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Fraser River cutthroats will spend their first two years in the main river or its tributaries. Larger waters such as the Harrison and Pitt have “runs” which follow similar behavioral traits. With the spring freshet (late May or June) the down stream migrations of cutthroat smolt, now between 8” and 10” begins. The marine environment of the Fraser River tidal estuary provides and abundance of food. Feeding on juvenile herring, needle fish, shrimp and on smaller invertebrates they will migrate further to forage the beaches from Crescent Beach through to the Sunshine Coast. The third year of their cycle allows for rapid growth and by late summer, they have grown to 12” to 14”. The fourth year seestheir return to the Fraser River and tributaries.

Depending on the traits of genetic diversity they will either return to the Fraser system in the late summer of their third year or the spring of their fourth. The fall runs will coincide with the salmon runs, providing feeding on loose eggs set adrift in the spawning process. Depending on food availability and water conditions, they often winter in the mainstem and its backwaters. The spring runs precedes slightly the salmon fry ‘hatch’. Depending specifically on water temperatures the emergence of alevin from the gravel will occur in late February and March. Feeding on any aquatic insects for the interim they instinctively await the alevin emergence. Based on accumulated thermal units, essentially time and water temperature, the incubation period for salmon eggs varies. The emergence of salmon fry falls in this order... Pink, Sockeye, Chum, Chinook and Coho. This order will vary throughout the watershed as specific winter condit6ions will often differ.

Regardless of the species of their salmonid cousins, the cutthroat will accept any unwary fry to fill their appetite. As the warmer weather of late April arrives, the salmon fry will be quite large and require more aggressive feeding. The warming of tributary watersheds throughout the Fraser watershed will eventually bring about the freshet by mid May or at the latest, early June. The annual high water flushes the rivers of both salmon fry and cutthroat. With the fall of water levels in late August, the cutthroat will return. By this time they have attained their adult size. Depending on age they will vary in size. Three year old cutties will be between 14” to 18”, varying with individual feeding and marine habitat. Four year olds can be as large as 20” to 24”.

In recollection , may years ago I witnessed an experienced gentleman casting with skillful grace along the beach just north of the Langdale ferry terminal. It was a long weekend and faced with a three sailing wait we walked the beach where we encountered the lone fisher. It was to my amazement when his line tightened into a surface swirl. With the calm of experience he played the fish through several jumps and runs until the fish tired. Noticing my obvious interest, he beckoned me nearer. With caring hands he cupped a beautiful cutthroat. My memory envisions and outstanding prize cutthroat of about 24”, it looked huge and I could scarcely believe my eyes. The rays of sunset shone off the magnificent fishes golden belly. At his request, I had the honor of plucking the fly from its lip. Knee deep in water, we both watched as the great fish sulked into deeper water. Captured by the moment, we looked at each other, the expression on his face was one of true accomplishment. I recall the moment in a ‘snap shot’ memory. Remembering the awkward pride in his voice when he said, “I’ve spent 20 years trying to catch that fish and I’d do it all again, however, next time I’m bringing a camera.” That fish was definitely the largest cutthroat I have ever seen. By the third and fourth year, mature cutthroat will have acquired the golden tone to their belly, hence the nickname ‘yellowbelly’ given them.

The cutthroat trout provide a wonderful fishery in late winter until early summer. Easily caught in their smolt size, they are ideal sport for families. Ultra-light spin tackle is perfect for fishing the waters of the Fraser river in its low water levels. Bait is very effective, fished either on the bottom or with a float set-up. The drawback to fishing bait is that the young smolts are aggressive feeders and are often deeply hooked. Despite restrictions on using barbed hooks, most will have to be cut free rather than attempt removal. The minimum size for cutthroats in rivers, streams and sloughs is 30 cm. Most smolts will be undersized and should be released unharmed. Note should also be taken that ALL wild trout and char have to be released in those same waters. Ha6tchery trout which can be kept will be easily identified as their adipose fin (the small, fleshy fin between tail and dorsal) will be removed.

There are many good choices of lures which are ideal for spinning for cutthroat. Spoons such as the ‘Rainbow Croc’ or ‘Ultra’ in their smallest sizes can be cast easily. Lighter spoons such as the ‘Gypsy’, ‘Dick Nite’ or ‘Super Duper’ will require a small lead shot or two to get some casting distance. Cutthroats are aggressive and will readily chase down and attack a well fished spoon. Seldom hooked anywhere other than the jaw, spoon caught cutthroats can easily have their single barbless hook removed. For the fly fisher, the cutthroat trout are a great adversary. The relative abundance of cutthroat smolts (1 to 2 year old) somewhat assures some level of success even on the off days. The promise of encountering the larger, mature sea-run is there and will demand more from the angler. Aware of the natural foods they are less susceptible to being fooled and have to be deceived. Understanding better the feeding situations encountered is key to achieving success in this fishery.

Prior to the emergence of the salmon fry, cutthroat trout will forage for any aquatic food. The backwaters and channels of the Fraser have greatly reduced water flow. Mild weather combined with the warmth of a sunny day will trigger hatches of tiny winter stoneflies. These small black stoneflies are often less than 1 cm in length. Noticeable on shoreline rocks, they are often found in numbers when hatching. Any small, dark nymph will produce when fished in the shallows. In slow and stagnant water, fish with a floating line allowing the fly to sink well before a slow steady retrieve. The fish will take lightly, often barely tightening the line. In waters with some flow it may be necessary to affix weight to the leader. These areas will be best fished dead drift with the floating line. The use of bead head nymphs will also help. Even flies quite large in comparison to the hatching nymph will work and are often fished easier. It seems that the winter stone, being the first hatch of the season puts the fish on the feed and they become vulnerable. As 5the weather warms, there will be hatches of both chironomid and mayflies in the slow waters. Often these hatches will occur in isolated areas. The heat which radiates through shallow water will warm the shoreline waters slightly. If the water has too much flow or is too deep, there will be little hatching in those areas. Once cutthroats have tuned in to a hatch it seems like they notify there friends of it. Often, when the hatch is on, be it winter, stone, chironomid of mayfly, the numbers of fish feeding in the area increases. Unfortunately most hatches are brief and the intense action is shortlived. The emergence of alevin is the largest feeding opportunity for cutthroat. The alevin are feeble in their ability to swim and once caught in the current are carried away. Survival instincts draws them close to shore where they will seek safety amongst the rocks. As they mature and lose their egg sack they become free swimming and will school in the hundreds.

The cutthroat trout will feed in a frenzy when they locate clusters of alevin or schooling fry. Slashing and swirling at the fry, they will readily show themselves. They seem to work in groups, herding the fry against the shoreline taking turns in the role of feeder and herder. The salmon fry are usually on the surface of the water, less than a foot below the surface.

Fishing with a floating line is preferred, using a leader of about 12’ to 14’. A fine tippet of 4# works great and the use of fluorocarbon material for tippet will prove the most effective. A quick retrieve in short pulls of about 10” will provoke the chase which the cutthroat expect. A slow retrieve will often be given almost no response. When alevin are present, the cutthroat will key in on them. The “Egg and Eye” is most popular and now falls second place to more realistic “Hot Glue Alevin” now available. As the alevin presence declines and the fry migration begins, it will become important to mimic the fry with flies of appropriate size and coloration. Pink salmon fry will be the smallest and are often dark blue or green. Chinook and Chum fry are the largest, the Chinook brownish in color, the Chum being dark green. Coloration will vary depending on their surroundings. “Tied Down Minnows”, “Rolled Muddler” and “Mallard Streamer” are ideal choices. Even more accurate minnow patterns such as an ‘epoxy Minnow’ will prove irresistible to frenzied cutthroat.

Although most active feeding is done based on hatches of the presence of fry, the cutthroat are opportunistic feeders. The use of attractor flies will often produce when the bite is seemingly off. The ‘Mickey Fin’, ‘Woolly Bugger’ and the ‘Doc Spratley’ are good choices for searching for opportunists.

The best fishing in the Fraser for cutthroats starts in mid February and will continue through to the start of the freshet in May. Productive areas are throughout the system and can easily be discovered with a little exploration. The one thing to keep in mind when you venture out on the river in search of cutthroat is that they are renowned for their tendency to appear and disappear. It may take a few trips to different spots to coincide with the fish. Watch for any signs of surface activity, usually cutthroat on the feed will show themselves. If you encounter any insect activity or an abundance of fry in any area, it will usually just be a matter of patience, likely the fish will come. The Cutthroat fishery in the Fraser Valley is virtually in our backyards. A fun and challenging fishery. Given some effort and respect it is yours to enjoy now and for hopefully many, many more years to come.

Peter MacPherson
 

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Thanks for the great insight.
I really appreciate getting info to help me increase my skill level and knowledge.
 

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WOW! That is great info to know. Thank you for sharing that with us.:thumbsup:
 

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I have a great respect for any 14" fish that can scare the crap outta me when they hit the fly. They can hit so hard, there is no mistake you got a cuttie on the line. Westcoast, break out that txl 2wt! :D

Edit: Thanks for the wonderful article and insight into how to target the cuttie.
 

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The cutthroat trout provide a wonderful fishery in late winter until early summer. There are many good choices of lures which are ideal for spinning for cutthroat. As far as the body color for these inland cutthroats is concerned it really depends on when and where you catch these fish. This is a highly variable fish in coloration and size.
 
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