In a sheltered bay on Hood Canal lies a Cutthroat Stash.
Where fallen trees point across oyster beds towards crumbling pilings, the resident sea run trout of the Salish Sea feed undisturbed.
That undisturbed part is all my fault, and it’s starting to change.
You see, my family has had a cabin on this beach for three generations. I’ve crabbed, sailed and fished Washington’s fjord all my life. The education I received from the Canal, and from the family I spent time with there, is an integral part of who I am.
Learning how to bait a crab ring and haul shrimp pots, without stinging Sea Nettle jellyfish covering your arms. How to dig clams and shuck oysters, or when to pull one spitting from the grill. How to troll downriggers for Chinook and drift fish the estuary for chum. How to start (and restart) an outboard, and right a small sailboat in rough seas.
And how to clear brush, pull weeds and split a cabin’s worth of firewood.
Despite my salt-soaked upbringing, it wasn’t until I fell hard into fly fishing after college that I grasped what might lurk above our oyster beds when the tide came in.
I knew the Sea Run Cutthroat fishing on Hood Canal could be good. And we had occasionally trolled with spinning rods and Dick Nite spoons for the twelve- to twenty-inch anadromous trout.
But I had never casted flies for them.
Never stripped in a streamer until a wake appeared behind it. Never watched the surface shatter in a splash of silver as the line comes tight to a frantic little predator.
Armed with a six weight rod and the cabin kayak on my first exploratory SRC fly fishing trips, I found I could cover the entire bay and come up with just a fish. Or none.
But when I walked down the beach at the proper tide, fishing towards that pocket of water that swirled between white oysters, black mussels and the skeletons of tarred and salt-worn timber, they came on nearly every cast.
Then the tide went slack and they were gone again.
Big for coastal trout, aggressive and confident. Sea Run Cutthroat feed with a frenzy on the sculpins, worms and baitfish that call the beaches of Puget Sound and Hood Canal home. And they will take flies with reckless abandon.
But they’re not easy to find. And as a catch-and-release, barbless-hooks-only fishery, you lose as many as you land. But they fight with the vigor and frenzy of the salt, enough to forgive a few long-line releases.
And when a thick Sea Run comes sliding into the net they are toothy and green-backed, adorned with spots, limpets and barnacles. A perfect specimen of the wild world that swims beneath tidal waters so close to the places we call home. And home away from home.
Sea Run Cutthroat are typically open for catch-and-release fishing year round in Washington. In the saltwater, nine foot five and six weight fly rods with light, clear sinking tips, seven foot leaders and salmon fry, baitfish and sculpin fly patterns work well.
The best fishing often occurs in late-fall, winter and early-spring.
Any gently sloping beach in the Salish Sea can hold Sea Runs. As most tidelands are private and restricted access, a small boat or kayak is a great way to cover water. Look for moving tides and geography or structure that alters the water’s flow, including points, pilings, creeks and oyster beds.
Fish will hang in water anywhere between one foot and ten feet deep. As they are almost always on the move, keep working up and down the beach until you locate a pod.
Or a Cutty Stash.