by Dusty Miller
I find that many folks here on the island are acute observers. Most of us can spot a bald eagle sitting on a stump or in flight from a couple of hundred yards away. A dark expanse of water, when the sound otherwise looks like a mill pond, is recognized by many as windy conditions moving in. There are ecosystems working away under the surface of the water as well that can also be recognized by employing a keen eye.
Ever see “nervous water?” It can be recognized as a slight stipple on the water, and then another and then perhaps an area of dimpling a few yards wide or so. It’s not easy to spot and will be surely overlooked by someone not actively seeking out this condition, but standing on the beach and carefully examining the surface of the water you will soon recognize the footprint of baitfish that come into shore to feed. Perhaps you are now ready to move on to another article in that the advent of a group of stickleback or sand lance swimming around does not fill anyone with much awe. It will, however, if you happen to have a fly rod in hand. (A note here: If you have a fly “pole” in your hand you are reading the wrong article - all knowledgeable fly fishers own fly “rods”, not “poles.”)
You see, sand lances or other baitfish don’t jump out of the water for fun. Jumping is serious business because it is a method of escape.
Escape from what you might ask? Salt water trout says I.
Yes, Virginia, there are trout living in Puget Sound. Big trout. Every spring they move from the numerous river systems in our state right onto a beach near you. They spawn and then move out into the salt water to feed and grow large. And they feed on sand lances, sticklebacks, bullheads and other baitfish. They also feed on kelp shrimp and small crabs but that is a topic to be reserved for another time. Good salmon fisherman will scan the horizon for seagulls actively feeding on the water. They know that the birds are feeding on herring driven to the surface by salmon and other large predators. The same reasoning applies in the catching of searun trout. Jumping baitfish denote feeding by not only salmon but searun cutthroat and dolly varden. I’m sure many have witnessed fish rising close to shore. They will be anywhere from 6 to 18 inches long or longer. They look like rainbow trout to the uneducated eye but upon close examination you will find the unmistakable red “cut” marks on the throat of the fish.
Patrick McManus once said that if you are lost in the woods the sure way of being found is to go to the nearest creek and catch a fish, because immediately afterward 4 people will come out of the bush and ask you what you are using and one of them will most assuredly be a game warden who will also ask to see your license. So what do you use to catch these beautiful trout in Puget Sound? Obviously, you’d use a fly that resembles a baitfish of some kind and I would suggest the lowly sand lance. You will not find this fly at Cabelas but you might be able to locate them on-line. I tie my own. As you can see in the photo I try and duplicate the coloring and size of the original. (This is not my pattern, but that of my fishing partner.) If you see cutthroats rising, cast over to the rise with this pattern and strip back very quickly. These fish can hit like a freight train so be ready. There’s an added bonus you should be ready for as well. Dolly varden will readily take this fly pattern as well and they can be big . . . very big. I saw my partner catch and release a 31 inch dolly varden right off of the beach. I measured it myself before it was set free and my Deliar has called B.S. on many a boast of many a fisherman or fisherwoman, although I’ve found the former the more prolific liar. Lying about the size of your fish is not a violation of any fishing code, however. But that is the subject for another occasion.
Fish at any depth from the bank. I have found 7 to 12 feet to be optimal but there is nothing poured in concrete in this regard. Deep holes are good as well as rocky areas which provide protection to the trout from larger predators such as eagles and seals. Watch for baitfish skittering just under the surface or jumping out of the water. Watch for rising trout then make your cast just beyond the “ring” made by the rise, strip back fast, and hang on.
Caveat: This is a highly addictive activity. It may cause unbridled profanity, heated arguments amongst friends, fights with your spouse, alcoholism, tobacco usage, and some bad habits too.
Dusty Miller was raised by “goodly folks” but he created so much consternation in the home that his parents traded him to a band of Blackfeet Indians that happened to be passing through his parent’s ranch in Montana. More about Dusty here…