Idaho Cutthroats.

27 08 2019

This past week I had the opportunity to go fishing in Idaho.  I had some friends out there that needed some help so, after a little research, I booked a guide to fish the Coeur d’Alene river in northern Idaho for West Slope Cutthroat Trout.  Turns out this river has the only population of this species (of which there are 14 different ones) of Cutthroat trout.  There is even a sub species of the West Slope trout called the Black Tail West Slope Cutthroat Trout, but more on that later.

I met my guide, Sage Guerber of Castaway Fly Charters, at their shop in Kingston Wednesday morning.  After a brief introduction we were on our way.  Once we launched the boat, Sage gave me the rundown on what to expect today.  August isn’t usually the best time of the year for this but he was determined to make my trip a memorable one.  He told me fish would be active the first few hours in the morning on the surface.  After that we would concentrate on nymphing with indicators and eventually stripping streamers.  We would use several different set-ups throughout the day, most of them rather foreign to me.  I’m a big fish, big fly, heavy rod, heavy leader kind of person.  Today, it would be mostly 5x, 2 pound tippets and size #18 and #20 flies.  Basically stuff the size of a gnat.  Our first rig was a foam hopper pattern and an 18 inch dropper with a #18 nymph on the end.  Sage told me that the fish would concentrate on the nymph but don’t be surprised if one takes the hopper.  I had to concentrate on the hopper because either a fish would grab it or it would sink because a fish grabbed the nymph below.  There was a fair amount of surface activity so I started casting along the seams and into the areas where we saw fish rising.  It didn’t take long and my hopper disappeared.  Of course I set the hook to hard and I missed the fish.  Sage told me to scale it back and set the hook like I was lifting up to do another cast.  A few minutes later the hopper sank again and this time I hooked up.  Sage netted the fish and much to my dismay it was a little Rainbow.  Not what I came here for.

Once he was released we floated downstream a bit to the next area.  Fish were rising again so I went back to casting in the area.  It didn’t take long and I soon had another fish on.  This time it was what I was after.

Not bad for my first Cutthroat.  A quick pic and he was back in the water.  In an effort to boost the populations and preserve the fishery the whole river is catch & release with barbless hooks.  It appears to be working because I would catch fish all day long and see plenty in the deep holes as we floated by.  A little further downstream we came upon a slower section of the river and there was a lot of feeding activity on midges, teeny, tiny midges, like size #20 midges.  Sage asked if I wanted to try to catch one on the surface and I said “Sure”.  He told me it is difficult to catch them this way.  The small hook makes a good hook set difficult.  Throw in the fact that I could barely see the fly in my hand let alone 60 feet away.  I gave it my best shot and about 10 minutes later I had another nice cutthroat.

This is what they call a Black Tail West Slope Cutthroat.  Some of the fish have this mutant gene that gives them a darker color in the tail section.  Still the same fish, just a bit more of a mutant.  I managed to pic up a few more in the area until we eventually moved on.

The next area was a deeper run so Sage had me switch over to a double nymph rig to get the flies deeper.  We didn’t pick anything up so we moved on and switched back to the Hopper rig.  Sage had switched out the hopper though to a purple foam stone fly imitation to see what might happen.  I started casting and now the fish were hitting both the Stone fly and the nymph below.  Mostly smaller fish but at one point I had an experience I will never forget.  While the purple stone fly was drifting down I saw a dark shadow move up from the depths.  I watched this 20+ plus male rainbow swim straight at the fly in slow motion.  I swear my eyes got bigger as I watched him slowly open his gaping mouth and clamp down on the fly.  Once he turned to go back too where he came I set the hook and the fight was on.  Sage let a “Holy Crap” as I was trying not to put too much pressure on him for fear of breaking the light line.  The fish just stayed in place, shaking his head back and forth, trying to shake the hook.  After about 10 second he did just that.  Sage let out a yell of disgust but I went back to casting.  I’m not keeping them anyways and that slow-mo take will forever be etched in my memory, which is what I am really out here for anyways.

For the rest of the day things were pretty uneventful.  I did bust the line on a bigger cutthroat but I expected that.  I was actually kind of surprised I didn’t do it more often.  We were nearing the end of the trip so Sage tied on a grey rabbit strip streamer and told me to have at it.

Music to my ears.

For the next hour I stripped this streamer through every hole and sunken tree I could see.  I had a few bumps and had a few fish turn on it but no takers.  We were near the end when Sage told me to make my last cast downstream of a sunken tree.  I laid the fly in there, let it sink for a couple of seconds and once I gave it a strip I saw a fish come out from under the tree and T-Bone it head on.  No finesse set here, I drove that hook home and the fight was on.  A few minutes later and he was in the net.  This was the kind of fish I was hoping for.  I wanted to get a pic of him in the water next to the rod and reel but there wasn’t any shore line where we could do that.  I took a few obligatory grip and grin shots and sent him on his way.

Not a bad way to end the day.  I wanted to catch a cutthroat and I did, about a dozen or so.  Lost and missed a few and witnessed probably one of the best surface takes by a trout I will ever see.  I had the whole river to myself and never saw another fisherman.  The view wasn’t so bad either.

I did remember to take a close-up of a fish so people could better understand why they are called cutthroat trout.

The reason for the name

Once we pulled the boat, Sage gave me his card and told me to contact him if I ever make my way back out here.  He told me the best fishing is in June and October.  I told him June is a possibility since I may be going back to Alaska in the Fall.  I also told him I want to catch a Bull Trout and he said he can arrange that.

I certainly hope so.