How To Fish for Sea-run Cutthroat Trout: Learn from the Pros

September 24, 2021

Are you hoping to catch stubborn cutthroat trout and looking to make the most out of your fishing trip? Then this article is for you!

Today, I’m sharing with you a detailed guide on how to fish for sea-run cutthroat trout, offering valuable tips, and answering common questions to help ace the challenge.

How to Catch Sea-run Cutthroat Trout

Cutthroats generally love to eat aquatic larvae and nymphs that reside just under the water’s surface. As such, one of the most effective ways of catching sea-run cutthroat trout is to bait them using imitation nymphs (for example, a bead head pheasant tail or prince nymph size 12 – 14).

A lot of anglers also like using dry fly patterns that mimic mayflies and stoneflies (for example, the Renegade) when fly fishing for sea-cut cutthroat trout.

As for the fish cover, sea-run cutthroat trout are known to ambush their prey so they typically lurk behind or under log jams, logs, eddies, root wads, cut banks, or large boulders and shoot out to snatch their meal when it floats by with the current.

Your best shot is fishing at such cover, although angling can vary with different environments and types of cutthroat.

A light tackle is usually enough to land a smaller cutthroat. But since this fish can get pretty aggressive, you should pack various spoons, flies, spinners, and other lures for the trip.

  • Remember, if you’re using dry flies, fish with a Stimulator dry fly to get cutthroats to bite, especially if there are natural stoneflies nearby.
  • Also, if you’re fishing in brackish water, make sure you’re using fly patterns that mimic ocean fish bait such as salmon, shrimp, or char.

Things to keep in mind

Cutthroat Trout caught

Before fishing for sea-run cutthroat, keep in mind that they’re not picky about their food. So, bring with you a variety of imitator-type patterns for dries and nymphs.

Additionally, if you’re fishing in the early season, go for shelves in pools and lakes or shallow water. Don’t get impatient as you may end up casting multiple times in the same spot before scoring a bite.

Fly Fishing

Fly fishing is a popular technique for catching sea-run cutthroat trout because they can eat pretty much anything that anglers throw their way.

This is also the reason that a wide range of flies is effective in fishing them.

Cutthroats are similar to most trout as they like to feed on aquatic invertebrates and insects as well as land bugs that accidentally fall into water such as beetles, ants, and hoppers.

Contrary to what you may think, having a diverse diet like this one makes it easier to choose an appropriate fly for the job. After all, if you’re not totally accurate when matching the hatch, your flies will still attract the fish.

At night, there’s a good chance you won’t see signs of the trout. In this case, fishing with attractor patterns (for example, streamer patterns) can help you make a catch.

Oftentimes, sea-run cutthroat trout prefer going after leech-type patterns coupled with breathable elements.

Don’t forget that to achieve the best results when fly fishing for sea-run cutthroats, you should do your best in matching the hatch.

Then, simply put it out there and observe how the fish reacts to it.

While light tackles are pretty much the standard for most cutthroats because they don’t grow very large, save it for the smaller streams. There’s always the chance that you’ve caught another species of fish that requires more tackle.

When fly fishing for sea-run cutthroat trout, most anglers use graphite rods of length around 8 to 9 feet and a 4 to 7-pound test rating.

Additionally, some of the best patterns to use in this department are the stickleback, the black wooly bugger, as well as silver and black flatfish. These patterns are ideal for fishing shallow in the spring and fishing deep in the summer.

Lure Fishing

Cutthroat Trout

When it comes to lure fishing for sea-run cutthroat trout, there are no special requirements. The most important thing is that you make sure you take a nice variety of small spoons and spinners with a bit of a shine to them.

Here, the best tackle depends on the technique you’re adopting. But generally speaking, you should be fine using a medium action spinning rod of length about 6.5 feet and a spinning reel.

If you’re trying to catch large sea-run cutthroat trout, most anglers would recommend sticking to the baitcasting fishing technique. However, you don’t need to use any special lures, baits, or flies. You can attract this fish using worms, leeches, and minnows.

How to Fish for Sea-run Cutthroat Trout —Tips

  • Target shaded spots and areas with deep water close to cover. These are common hangout places for sea-run cutthroat trout as they get to wait for unsuspecting prey without being seen. 
  • Don’t cast your lure right on top of where you think they’re present because this will freak the fish out. Instead, cast your lure past them in a close area.
  • When reeling in your lure, do it slowly at first, even slower than your usual. If you reel in your lure too fast, you’ll make it seem unnatural and the once intrigued trout will lose interest. This is one of the most common mistakes among beginner anglers.
  • Pay close attention to any disruptions on the line. If you do feel a bite, don’t yank the line in an attempt to get the cutthroat trout hooked — this is another very common mistake among newbie fishermen. Instead, keep reeling in your lure slow and steady. This is enough to set the hook on the fish.
  • Safely and humanely land the sea-run cutthroat by refraining from getting it out of the water. What you should do is use a sturdy pair of fishing pliers to remove the hook from the fish’s mouth. If you’re using a net, make sure it’s a rubberized model so it won’t hurt the trout.
  • Switch up your location if you aren’t getting any bites or catching anything. Simply move up or down a bit along the place you’re fishing. Also, mix things up lures-wise with different colors until you find something that appeals to the fish.
  • Keep tabs on weather and water conditions because although sea-run cutthroats exist in just about every type of habitat, they often have preferences depending on the environment.

For example, fishing in deep water with a slow to moderate current is better when it’s cold. Whereas when the water temperatures rise, you’ll have higher chances of catching cutthroats by fishing in choppy waters.

You should also choose appropriate gear depending on the water conditions. As a rule of thumb, the clearer and calmer the water, the lighter your equipment should be.

For example, fishing in clear water on a bright day is best matched with a light leader and a small, subtle-colored terminal presentation. On the other hand, fishing when the water is a bit murky on a cloudy day is better matched with a heavier monofilament leader and a larger terminal presentation with more vivid colors.

When is the Best Time to Catch Sea-run Cutthroat Trout?

Cutthroat Trout landed

While you can fish for sea-run cutthroat trout any time of year, they can be found in varying locations as the water temperature changes.

For example, as the water temperature rises during the summer, the fish usually moves deeper. Here, you can use flies, lures, and baits to catch them.

In general, winter isn’t the ideal season for fishing for sea-run cutthroat trout. The best time is between April and October.

The reason is that cutthroat trout spawns at the beginning of December during early winter. Fish that aren’t spawning in this period are mainly concerned with feeding and become very lethargic due to the low temperature of the water.

If you want to fish during the winter, then it’s best to find a high-pressure system when the water is a bit warmer so you can see the trout more easily close to the surface.

Sea-run Cutthroat Trout — FAQs

What do sea-run cutthroat trout eat?

The coastal cutthroat trout has a diet consisting of small fish and insects, while the inland variety eats squid, sandworms, and shrimp.

Where do sea-run cutthroat trouts live?

These fish live in a wide range of coldwater habitats including lakes, mountain streams, bog ponds, rivers, and headwater tributaries.

How can you Identify a sea-run cutthroat trout?

Some obvious characteristics of a sea-run cutthroat trout include:

  • Yellow and red streaks decorating the underside of the fish’s jaw.
  • Black spots all over their bodies, but not on their fins.
  • A blunt head shape with relatively long jaws.
  • Sea-run cutthroats can reach a maximum length of 30 inches.

Wrap Up

Cutthroat trout are present pretty much in all types of habitats.

So, I’d say that the very first advice on how to fish for sea-run cutthroat trout should be to simply get up and pick a nearby stream or river, small or large, that allows trout fishing and offers some access, and just fish!

Happy Hunting!

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