this day.
I packed up from the first river and headed to the next creek. I peer into the first run and actually see a good 10 fish, one of which was even larger than the buck I had just landed. I still wonder if it was truly a cutthroat, or if it was one of the rare steelhead that sometimes enter these systems. I fish for a while and only manage one 20 inch doe, which I release quickly. The rest of the fish are very picky and pretty spooky, especially after the one fish had been hooked up. Once again, I hike another 2 km of water and don’t see a fish. I decide to bail on the lower river and head to the more upper portion. The second run down, I find another good school of fish in a great little run. I assume they’ll bite as they are in water with great cover, but I was wrong. These fish have me stumped. They aren’t sitting in the water that they typically like to be in on the other creeks, and they just don’t want to bite. Maybe it’s to do with the water being so clear that you can see them from hundreds of feet away.
I decide to leave here and go check one last location. As I drive there, my day is ended short by an embedded rock in a muddy section of road. I know these roads exceptionally well, and know which areas to avoid (or slow down in), but today the road conditions finally got the best of me and my little Yaris. In the past 4 years I’ve put nearly 250,000 km on this little car, likely 100,000 of those are on gravel. The car has been exceptional, but an accident was bound to happen eventually with the low clearance. The hit was so hard it managed to pop out one of my lights, put a water bottle out of the cup holder into the roof and cracked my windshield. The car continued running, but I pulled over to inspect the damages. I half expected to see fluids and oil pouring out everywhere, but none of that seemed to be occurring. I watched for a good 5 minutes with the car running, and all seemed ok for now. I start to head home. Five minutes into my drive I pull over again to see if all is still good. My tire is finally going flat, but I totally expected that to happen. I knew that the impact had to have bent my rim. I pull the tire off and put on the spare. As I finish putting the spare on, I look underneath the car again to see oil everywhere. I guess turning the car off had drained all the oil down into the pan and had caused enough pressure to finally show the leak. I quickly check the oil levels and it is still showing on the dip stick. I fire up the car and it appears to be running fine, and no oil indicator lights are on yet. As the car runs I look underneath again – the leak hasn’t stopped this time and is dripping steady while running now. I elect to try and drive it out to pavement to avoid a tow, and I probably don’t have much time as I’m 35 km out on gravel and away from service. Somehow this little car managed to not fail me one last time as I limped it into the first repair shop I could find. We throw it up on the hoist. I had my fingers crossed for a broken oil pan, but it’s much worse. I’ve cracked the lower engine block.
The JB weld solution I talked about actually seemed to hold, and I managed to drive the car back to Nanaimo. By the time I got back home, it was leaking oil again. The next day I had scheduled into Kal Tire to get the tire replaced, and they let me throw it on the hoist to have a look. It appeared that the leak was now coming from the pan and not the block crack, so I decided to try on the cheap fix to see if I could make the car last through the rest of the season. It turns out that the oil pan was indeed the issue, and I’m happy (and surprised) to report that our little car is actually still going strong (no leaks), even months later, and after another 10, 000+ km driven (and lots of gravel). It’s amazing how well that JB weld holds! I also can’t say enough good things about how reliable and great these little Yaris cars are – not to mention incredibly cheap on fuel.
While the car was in the shop, I was fortunate enough that a buddy of mine wanted to get out badly that day. I managed to get out to the river I had intending on going to before the incident happened, and it was with a buddy of mine that I haven’t fished with in over a year! A quick outing there only provided one quick cutthroat hookup, but I managed a surprise steelhead buck, which marked off my 14th river of the year.
After very little action on the first flow, my buddy wanted to quickly backtrack to the river that I had been to the day before where I had success. It didn’t take long, and we finally sighted a few fish. A couple chances were missed, as he wasn’t used to the light takes that you couldn’t feel (fishing by sight is definitely a challenge at times), but he eventually hooked up on an awesome fish. It was great watching Mike hook up and land his largest coastal cutthroat ever. It’s unfortunate that we can’t make more trips happen together!
All the pre-scouting success has Kitty really wanting to get out now for one last go at cutthroat. We can feel the end is nearing, and the last water bump is really starting to peter out, meaning fish will start to drop out quickly. The next bump of rain in the forecast is set to fall soon, but with that one we’ll likely be shifting our focus back to steelhead. The river of choice for the Saturday morning is of course the one that has been holding the giants.
We once again arrive at the first run to find no fish. To my surprise, the run above it where I had seen over 20 fish only a couple days ago is also no longer holding fish. We hike all the way to the log jam before deciding that we should try more into the middle section of the river, since there is no sign of the fish anywhere down low. Why not explore while we have the opportunity, and have already committed ourselves to a cutthroat day?
We hike a full 1 k of new water that I’ve never been to before finally hitting a canyon section. All through that stretch I only see one REDD, which really starts making me think that the fish might not come up this high in numbers. The canyon we entered into is kind of other worldly for this creek. It looks nothing like the rest of the river and has some absolutely stunning pools. To my surprise, I actually see a few REDD’s in each pool tail out, so I start to have some hope that we’ll possibly encounter more fish up above. I couldn’t believe none were holding in this canyon though; if they weren’t here, would they actually be sitting up above it?
We exit the canyon, and the second run up I finally see a large lone cutthroat sitting in the middle section of the run. Truth be told, we hardly fish while exploring these rivers – most of it is just walking until you finally see them. Once you see them, there’s normally a really good chance at some action. Sure enough, Kitty’s first cast through at this buck proves successful. The day wasn’t a bust on the fish front, nor the information front. This exploration day has definitely provided some great ideas and locations for next year (as well as run timing)!
That run ended up being a definitive stack hole/staging pool. We ended up seeing 5 other nice fish in there, and Kitty ended up hooking and losing another 3. All the fish were in the 20 inch or better range, proving once again that this river may not have the huge numbers, but it does carry fish with weight.
We head up more, inspired by the finding of that last little school. All of a sudden every run is holding fish, and every gravel flat in between is showing evidence of previous runs having spawned and left. There are dozens of older looking excavations, and fresh fish are holding in the pools above waiting for their turn to ripen and dig their nests as well. Eventually, we hit another money hole holding another 5 fish, and one of them is huge. At first we think it may be another of those rare steelhead, but the clear water is giving me a clear view of a large male cutthroat. Kitty takes a few casts at him and ends up getting another fish in the run before the big buck has a chance. I fear that the smaller fish may have spooked him, but he remained steadfast in his position. Over the course of the next 30 minutes, I watched that fish move to Kitty’s offering 5 different times, and watched him eat it twice, only to have her briefly hook him up and lose him after a quick roll. Even with the hook-ups, he kept returning to his dominant position up in the narrowest, deepest, and quickest part of the run. I admired Kitty’s persistence as she just wouldn’t give up on him – mostly because he would show signs of interest every 10 or so casts. Finally, after a lot of work, and a lot of impeccable casts, Kitty gets another chance and capitalizes this time. The fight was absolutely incredible, even on her 5 wt. He took her down out of the run, jumping and fighting more like a steelhead than a cutthroat. After about 5 minutes he found his way to the net. Kitty is elated, and with this buck we ended our day and our cutthroating portion of the season – not much could top the experience of this one.
I said it once, and I’ll say it again: Cutthroat really are an amazing fish!