Sea-run cutthroat like to return to their rivers in fall, typically following the salmon and eating their eggs. (Mike Benbow photo)

Sea-run cutthroat like to return to their rivers in fall, typically following the salmon and eating their eggs. (Mike Benbow photo)

It’s a great time to fish for sea-run cutthroat

Where to go and what type of gear to use as you seek out these trout trying to fatten up for the winter.

By Mike Benbow / Special to The Herald

Summers in the Northwest are special, but fall is my favorite season for fishing.

That’s because lake fishing can be very good as trout try to fatten up for the winter. And Puget Sound’s rivers are even better as they fill with salmon and with my favorite fish — sea-run cutthroat.

Now is the time that I usually start fishing for sea-runs in the Stillaguamish River. They often follow the salmon back into the river in August and September, eating salmon eggs before heading into the tributaries to spawn their own eggs in the winter or spring.

But the Stillaguamish is closed until Sept. 15 this year, so we’ll have to wait.

We can fish for sea-runs now in the lower portions of the Skagit and the Snohomish rivers, or we can stick to fishing in the salt water until mid-September.

Hit the beach

This time of year, sea-runs can be caught from beaches, especially those not far from their home rivers. In Snohomish County, parks at Picnic Point, Meadowdale and Kayak Point provide beach access, although you can’t fish for salmon at Kayak because of predicted poor runs of pink salmon.

I also have enjoyed fishing from the beach at South Whidbey Island State Park in Island County.

Beach fishing for sea-runs is fairly simple.

Cutthroat are an aggressive fish, and they will usually hammer a lure or a fly that looks a lot like a baitfish. You’ll need a pair of chest waders and wading boots to help you search for fish, but you don’t need to wade out too deep.

I generally like to fish in the morning or evening a couple hours before and after high tide, but you can always go when you have the time available. If the light levels are low or the day is cloudy or rainy, the fish are often fairly close to the shore.

Fishing is usually better while the water is moving than it is at the slack tides.

Look for areas near weed beds, boulders and other cover. They provide protection for baitfish, which is what sea-run cutthroat like to eat.

When you arrive, spend a little time watching the beach for active, rolling fish and looking for tide rips before wading in and casting. Your first few casts shouldn’t be far from the beach so you have a chance at any fish in close.

Then cast further out into the moving water, letting your intermediate or floating line blend into the current before twitching it in.

Strikes are typically pretty solid. If you feel a fish grab, but it doesn’t hook up, keeping working your lure or fly and hope it comes back.

Check the bays, estuaries

If you have a boat, you have more opportunities to find fish.

Sea-run cutthroat run into the saltwater to seek more food than they can get in the river. But unlike salmon or steelhead, they typically don’t go too far from their home river, hanging out in the river estuary and nearby bays looking for crustaceans and baitfish.

Like the river creature that they are, they often hang out around areas that provide cover and food, like rocks, weed beds, points of land, and steep drop-offs.


I typically use a 5- or 6-weight clear intermediate line, which sinks slowly, and a 4X leader or 4 to 5 feet of 6- to 8-pound monofilament line. If I use a floating line, usually when fishing poppers on the surface, I typically add a longer leader. If you’re not a fly fisher, use a lightweight spinning outfit with 8-pound monofilament.

I like to release my sea-runs so that I can catch them again, so I take a pair forceps to crimp down the barb and some nippers to cut my line. A release net and a box of flies are usually all I need.

Talk to us

More in Sports

Seattle Mariners shortstop J.P. Crawford, left, and center fielder Kyle Lewis celebrate the team's win over the Los Angeles Angels in a baseball game in Anaheim, Calif., Monday, Aug. 31, 2020. (AP Photo/Kyusung Gong)
Mariners see development, progress in truncated season

With more talent on the way, Seattle’s rebuilding timeline appears to be coming to fruition.

Seattle Seahawks outside linebacker Shaquem Griffin, left, blocks Dallas Cowboys offensive tackle Brandon Knight during the second half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Sept. 27, 2020, in Seattle. The Seahawks won 38-31. (AP Photo/John Froschauer)
Shaquem Griffin impresses Seahawks against Cowboys

Cut when Seattle reduced its roster to 53, the pass-rusher proved he deserves another opportunity.

Everett's Dustin Wolf stops a shot at goal against Seattle Sunday evening at ShoWare Center in Kent on March 8, 2020. The Silvertips won 3-2. (Kevin Clark / The Herald)
Community sports roundup: Wolf again on U.S. hockey radar

Plus the WIAA is offering free mental training and a local park will host women’s football tryouts.

From left to right, Seattle Mariners Kyle Lewis, Kyle Seager and Dee Gordon stand together at a “summer camp” baseball practice in July, in Seattle. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson)
POLL: How do you grade the Mariners’ 2020 season?

Seattle missed the postseason yet again while giving young players valuable experience.

Seattle Seahawks' Jermaine Kearse catches the game-winning touchdown pass in front of Green Bay Packers' Tramon Williams during overtime of the NFL football NFC Championship game Sunday, Jan. 18, 2015, in Seattle. The Seahawks won 28-22 to advance to Super Bowl XLIX. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)
Kearse, author of many big moments for Seahawks, retires

The wide receiver who also starred at UW was a clutch performer during Seattle’s Super Bowl years.

Seattle Seahawks wide receiver Tyler Lockett reacts after scoring a touchdown against the Dallas Cowboys on Sept. 27. (John Froschauer / Associated Press)
Tyler Lockett is Seattle’s most important wide receiver

He’s overshadowed by the flamboyant DK Metcalf, but Lockett makes the big plays.

Meet the 9 new members of the Snohomish County Sports HOF

The class includes legendary teams, athletes, coaches and voices from the area.

Washington co-defensive coordinator Jimmy Lake works with players at the first practice of spring football for the NCAA college team Wednesday, March 28, 2018, in Seattle. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson)
UW ‘off and running’ in preparing for season opener

After a ‘roller coaster’ offseason, new head coach Jimmy Lake turns his attention to the football field.

Seattle Seahawks receiver Tyler Lockett, second from right, celebrates with teammates DK Metcalf, center, and Jordan Simmons, right, after Lockett scored a touchdown against the Dallas Cowboys during the first half of Seattle’s 38-31 victory Sunday at CenturyLink Field. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson)
Grading the Seahawks’ 38-31 victory over the Cowboys

The offense shines again, while questions still linger about the defense.

Most Read