Upper Left Native – Pursuit of the Coastal Cutthroat

Time was fleeting and we had a hard stop. Airplanes don’t wait for anyone, I suppose… unless your someone… but we are just “anyone”.  Our morning destination was 75 miles away and depending on Seattle traffic, could take anywhere from 1-2 hours, leaving us with an abbreviated fishing window. Having been up late the night before, we debated just sleeping in and enjoying a relaxing morning before flying back to MN; after all, the chances of success weren’t great, but you’ll never know the potential outcome of your actions if you don’t act and we didn’t come out to Seattle to sleep, so we loaded up the truck with all our belongings and headed out.

The days prior were spent exploring Cascade mountain streams, and floating 12+ miles of the renowned Yakima River. This morning was going to be a bit different—we were trading our 15 ft. accurate-casting and attentive-mending, for long, blind casting and double hauls; mountain streams for the Puget Sound; and rainbow trout for coastal cutthroat… we hoped.

There are several different species of cutthroat trout, but the coastal cutthroat stand out from the rest, spending most their lives in salt water. Like steelhead and Pacific Salmon, coastal cutthroat return to freshwater to spawn, but spend most of their adult lives cruising the saltwater coasts ranging from northern California to Alaska.

We made our way south of Seattle, to a finger of the Puget Sound that my buddy Conner was familiar with. The weather was typical northwest: gloomy, cool and damp; which is generally welcomed by fishermen, but not many others. The tide forecast was also in our favor, calling for a strong moving tide which is generally preferred when pursuing coastal cutthroat.

We hiked 15 minutes to our desired destination with anticipation growing each step. Upon arrival, we discovered that the tide forecast was far from accurate; it was a slack tide and the lowest Conner had ever seen. Suddenly the optimism that had built was quickly diminished; but we had gotten up early and made the trip, so of course we were going to give it a shot. We walked across what felt like 150ft of sandy, shell-filled ground typically covered in salty water, but was now dry and covered with small crabs and oysters.

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Waste deep in the water, we started casting our small streamers into the “Sound”, hoping to cross paths with a feeding Cutty, but knowing the odds were not in our favor. After 90 minutes had passed with no results and a plane to catch shortly, optimism had dwindled. Blind casting into open water over and over again without results starts to ware an angle down, but I told myself I would continue casting until we absolutely had to leave for the airport, and I’m glad I did…

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At this point, Abigail was off wandering the beach in search of crabs (yes, really, she gets distracted pretty easily), and Conner had headed back towards the forest-line to chat with a friend. With mere minutes remaining before the trek back up to the truck, I continued double hauling my streamer into the water, but my brain was beginning to focus on the travel that loomed over the remainder of the day. That’s when it happened—as my streamer closed in about 15 ft. from me, an explosive tug shook my rod. Thankfully, I kept enough focus despite the hours of casting to nothing, that I was able to get a good hook set into the unknown fish at the end of my line and the battle was on!

“Fish!!” I yelled. Conner had the only net and he was 50 yards away on the beach. “Fish!” I yelled again. I turned to see Conner running at a full sprint, net in hand hoisting up his waders (I later found out he was taking care of some minor business, which is why it took two yells). As Conner made it into the waist-deep water, I wrangled the fish within reaching distance. Having netted hundreds, maybe thousands, of fish in his day, Conner netted my catch with little concern. With one look at the specimen he yelled, “Cutty!” I was ecstatic. Persistence had paid off and I had the fish I was after in the net in front of me.

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After a hug, high five and a few quick photos, we released the native coastal cutthroat back into the salty Puget Sound. The sea lice on its back was evidence of its time offshore. The 20-minute walk back through the lush PNW forest to the truck was a little easier with the recent success still driving a “fishing high.” I’ve caught plenty of memorable fish in my time, but there haven’t been many that excited me to this extent. At 16 inches, it may not have been a “trophy” by size, but taking into consideration the context—a native fish found only in the PNW region—it’s a trophy in my book, and a fish I won’t forget.

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As our flight took off for Minneapolis, I looked out the window at the landscape I had just spent 4 days fishing and couldn’t help but think a return visit to the Upper Left will definitely be in store.

 

 

 

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