from the Ocean – Fraser River sea-run cutthroat trout
Fraser River sea-run cutthroat trout are a favourite of many Fraser
Fresh from the ocean, sea-run cutthroat have a silvery sheen, with the
usual red marking under the jaw. After spending a few weeks in fresh water,
sea-run cutthroat become reddish near the gills, and they lose their silvery
sheen. While rainbow and Kamloops trout are more sought after, the thrill of
catching a sea-run cutthroat trout appeals to dedicated cutthroat fishers.
Most Fraser River cutthroat vary from one to five pounds, although larger
specimens are occasionally caught. Sea-run cutthroat return from the ocean in
September to December, and spawn from February to May. The female lays between
1000 to 2000 eggs, depending on size and weight. Young cutthroat stay in fresh
water from one to five years, before migrating to the Pacific Ocean and
cutthroat usually stay within fifty miles of the Fraser River estuary, since
the estuary is a rich food source.
All trout are carnivorous, eating fish eggs, fry and smaller fish.
Sea-run cutthroat eat worms, fish eggs, fry, small fish, insects, crustaceans,
and plankton. They will also eat a variety of human food, including kernel
corn, bread, cheese, spaghetti, cottage cheese, cheesies, beef, chicken,
gumdrops, marshmallows and even vegetable soup. While cutthroat trout will eat
almost anything, most anglers catch them with worms, salmon eggs, and roe.
Various lures, spinners and flies are also used to catch cutthroat.
Fishing for sea-run cutthroat is one of my passions. For more than twenty
years, I have enjoyed hundreds of days cutthroat fishing along Fraser River
gravel bars. Expo year (1986) was a very good year for cutthroat fishing.
Starting in mid October, 1986,1 fished Tranmer's bar, two miles east of
Agassiz. For six weeks I fished this gravel bar every other day, catching at
least one trout 12 inches or more in size. Two of these fish were 18 inches,
with many 13, 14, 15, 16 and 17 inches. Since then, river currents have washed
away this excellent fishing spot. The Fraser River is always changing,
creating new gravel bars and transforming others, so each year's fishing is a
When bar fishing for cutthroat, some anglers use a T-bar setup. This is a
commercially made product, designed to hold the hook and bait away from the
main line. Other anglers simply have two leaders from a swivel. One leader has
the weight, and a shorter leader has the hook and bait. Still other anglers
use a sliding sinker, with a long leader. Anglers using this method fish with
a slack line, and when the line straightens, they set the hook. A few anglers
fish with a light line and cast a hook with dew worm twenty to thirty feet in
the water. Anglers using this method catch more and bigger fish, since without
a weight the fish are less wary.
Some anglers fish the Fraser River sloughs and backwaters, using float
and worm. Many different kinds of floats are available, but they all keep the
hook and bait just above the river or slough bottom. Many anglers fish
exclusively with artificial flies. Fly-fishing is becoming more popular among
trout purists; Some anglers even tie their own flies, inventing their own
patterns. When all else fails, use various crocodile lures and spinners and
change lures often, until you find one that is effective.
The Fraser Valley has several rivers and creeks flowing into the Fraser
River. The Harrison, Chehalis, Vedder, Coquihala, Pitt, Alouette and Stave
Rivers all have cutthroat trout. Harrison Lake, connected to the Fraser River
by the Harrison River, also has lots of sea- run cutthroat trout. There also
are many adjacent sloughs, including Maria, Nicomen Johnson and Hope-River
sloughs, all with cutthroat trout.
Many factors affect cutthroat, including barometric pressure, water and
air temperature, wind, rain, the sun, and the earth's magnetic field. Tides
also affect cutthroat, since fish move with an incoming tide. Many times I
have watched the current flow the other way in Maria Slough, heralding the
incoming tide. Some of my best days of fishing have occurred during a high
tide at the coast. Fish also migrate during a rainfall, since they are able to
smell the odor of their birth stream in the river current, and they follow
this odor upstream.
As for fishing, spots, the Fraser River has dozens of gravel bars, from
Vancouver to Hope. Most of them are mentioned in the book, Fishing Fever, by
Eileen McGuire. My book, Fishing Hot Spots of the Upper Fraser Valley,
also mentions a few of these Fraser River gravel bars.
Email Kent Outdoors in Agassiz for a copy
of Richard Proberts "Fishing Hot Spots of the Upper Fraser Valley" or
telephone Kent Outdoors at 1-877-796-0006 (1 604 796 0006).
One of my favourite Fraser River fishing spots is Tranmer's bar. In my 20
years of cutthroat fishing, I have seen some big cutthroat taken from this
bar. One of the biggest was a three and one half pound cutthroat, caught by
local angler Bill Smith. Another day, about three years ago, I saw a native
man with a 26-inch cutthroat trout, the biggest I have ever seen. The fish was
so big, at first I thought it was a salmon, until I noticed the red jaw
Tranmer's bar is where I caught my biggest cutthroat. One November day,
about 15 years ago, I fished the road side of the bar, near pilings. As I
arrived for fishing, Fred Helkenberg, a local anger, had been fishing
Tranmer's bar all morning, without much luck. He suggested I try a cast near a
sunken log, sticking out of the water. With one cast I hooked a monster trout,
measuring 19 and three quarters inches, and weighing nearly three pounds. And
this was a hatchery fish!
Big cutthroat were more common a century ago; Five pound fish were not
unusual. There were no catch limits then, so anglers kept what they caught.
Many-a-pioneer relied on salmon, cutthroat trout and Dolly Varden char, to
supplement their diet. Even 50 years ago, the cutthroat limit was 15 fish per
day, and some anglers kept that many. In the last forty years I have seen
cutthroat limits go from eight to four to two fish per day. Now only two
hatchery cutthroat per day can be kept and they must be at least a foot in
length. And barbless hooks are mandatory in all rivers, sloughs, and creeks in
the Fraser River watershed.
Fraser River anglers will never again see limits of 15, eight or four
sea-run cutthroat per day. However, anglers can still enjoy quality sea-run
cutthroat fishing. Just remember to limit the catch, instead of always
catching the limit. With proper conservation efforts and angler cooperation,
future generations will be able to enjoy angling for Fraser River sea-run
cutthroat trout, fresh from the ocean.