The Joys of Sea-Run Cutthroats, and How to Catch Them

Written by: Leland Miyawaki, Fishing Manager, Orvis Bellevue (WA)

Searun 1

A beautifully marked sea-run cutthroat caught on the surface with a Miyawaki Beach Popper.

photo courtesy Leland Miyawaki

When fly fishers think of the Pacific Northwest, they think of wild rivers full of salmon and big wild steelhead. But when the salmon are still meandering their way down from Alaska and the steelhead rivers are running high and dirty, the savvy fly fisher picks up a fly rod and heads to the nearest beach. Yes, you’re reading me right, beach, as in Puget Sound, the big inland sea that makes Seattle what she is.

Coastal cutthroat trout (Oncorhynchus clarki clarki) is our native trout and has the most diverse lifestyle of all salmonids. They spawn multiple times in their natal freshwater streams, and most importantly, they can spend almost all of their adult lives cruising and feeding within thirty feet of the waters edge along the hundreds of miles of public shoreline!

Old-time trollers are fond of saying that, “if you can’t see the bottom, you’re too deep,” and it’s true. We fish gently sloping rocky beaches with floating lines, long leaders and small baitfish imitations. Fish either the ebb or flood tides, look for moving water, and don’t bother with the high or low slack tides.

“Searuns” are always on the move, searching out prey along the beaches. Sometimes they’re here and sometimes they’re there. If you’re looking to count numbers caught, go poach a hatchery. If you’re looking to spend a few hours on pristine, clear waters, with spectacular scenery, and catch and release (mandatory) a few beautifully marked wild trout, then this fishery is for you.

What you’ll need: 

  • 9-foot, 6-weight fast-action rod 
  • floating line 
  • anodized saltwater-ready reel 
  • 9-foot 0X leaders 
  • Flies: Chartreuse Clousers; Olive and White Lefty’s Deceivers; Gold Rolled Muddlers; and did I tell you searuns love surface flies! You might want to try a Miyawaki Beach Popper (a surface fly of my design sold only at the Orvis Bellevue store). All flies in size 6.

If you need more information or want some hints on where to start, give us a call at Orvis Bellevue (425-452-9138) or check out our Facebook page.

Searun 2

The author fishes for searuns off Penrose Point State Park on Washington’s Puget Sound.

photo courtesy Leland Miyawaki

9 thoughts on “The Joys of Sea-Run Cutthroats, and How to Catch Them”

  1. Hello Leland,

    I stopped by your store this past Sunday to pick up a 5 wt Encounter outfit. Always a joy to shop at Orvis, but you really made my day by helping me get acquainted with the realities of fly fishing in the Seattle area. Specifically, I have not been able to get sea-run cut’s off my mind – which led me here. I am hoping to venture into the sound soon, but would like your input on a few things. I only have hip waders (drift-less native here), and am wondering if they will suffice to get me deep enough. I plan on using the 5wt I just bought. Though the rig is not saltwater, I believe that rinsing it off well after use should keep in good working condition, but correct me if I am wrong. Finally, I live in Kenmore (northern tip of Lake Washington) and would like to know if you would recommend any good beaches in the central / northern part of the sound, on the eastern coastline.

    Thanks for the great experience!

    – Jordan

    1. Yes, your 5wt will be fine, but be sure to throughly rinse your rod and reel in fresh water as soon as possible. Hip waders probably won’t work, as unexpected waves can splash over the tops of your boots. Or, you might step in a low spot with the same result. Try Lincoln Park or Golden Gardens, about half an hour from you.

  2. Driving up North from Stockton, CA…..I’ll be staying on my cousin’s boat with family for two days (Aug. 30/31), Eagle Harbor Bainbridge. Have an 8 wt., 9, and a freshwater 5. Full sink striper line and Intermediate Sly-line for the 8 and 9 wt. Also access to paddle boat or can drive to nearby beaches. Any tips/info on where to go, flies, line type for Coho, Silvers, Cutts, or anything close-by. Just want to slip away from Fam and wet a line….. preferably with a good chance of hooking up of course…. Have been wanting to fish this part of the country for some time now and its just never worked out.I only have a little time…. can’t go Hardcore and can only pack minimal gear in the car …. Any help or direction would be greatly appreciated!!?

  3. I run a Scandi line by rio on the end of my floating line. Then a bright pink shrimp streamer. Kills them every time.

  4. I live on Vashon Island, and I was wondering if you know any good places to fish for these fish or any other fishes with lures or trout bait. (That’s All I Can Afford) I went to Dockton Park today, and I fished off the dock, I didn’t get a single bit after nearly 3 hours, then I went to shore, and I casted it out. (It was high tide) Still no bites, but I did see a few small fish follow me both when I tried it. I forgot to mention, when I was at the dock, I had what looked like a 2 pounder of some type nibble on my lure, but then it ran away after the 2nd nibble, that was the only time I was even close.
    Thanks, Hope you can get back to me!

    1. I spent many days of my youth fishing dockton park (short walk from my grand parents house) there is indeed very good sea run cutt fishing there, I used to catch perch til I’d get a fat prego one the would squirt out live babies. As soon as I had my live babies I’d head for the very end of the dock and start catching 20″ Cutts. This was over 25 yrs ago, but there still out there. I only ever fished it in the summer june/July. Toss some little cleo’s and I’d bet you’ll get some.

    2. When I was a young kid, I spent summers at my grand parents house up on top of the hill just past the fire dept. I would walk down to dockton Park and fish for perch. I eventually figured out that I could catch sea run Cutts out at the end of the dock. Lots and lots of them. Keep trying they will be there. I fished late June through July.

  5. Hi Leland, I’ll be on Hood Canal at Dosewallips State Park this weekend, any tips on location or gear? I’ll be fishing with lightweight saltwater spinning gear. What would you think of throwing a floating fly on a long leader behind a float? Any other ideas? lures or bait?

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