Chuck Morrison of Marysville fights a sea-run cutthroat that darted out of the rip-rap along the Stillaguamish River to grab his fly. (Mike Benbow photo)

Chuck Morrison of Marysville fights a sea-run cutthroat that darted out of the rip-rap along the Stillaguamish River to grab his fly. (Mike Benbow photo)

No need to travel far for fishery unique to Northwest

Fishing for sea-run cutthroat is special to Northwest rivers like the Stillaguamish.

It seems a little odd for me to be excited about the waning days of summer, but I can’t help myself.

Now is the time that sea-run cutthroat trout return to their home rivers and creeks. And fishing for sea-runs in the Stillaguamish River has always been one of my favorite things to do.

I’m not alone.

“They’re so unique to the Northwest,” said Dale Dennis, who works in the Fly Shop at the Cabelas store in Tulalip. “And they’re becoming an increasingly popular fishery.”

Dennis said more of his customers are asking about fishing for sea-runs. He’s been fly fishing for them since he was in high school in the 1960s.

Sea-runs can be found in saltwater estuaries in the spring and summer and in freshwater in fall and much of the winter. They’re great sport fish in either location.

“They’re extremely aggressive to the fly,” Dennis said.

He noted that sea-run cutthroat are one of the few local fisheries that aren’t threatened or endangered, partly because anglers must release any they catch in saltwater.

The fact that sea-run coastal cutthroat, also called harvest trout, are a freshwater fish that spend a great deal of their life in saltwater is what makes them unique in the Northwest. They range from coastal rivers in Southern Alaska to Northern California.

Cutthroat in the Northwest started spending time in the saltwater because coastal rivers don’t have enough food. Cutthroat typically don’t go long distances at sea, but instead spend time feeding in the estuaries near their local rivers. They return to the rivers in August, September and October, following spawning salmon and eating errant eggs.

The cutthroat lay their own eggs in January and February before returning to saltwater.

Steve Gobin of Tulalip, an avid angler who has fly fished for sea-runs since he was a young boy, noted that cutthroat typically spawn in “virtually every small tributary of the river, including roadside ditches.”

That makes sea-run cutthroat more accessible to more anglers, which is OK to Gobin, who enjoys catching and releasing the aggressive, scrappy fighters.

“They’re like hooking a steelhead, but they’re a smaller fish,” he said. “It’s a nice feeling. I’d rather fish for cutthroat any day of the week.”

Last year, the Washington State Department of Fish and Wildlife closed the entire Stillaguamish River to fishing in an attempt to aid returning salmon. This year, the main stem of the Stillaguamish, basically the portion of the river downstream from Arlington, is open for trout fishing.

The regulations allow anglers to keep two trout, including sea-run cutthroat, if they are over 14 inches in length.

I use barbless hooks and release all the sea-runs I land because I enjoy catching them so much. And Dennis would recommend that others do the same just to try to keep the fishery in healthy numbers.

Gobin, Dennis and I all have the same favorite fly for sea-run cutthroat — a pattern called the Knudson spider. Although we all like a different color. For Gobin, it’s claret; for Dennis, it’s red; and for me, it’s orange. The pattern, which is popular throughout the Northwest, was created by the late Al Knudson of Everett, who designed it originally to fish for steelhead in the Stillaguamish River. His original color was yellow.

If you’ve never fished the Stillaguamish for sea-runs, finding access to the river is probably the most difficult thing. People with boats can usually find launching spots in Arlington, under I-5, and off Marine Drive south of Stanwood. Waders have more access by following the roads along the lower river and walking in.

I typically walk along the gravel bars and fish the deeper channels or holes along the river.

Sea-runs are often found along some form of structure — fallen logs, stumps or boulders. They also will hide below trees and bushes on the water’s edge and along rip-rap rocks used to stabilize the riverbank.

On cloudy days, a floating fly line can work well. But a line with a five- to ten-foot sinking tip is usually more effective in getting down to where the fish lie.

Talk to us

> Give us your news tips.

> Send us a letter to the editor.

> More Herald contact information.

More in Sports

Everett freshman Anna Luscher hits a two-run single in the first inning of the Seagulls’ 13-7 victory over the Cascade Bruins on Friday at Lincoln Field. (Aaron Coe / The Herald)
Everett breaks out the bats to beat crosstown rival Cascade

The Seagulls pound out 17 hits in a 13-7 softball victory over the Bruins.

X
Silvertips swept out of playoffs by Portland

Everett’s season comes to an end with a 5-0 loss in Game 4; big changes are ahead in the offseason.

X
Prep roundup for Saturday, April 20

Prep roundup for Saturday, April 20: (Note for coaches/scorekeepers: To report results… Continue reading

X
Prep roundup for Friday, April 19

Prep roundup for Friday, April 19: (Note for coaches/scorekeepers: To report results… Continue reading

FILE - Seattle Seahawks NFL football offensive coordinator Ryan Grubb speaks to reporters during an introductory press conference, on Thursday, Feb. 15, 2024, in Renton. Seattle has seven picks entering this year’s draft, beginning with No. 16 overall in the first round. (AP Photo/Stephen Brashear, File)
A new era arrives for Seahawks entering 2024 NFL draft

Even with John Schneider still in charge, the dynamic changes with Pete Carroll gone.

The Seattle Storm's new performance center is seen in Seattle on Thursday, April 18, 2024. (Erika Schultz/The Seattle Times via AP)
Storm become 2nd WNBA team to open own practice facility

Seattle debuted its new facility in the Interbay neighborhood Thursday.

Shorewood’s Netan Ghebreamlak prepares to take a shot as Edmonds-Woodway’s Kincaid Sund defends in the Warriors’ 2-1 victory Wednesday night at Shoreline Stadium. (Aaron Coe / The Herald)
E-W weathers Shorewood’s storm in battle of soccer unbeatens

Alex Plumis’ 72nd-minute goal completed the comeback as the Warriors topped the Stormrays.

Seattle Seahawks new NFL football head coach Mike Macdonald speaks during an introductory press conference, Thursday, Feb. 1, 2024, in Renton, Wash. (AP Photo/Stephen Brashear)
New coach Macdonald wants his Seahawks to forge own legacy

The pictures of iconic moments from the Pete Carroll era have been removed from Seattle’s training facility.

X
Prep roundup for Wednesday, April 17

Prep roundup for Wednesday, April 17: (Note for coaches/scorekeepers: To report results… Continue reading

Glacier Peak’s Karsten Sweum (10) celebrates after a run during a baseball game between Jackson and Glacier Peak at Glacier Peak High School on Tuesday, April 16, 2024 in Snohomish, Washington. Glacier Peak won, 5-3. (Annie Barker / The Herald)
Glacier Peak baseball blanks Jackson, 3-0

Karsten Sweum’s home run and 14 strikeouts helps the Grizzlies past the Timberwolves.

The Winnipeg Jets’ Nikolaj Ehlers (27) scores on Seattle Kraken goaltender Philipp Grubauer (31) during the second period of their game Tuesday in Winnipeg, Manitoba. (Fred Greenslade/The Canadian Press via AP)
Kraken need to consider effort levels when building roster

With a playoff-less season winding down, Seattle’s players are auditioning for next season.

X
Prep roundup for Thursday, April 18

Prep roundup for Thursday, April 18: (Note for coaches/scorekeepers: To report results… Continue reading

Support local journalism

If you value local news, make a gift now to support the trusted journalism you get in The Daily Herald. Donations processed in this system are not tax deductible.