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Cutthroat Fishing: Searching Out the Pack

Originally Published in "Tips and Tech" March/April 2011 Issue of BC Outdoors Magazine

Kicking back in my boat waiting for my guests to arrive I pull out my binoculars and start scanning the water for activity. Two hundred yards in the distance I see the surface erupt in the telltale manner of cutthroat trout working fry caught in a back eddy. My pulse quickens and I wish my clients would hurry up so that I can get to these cruisers before they move on. That’s cutthroat fishing on our coast—here one day and gone the next.  These nomadic beauties cruise wherever they desire—up and down rivers, creeks and sloughs in search of salmon fry, sculpin and whatever else should come their way. They travel in groups like a pack of rabid wolves in search of prey.

Visually pleasing, the cutthroat is decorated with magnificent spots up and down its lateral line. Under their jaw they display lipstick-like markings—another work of art. I could admire them forever but I practice catch and release as these fish are in decline. There are a lot of factors going against the cutthroat, such as urban sprawl and the subsequent lack of natural riparian zones where they thrive.

I would like to tell you that cutthroat are difficult to catch but I would be lying. Cutties give up their location by their rises, aggressively slashing at fry on the water’s surface. I’ve witnessed what looks like a hot tub when a pack of cutthroat was viciously attacking fry in front of me. One of the cutthroat fisher’s tools of the trade are binoculars. With them you can cover lots of water in your search for their rises. Successful areas to target cutties are sloughs, creeks and river mouths that sustain healthy fry populations. Don’t overlook side channels on bigger rivers such as the Fraser, Harrison and Pitt systems. Finding out when fry are hatching and what species can really help your success rate. To aid your search, call local hatcheries and find out if there are any release dates of fry or if there are fry hatching in the river.

As a fly chucker, matching the hatch can be very helpful in your fly selection. My favourites are muddlers in different shades of natural to represent chum, olive to represent sockeye and gold for dirty water. All my flies consist of a bead and a red throat of tying thread to represent a bleeding minnow. Other times proven patterns such as the mickey finn, the olive woolly bugger with a gold bead head or epoxy minnows should be located in your fly box. Fly lines that are used by the cutthroat angler are floating lines, intermediate sinking lines or clear ghost tips as these fish feed on the surface. Nothing can send one’s heart racing as much as when on the strip and witnessing the wakes in behind your fly as a toilet bowl flushes on your presentation. Cutthroat are true game fish exhibiting strong runs and, on occasion, acrobatic leaps, giving anglers something to look forward to if you are a true trout bum. Just because you don’t toss flies don’t let that stop you—cutthroat are aggressive feeders that will take almost anything thrown at them.

The most successful way to intercept cutties and to cover water is with spoons and spinners. My favourites are 3/16 crocs with the smaller hook size, as they do far less damage to the fish when hooked.  In my experience silver fire stripe or fire wing is the winning ticket. Brass can also be very effective in stained or coloured water conditions, with the hammered finish reflecting the most light. For the spin fisherman, small silver spinners work really well. Use presentations which you are confident in. Mepps Aglia in a number two size is popular as well as Blue Fox in number one and two, silver being the preferred colour. Drift fishers can also produce fine numbers of cutthroat using blades in the smaller sizes. Colorado, French and Indiana blades all work well. I like to hang a blade on a quick-change snap for the easy alteration of size and colour. Place a few beads underneath to hang the hook directly below your blade. Many presentations can work well under a float, which is dew worms, single eggs, shrimp, or even wool. Make sure to trim your presentation down—a good rule of thumb is the size of your pinky nail.

Cutthroat fishing starts earlier, so those trout bums that normally wait to fish until the ice is off in our interior lakes don’t have to wait so long. Dust off that gear, take some casts and remember that around every bend of a river there is something new. From views to fish, it always changes.

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Garry Elgear

Contributing Author