Fly Fishing the Olympic Peninsula for Coastal Cutthroat

Fly Fishing the Olympic Peninsula for Coastal Cutthroat

Apologies for the lack of posts lately, but I have been busy during the last few months of summer.  This is a one man show, so I’ve been trying to convince myself to write more posts. On to the more exciting news: on my most recent vacation, I was able to make time for a bit of fly fishing!  Any time I find myself near a place that has even a remote potential of being a trout habitat, I have to fit in time for fishing.  This time was no different.

I’ve never been west of Tennessee, so I was excited for the opportunity to visit this part of the country.  The Olympic peninsula is about 3 hours outside of Seattle and is home to a wide array of habitats.  We visited the rocky coast to peer into tide pools, spot whales and sea otters along the shore, and hiked through a rain forest in the same 50 square miles.  The entire area was extremely dry due to a drought, but the mountain rivers were cool and clear.  We happened to stay near the Calawah River one night, so I walked down to the stream one morning to check it out.

I tried a couple of runs and noticed a few small fish rising at the tail end of a riffle.  I cast a size 24  gray parachute adams to see if there would be any takers.  After a few misses… fish on! Or was it?  It ended up being such a small cutthroat, that I hardly registered the weight of the fish.

tiny cutthroat parachute adams
my first cutthroat 😀

I decided to walk down the river a bit to find another spot to fish.  The original path I took down to the river ended at a large and deep pool, but I had a feeling this section was heavily fished due to the ease of access.  While walking downstream, I stumbled upon a section of fast water that dumped into a more shallow pool and decided to give it a shot.

I think a lot of people tend to avoid fast moving water when trout fishing, which is exactly why I migrate towards it.  You can’t always be sure that you’ll find trout there, but I’d say your chances are good if you can locate a deep channel in a river.  The fast moving water keeps fish hidden from view with the added bonus of plenty of bugs and nutrients flowing towards them at a fast rate.   Also, one of the best things you can do for yourself as an angler is to not limit yourself to one technique.  I remind myself of this all the time, and have developed a few tricks to allow myself more freedom on the river.  I think by deciding that you are a “dry fly” or “Nymph” person, you are really limiting your prospects.  At the first spot, I used a dry + dropper, and at the second, I decided to tight line nymph. For this method, I tied on a yellow caddis nymph, with a red and black stonefly nymph as the anchor fly.  A couple casts into tight lining the channel; I felt a nice tug and set the hook.  It was a short fight, and that fish was gone!

Tightlining, fly fishing
Here I am at the aforementioned second run to pool section. The Calawah River, WA

It wasn’t long before I had another fish on, and quickly brought that one to my net.  It was a beautiful wild coastal cutthroat.  To be honest, I had to confirm with a fellow Instagrammer on the identification.  Here was the first of many over the next hour or so (Click and zoom in if you want to check out that fly they were loving):

Calawah River, WA Cutthroat Trout
one of many cutthroat

After catching between 5-10 trout out of the second spot, I had a hunch that the deep pool just upstream couldn’t be void of fish.  I decided to switch tactics once more, and tied on the chunky streamer I tied a few months ago.  A few casts into it, and I had a big hit.  I knew whatever had taken the streamer was much bigger that the 8-12″ trout I had been catching, and was excited to see what it might be.  After giving the 4 weight a work out, I finally brought a much larger cutthroat to the net.

cutthroat Calawah river
Trout of the day, safely released

All in all, it was a great trip. If you’re ever headed to the olympic peninsula, I’d definitely recommend taking a day to hang out with a few of its wild river residents.  Depending on timing, I hear there’s also amazing steelhead and coho fishing.  I hope one day I can check that out, but this was a nice self-guided and low key outing.



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