Within a couple hour drive of my hometown of Portland, OR, there are numerous places to fish. Many of these places aren't what you'd call blue-ribbon streams, but they are certainly worthy of investigation. You can cross the cascades and hit some amazing high-desert water; full of big, angry rainbows. Or, you can drive towards the coast and hit one of the dozens of coastal rivers. I decided fishing a coastal stream was a great way to spend the opener (May 28th on most streams in Oregon), as these rivers are pretty much unaffected by run-off. Though, they respond quickly to heavy rains, which there is no shortage of in the rainforests of the PNW.
Many fisherman will hit these rivers exclusively for the more fashionable Steelhead and Salmon, which leaves the plentiful cutthroat pretty much unpressured. These fish average 10-12 inches depending on the stream, with the occasional fish into the 16+ range. These fish show a lot of the same characteristics as their Sea-run brethren, so there is always the possibility of hooking into one of these little beasties that run in the 2-4lb range can be in the system all year. Steelhead will often hit the same flies as well, and will seriously test your composure if you hook a hot native.
Average cutty... about 11in:
The largest fish of the day was about 14 inches, though my phone had run out of batteries at that point
. These are all native, wild fish and put up a surprising fight for their size. A 12in fish would show off pretty well on my 5wt, and kept it exciting. Most of the fish had a nice light pink stripe along their spotted flanks, reminiscent of rainbow trout. They are stunningly beautiful in most cases, and occasionally have a tinge of "melted butter" that shows that they've spent time in the salt. I only had one fish that had this yellowy cast.
Most of the fish stuck to a specific type of water. I started the day fishing a dry out towards the middle of the stream, and I, of course, couldn't keep the chinook smolt off my line. I guess I was fishing as if I were chasing 'Bows, fishing bubble lines and riffles.
I remembered reading that sea-runs like slacker water (not quite frog water, but not much current), ideally near structure and even more ideally, under a canopy of trees. I guess this applies to resident Cutthroat as well, because I started targeting this water type and catching loads of fish. There were occasional sun-breaks throughout the day, punctuated by heavy, heavy rain. If sun was hitting the water my fly was in, I wouldn't get a bump. The second it passed back under the shade of some trees, I'd usually get slammed. It also served to keep me away from the smolts.
The ideal water looks something like this:
I'd tied up some #10 Olive Tungsten Cone Buggers the night before, as I knew that the water was going to be slighly up. These definitely were the ticket, swung and then stripped through the slower water. Quick, 5in strips with the occasional pause would get some pretty angry tugs. I only saw a few rises that weren't little tiny smolts, with some big, light brown and cream mayflies cruising around, and a light hatch of BWOs that the trout weren't much concerned with. During the heaviest rains, I'd get a couple solid takes per cast, but for whatever reason there were very few hookups during these downpours. In one spot, I was standing in a torrential gush of rain with hail mixed in, and I managed to only bring about two fish to hand after at least 15 takes. The hook had gotten a little bent, so I switched flies and had the same results.
All told, I caught about two dozen cutthroat, got thoroughly drenched one moment followed by the warmth of the sun on my shoulders the next. I'd fished a total of ten hours with the first two hours spent farting around with dry flies trying to figure the stream out. I also took a nice long break and ate lunch in the sun staring at the Ocean. The first spot I fished was exactly 60 miles from my front door... Not bad considering most Portlanders think you need to drive double that to get into good troutin' country. The reality is that there is literally several hundred miles of wadeable streams within a relatively short drive of Portland, filled with a variety of fish. You can simply choose a river that doesn't actually have the "hot" run of fish in it at that given moment, and you'll scarcely see another soul.
Overall, it was a good day and I needed it. I fished like I had something to prove, and proved it. I also managed to scout some good water for steelhead, and I'll be able to back in late August and catch sea-run cutthroat out the same holes I'd caught native cutts out of. This particular stream had a road right up above the bank, so I drove a 10-15 mile stretch just peering down and looking for cutthroat water. If I found it, I'd fish for a time and then just move on (or stay if it was possible to wade a good stretch without too much trouble).
If anybody lives in Portland and wants directions, I'd be happy to divulge. There is so much fishable water that I'd be glad to share some of these spots.