Hood Canal Sea-Run Cutthroat - A Year Round Fishery!

April 28, 2016

Hood Canal Sea-Run Cutthroat (SRC) fishing can be described as a success story since its inception in the late 1990's as a catch and release fishery for marine waters. Catch and release only regulations have truly turned this fishery around, and it now attracts attention from anglers world wide - definitely a bucket list fishery!

Red's and Capt. Chad launchingHard fighting, vibrant sea-run trout that don't shy away from an erratically stripped streamer are a few words I would use to describe this unique fishery. The gin clear waters of Hood Canal are breath taking, with stunning views of the Olympic Mountains shadowing high above.

Dry fly fishing in the saltwater - yes! Just as trout in rivers or lakes sip fully hatched adults from the waters surface - so do Sea-Run Cutthroat. However, sometimes these takes can be violent as fish chase poppers across the surface. Poppers simulate a herring, sand lance or possibly a salmon fry in distress. On the flip side, you may also see a nose of a nice SRC slowly rise up and suck down a Chernobyl ant, just as you might in freshwater.

Just as trout do on the Yakima River, SRC will generally feed 90 percent of the time subsurface. Therefore, the most successful technique is streamer fishing a variation
of patterns. Seasonally, the patterns can change just as in any trout fishery and thinking outside the box, matching the hatch, and trying different patterns can be the route to success.Large buck from Hood Canal

This unique fishery offers up a year round fishery in a saltwater environment that spans shore lines of over 2,000 miles throughout the region.

Below, I have added some tactics to try if you are approaching a new beach.  

Sea-Run Tactics:
What I mean by SRC tactics is how to approach a beach by foot to fish it. I’ll lay out some of the key indicators to look for in a beach and then how to start fishing it. This time of year with the chum fry noodling along the beaches in rather shallow water, anglers should approach cautiously making sure not to jump right in splashing around. This could spook Sea-Run Cutthroat (SRC) right from underneath you and you might miss a shot at a nice fish. Rather, stand back as you approach a beach, and take a minute or two to survey what is happening on the water. Quite often, SRC’s will be in 6-12 inches of water right in close to shore either staging behind structure with current moving by or aggressively chasing chum fry, sculpins or other baitfish along beaches that provide a food source and cover.

Guided boat adventures on Hood Canal

Questions to ask yourself as you approach a beach:

Do you see any chum fry activity, or active fish attacking chum fry, sand lance or other baitfish? What is the current doing – meaning which direction is it moving? Where is the best place to start fishing, and where is your best estimation of where the fish will be located? Is there structure (rocks, oyster beds) that might hold fish? Once you take a minute or two to survey the beach, and you have locked down some of information from the questions above it is time to get started.

Similar to river fishing, these fish hold in certain areas for certain reasons – almost always related to a food source, current bringing the food to them and protection from predators.

  1. Start beach fishing in close to shore first, and then work your way out further with each cast. This allows you a shot at those shallow running fish that are in close to shore. Beaches with current, like a river, are my favorite to fish. Similar to swinging flies for steelhead take a step or two down current after each step to allow maximum coverage of surface area. Remember, don’t pull the fly out of the water to quick as you are retrieving. I like to bring the fly right into almost the tip of my guide. Many times SRC’s will chase it right to the end as you begin to pull the fly out and begin another cast.
  2. Cast and retrieve at a 45 degree angle to the shore. This allows keeping your fly in the zone longer, particularly if fish are holding in a certain depth along the shoreline.
  3. Give it ACTION! SRC’s love action to a fly. A triple strip and pause works well, particularly with conehead or dumb bell eyed flies that sink on the pause.
  4. See a jumper – cast to it! Active fish show themselves and are aggressive. These guys love a good meal flung their way and nine times out of ten will attack your fly.
  5. Fly switch – if it isn’t working and there are active fish in front of you match the hatch. Yes, sometimes we have to get back to the basics and try to match what these guys are eating.
  6. Last, but not least – handle them gently. Make sure to use single barbless hooks and a rubber catch and release net. If possible unhook them with pliers, rather than grabbing them.

Hope these tips help bring a few more SRC’s to the end of your line.  To book a trip on Hood Canal, please visit our guided adventures page for Sea-Run Cutthroat fishing.

  1. Great article Chad, thank-you for posting. I'm looking to head over to Hood Canal with my boat in tow this summer to chase down a few of these fine fish. Is there a particular area on the canal that you find more productive? Tony
  2. Hi Tony, thanks for responding. Hood Canal in general is really productive. So, launching at any one of the public launches will offer up productive water. However, as in any fish this is done through time on the water - as in any fishery. One of the most unique characteristics of this fishery is these fish move. One day you find them, and you return again on the next day and they are gone. They will travel miles searching for a food source, and particularly follow large food sources like the chum fry migration as they move towards the ocean. Give me a call at 509-591-2029 or email chad@fjordflyfishing.com when you get closer to coming over and I will give you spots to try.
  3. Hi Chad, My family is vacationing at a VRBO on Triton Cove in mid August. Any suggestions for fishing SRC during that time of the year? Thanks, Scott
  4. Chad, I enjoyed your article! I'll be in the Seabeck area later this week with a few fishing buddies and since I've never been in this area before I thought I'd check in to see whether or not you can recommend any spots or tactics. Also, I couldn't find anything in the Washington Fishing regs regarding SRCs. Can you fill me in on what the regs might be?? Thanks! Gary