This is the time of year when most Northwest fly fishers thoughts are focused entirely on steelhead. But I also love fishing and guiding in the salt for cutthroat in winter. And since I haven’t been able to get out to the rivers this week because of the snow, I have been organizing and planning a few saltwater cutthroat clinics for spring, including a weekend “cutts and chum” event with my buddies Jeffrey Delia and Ron Hirschi.
One of the things I dug out of my bookcase as I researched the clinics is my friend Joe Jauquet’s wonderful 2002 report, “Coastal Cutthroat Trout (Oncorhynchus clarki clarki) Diet In South Puget Sound, Washington 1999–2002.” I have written about the report numerous times and mentioned it in my last book, Fly-Fishing Guide to the Olympic Peninsula.
In addition to cluing anglers into the importance of chum fry, salmon eggs, and bottom-dwelling creatures such as polychaete worms in the cutthroat diet, Joe’s research also clearly shows that winter is the best time of year to take a really big cutthroat in saltwater. Indeed, of the 15 15-plus-inch cutthroats examined in the study, 7 were caught in January or February. That matches my experience as well. The biggest I’ve ever caught, a 20-plus-inch bruiser, was a winter fish–although it was in December. And Jeff Delia has been taking a lot of really big cutts this winter, as you can see in his great essay in my Christmas Newsletter.
What were those late winter cutthroat eating in Joe’s study? Well, polychaete worms, Arrow Gobies, isopods, surf smelt, salmon eggs (presumably a late chum or coho spawner), shrimp, and gammarid amphipods.