Friday, May 30, 2014

Chasing Down The Prince Of Tides . . .

Your Olympic Peninsula Fly Fishing Guide
Catch & Release, Fly Fishing Only.

Chasing Down The Prince Of Tides . . .

Andy Hill, Gentleman Fly Angler
On the hunt for sea-run Cutthroat.
   My fishing buddy Andy Hill wrote a nice essay for the #16 June 2014 issue of The Flyfisher Magazine about his years of sea-run Cutthroat fishing here. Andy is one of the most passionate fly fishermen I know. Well, "rabid" might be a better word for him really. He travels all over the world chasing trout, and sea run trout, in some pretty exotic locations, Africa, England, Ireland, The Falklands etc., and even right here in Puget Sound country. We manage to get a few days on the water together every year. Last year he came in the fall and the conditions were perfect, the fishing was superb. We got a late start each morning,(after breakfast at our fishing trip headquarters in Chimacum- Farm's Reach Cafe), and finished in the evenings most days. And on some days we used my beach dory, which I only use for friends. Andy wears felt soled boots, no cleats, and he's good company. We have enough fun with the fishing that the memories last all year. We probably gain a few pounds too.

Fishing a flooding bar on Puget Sound.


By Andy Hill

   We had been cruising around in Bob Triggs’ pea-green dory all morning, him at the oars, me at my rod.  The fish had been very cooperative. “Let’s drop in on that beach while I make us some lunch,” said Bob, and we pulled his lovingly restored boat up the pebbles, made it secure and unloaded the cold box for a lunch of humus and olives, pickles and cheese, flat bread, blue corn Doritos, aged Italian salami and fresh strawberries. We don’t stint on lunch. It shows. We look less like an owl and a pussycat than overweight Hell's Angels in waders these days.

   “You might like to go up the shore a bit and cast into that rip,” said Bob, a guide whom I now count as a friend and guru in all maters to do with flies and fishing with them. He might have meant; “piss off up the bank a bit. I’ve had you all morning,” but it was unlikely. Bob knows these waters like the back up his pickup truck. He is as keen for you to catch fish as you are.

   So I wandered up and found a spot where the incoming tide was pressing against slack water over a shallow, stony flat, and put my fly into the water. It was a Clouser Minnow dressed with blue streaks. It hit the water and swung with the tide – no retrieve needed - and then there was a sharp, no-nonsense “gimmee” grab, and a fish was on. Less than five minutes later it was at my feet, unwittingly posing for this magazine. A sea-run cutthroat or cutt, or SRC if you like. Its official name is Oncorhynchus clarki clarki.  Whatever. It was about 12” long, and as wild as the wind, a golden marbled back, its side covered in black pepper spots and its jaws bearing the red slash that gives the species its name.

One of many bright sea-run Cutthroat that Andy caught last fall here.

   We watched it swim away, fully recovered, until its shape merged with the gemstone shop bottom and we could see it no longer. I looked down the beach towards our boat. A baby seal was watching us, an osprey was hovering high above, there was not another soul for miles of tree-lined beachfront, and barely a cloud in the sky.

  Where else in the world can you fish for wild trout year-round for the price of a £50.00 State permit, and stand a good chance of taking a salmon too? Where else can you wander for miles and not see another angler? It’s a question I have asked myself every year for the past four years, and the answer remains the same. Probably nowhere. Which is why I return to Puget Sound in pursuit of cutts and coho and other salmon.

  There’s 2,500 miles of shoreline around Puget Sound and you can be fishing and catching a few hours after touch down in Seattle, especially if you fire up with a little of the coffee for which the city is famous.

Andy Hill, taking a break, surveys 2500 miles of shoreline, sea-run style.

   And this is fishing from the shore, as opposed to saltwater fly-fishing. You don’t need a skiff, shorts, shirts in Day-Glo colours, and a headband to anchor your wraparound mirrored Polaroids or a rod with a fighting butt. A boat is fun, and Bob’s is a treat, but there is nothing like playing a feisty cutt from the shore or thigh-high in the ocean, and then wandering down the beach to another spot. There are endless spots in this network of fjords, countless National and State parks where you can leave your car and stroll down to the salt.  There is water everywhere you look in this part of the world, and almost all of it is fishable.

   All you need is a good eight or nine foot trout rod twinned with a #5 or #6 floating line, tapered leaders down to about 3x, waders and boots, a hat (preferably one that won’t blow off) and polaroid glasses.

   You don’t actually need special flies because a Woolly Bugger will take the cutts and so will muddlers and conventional flies, even dry ones. But it does help if you have a few of the local patterns in your box, and these are readily available at any tackle shop around the Sound.

   Bob’s rightly famous for his Chum Baby imitation, a sparse brownish fly that imitates the chum salmon fry on which cutts and salmon gorge in the early part of the year. But it’s a good fly year-round too.

  But before you go doing your bit to boost the Washington State economy, you’ll need a licence. I get mine from a hardware store and they are easy to come by. You can get a three-day permit or a year-round one and they cost less than a new line. You can’t get them online. 

    Then I’d advise a guide for a couple of days so you can get into the swing of things, swing being the operative word. You can just go right down to the nearest stony beach, cast and maybe catch, but a little bit of expert wisdom goes a long way and helps you avoid duff techniques and locations.  If you’ve got time there are good books and I’ve listed a couple plus some websites that are heavy on practical rather than lyrical.

   You don’t need to cast a long way but you do need to drop a fly in active water or a “rip” where the tide is bruising against slow water or an uneven bottom, obstruction or rock pile. Low slack water is generally considered to be the least rewarding water, although fish are caught that way, especially over a sandy bottom when eels are in abundance. Eelgrass is another good sign of a potential cutt lair. Tides do matter and if you do find local anglers they are probably out three hours before and three hours after a good tide, probing the places like oyster beds and clam beaches where crustaceans, sand lances and other food are thrown up by the turmoil. Cutts feed on this stuff, but so do baitfish, and there are some great imitations of herring and salmon fry available.

Releasing a wild sea-run Cutthroat.

    Cutts are born in the river systems around Puget Sound.  Some migrate to the sea for months at a time, generally between spring and autumn. Some live in the ocean year-round but the truth is we don’t know an awful lot about them, except that they have recovered in numbers thanks to an angler-led conservation effort started in the 1970s which has led to them being awarded official protected status in 1988. It’s catch and release, and barbless hooks only.

   What we do know is that they move, sometimes up to 20 miles a day. A beach that produced a bagful yesterday might be a blank today. The fish move with the tides to scour out the food that makes them such tough specimens. They rarely grow above 20” in the ocean, although bigger ones have been caught, but a fish of that size on a light rod in moving water is an experience that stays with you.

Andy's kit is ready.

   There are no “hot spots” as such but a guide or fly shop will put you on a stretch of beach somewhere around the Sound with a chance of taking.  The telltale signs of a good spot are pebbles, stones, barnacles, nearby trees and submerged obstructions. Eelgrass is a good sign too, Anywhere near where a creek or river runs out or where big pools drain back into the sea is also a likely cutt restaurant.

   I’ve found the occasional angler I meet on the beach truly helpful. There is a Band of Brothers feel about cutt fishing and many people I have met have given me flies and advice. I tend to stay in one place on the Olympic Peninsula for a base and there is lots of fishing on the beaches there, but I have a large map that is slowly deteriorating with salt water fingering, and I am happy to try a new place any day. You can fish in National Parks near Seattle – Lincoln, Golden Gardens, Carkeek, and on the South Sound there are Parks like Fort Flagler, an epic stretch of sand and stone,  and along the Hood Canal.

   One of the Band of Brothers and an inspiration is Leland Miyawaki, who turned his back on the advertising industry to manage the Orvis store in Seattle and is now their Fishing Manager. He gives tuition to would-be cutt and coho anglers and is a regular sight around the beaches. His enthusiasm for cutt fishing would be tribute enough but he has also invented a fly that has devotees up and down the Pacific seaboard. His “Popper” dressed in a variety of colours (pink for coho) brings fish up for a look. “I love dry fly fishing, it’s so visual, and I came up with the Popper for the beaches. Fish might mistake it for an injured baitfish or something, but whatever the reason they see the wake and come up for a look. Using a Popper will usually determine whether there are fish there or not, and it’s visually exciting. You don’t need a manic retrieve, just let it swing and bring it in slowly and keep your eyes open. You blink, you miss.”

Leland Miyawaki taking a break.

   Between August and the end of September there is a run of coho and humpback (Pink) salmon along the beaches; you can see them doing aerial ballet and also watch the ironmongers throwing their buzz-bomb lures and sunk herrings at them. 

   But there is generally space nearby for the fly angler and I took one coho and one humpback on Clousers this year, both very close to the shore of a sandy, windy beach where fish were moving. If salmon are your main target then you need a guide to help you locate where they are. Leland fishes his usual nine-foot six-weight for them, but this year I tried out an 11-ft #8 Orvis Access Switch rod that shot out line like a harpoon and calmed my nerves when the salmon started running in the general direction of Alaska. Rules about when you can fish for salmon, and which variety, vary from year to year so check the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife website.

Autumn run Puget Sound Coho or Silver salmon.

   The permit allows you to take fish for the pan and regulations change every year and need checking,  but with so much good salmon in so many good supermarkets, why would you? Mine recovered quickly in the wash and disappeared into the ocean in a flash. It was one of those moments when fishing again immediately would have been disrespectful to the species and the sport. Leland has the answer to such moments. He naps. He is famous for napping on just about every beach he fishes and it is customary to find him with trademark cigar a few moments before he dozes off. I didn’t get it, at first. How can you sleep with all that water and those fish in front of you? But I am starting to get it. There’s a moment after taking a good fish when all seems right in the world.

 Moments like this are perfect for lunch too.

We never miss a meal.
  The tide was pushing the dory up the shore as we rounded out our feast with freshly brewed coffee, watched an eagle, saw porpoises gambol and seals bob in the current. The snow-capped peak of Mount Rainer stood out on the skyline. We just sat back and looked. “I wonder what the poor people are doing,” said Bob.

Andy Hill, plying the night tides.

To learn more about Puget Sound and Olympic Peninsula region sea-run Coastal Cutthroat trout fly fishing, call or write for details. 

Olympic Peninsula Fly Fishing Guide and Instructor

  I am guiding fly fishers on the Olympic Peninsula beaches, rivers and streams. We walk and wade, fly fishing for sea-run Coastal Cutthroat trout in freshwater and saltwater, and in the rivers for trout and summer steelhead. This is strictly catch and release, traditional fly fishing only. Lunch, snacks, soft beverages, and use of some equipment is included. Personalized and private fly fishing and fly casting instruction, and guided trips are available, to beginners through expert anglers. Public presentations, Naturalist guide for Rowboat Picnics and Tide Pool day trips. Please call, write or email for booking details.

Bob Triggs
Little Stone Flyfisher
P.O. Box 261
Port Townsend, WA

Licensed Washington State Guide 
Certified Fly Casting Instructor
Trout Unlimited Aquatic Educator Award
U.S.C.G First Aid/CPR/BLS/AED/BBP/HIV Certified

Phone: 360-385-9618


No comments: