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Part Fifty-eight

Using 'Cutt-bait' for Sea-runs?


By Allen Roberts (aka searun)
Photos by Jim Birkholm

Here in Puget Sound there is a year round fishery not many people know of; and it is one of the best fisheries in the Pacific Northwest. If you live on the 'Sound' I'll bet within a half-hour's drive there is a hot sea-run cutthroat spot near you.

I recently found one such spot by accident. On Christmas Eve I was out for a walk, and stopped to talk to a friend in downtown Port Orchard, Washington, a small sea-port village directly west of Seattle. As we chatted I noticed some surface action going on off the beach where we were standing. My curiosity was up but I didn't have any time to fish right then because of the holidays. I did plan to return a few days later to investigate since this shore-line is only a few blocks from my home!

Upon returning to this spot the following Monday I put on the usual size eight candle fish pattern and cast out about seventy feet with my six weight fly rod. I got a hit on the first cast but was unable to hook the fish. I cast once more in the same spot, again with the same results, a solid strike and no hook up. I checked the fly after a few more casts and saw it was pretty well thrashed. I put another fly on, same kind. Again they thrashed my fly and I still I hadn't One fly - one fish - trashed hooked a fish. Cutts have substantial teeth, note the photo after one fish. I decided I needed to go smaller as they might be smaller fish or hitting short. I put on a size ten bunny strip pattern I tie (I call it a 'Cutt-bait' for lack of another name) and connected on the very next cast! I proceeded to land eleven 'cutts' on as many casts. Over the next two hours I released about twenty-five fish from twelve to eighteen inches.

Sea-run Cutthroat

Sea-run Cutthroat are a beautiful silvery-green, heavily spotted fish with bright yellow fins. In my opinion they are the most beautiful trout of all. They are anadromous which means they migrate, spawning in the fall and winter months. After hatching in our rivers and streams they run to the salt water much like our steelhead. However, they can hatch in streams not much wider then a few inches, places where salmon and steelhead can not go. This area has hundreds of small streams making for excellent spawning and hatching; and great fishing. Once in the salt-water they don't travel far from their home stream, usually no more than a few miles, closer if food will permit. The Washington state record cutt, taken on the Carr Inlet in 1947 was six pounds, equivalent to landing a 40 pound steelhead!

Cutts feed on sand lance, sculpins, shrimp and very small salmon. Your flies should imitate these things. Streamer patterns such as JC's Marblehead (Candle Fish) and Clouser Minnows all work well year round, but Euphausid will work better in the winter because they are smaller, and cutts love them; in fact so do the silver salmon. I prefer them in an olive color rather then the usual pink and white.

Cutts also take dry flies, a size ten Royal Wulff or Adams work great.

A five weight rod is alright but a bit light, on windy days you will need a six weight. You need to be able to cast at least sixty to seventy feet, farther if possible. I use a twelve foot 5x or 6x leader on a floating line (WF6F/S) with a ten foot slow sink tip. If you use a regular floating line (WF6F) you might need a longer leader to get down, although they do not seem to be leader shy at all.

Sea-run cutthroats are shallow water feeders usually not more than twenty feet deep, sometimes only two or three feet deep. I look for rocky beaches and oyster beds close to a fresh water stream. Remember, the stream does not have to be all that wide. I have seen these fish in streams only two feet wide. If there are trees that have fallen into the water all the better. I also fish around large rocks and boulders, the down current side of little points and small coves. Fishing from a boat is a plus but not needed.

If you are in a boat set yourself about fifty or sixty feet out, depending on the waters depth, and cast toward shore. If you are fishing from the shore, or just wading try to cast parallel to the shore, or out at a slight angle. The best time seems to be the incoming tide till about an hour past the high slack tide. That's when the bait fish will be there. Early morning before the sun rise, right after sun down, or on cloudy days are the best times to be on the water.


In the last few years there have been new regulations put into effect. In the South Sound you can not keep wild sea-runs. You can only keep hatchery fish, the ones with the adipose fin clipped. I have never seen a clipped one. They are all wild. I think they should be protected all over, not just the South Sound. All flies used in Puget Sound must be barbless. The Department of Fish and Wildlife has done a great job in the South Sound so far; lets hope they keep up the good work. So, the next time you have a chance to try for sea-run cutthroat trout, try using cutt-bait, it works for me. ~ Allen Roberts

Editors Note: When not pestering sea-run cutthroat and salmon, Allen Roberts works in the commercial fishing industry. Some say he works too hard, fishes way too often, and spends far too much money on fishing gear. They might be right, he may work too hard.

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