Jay’s Thoughts on Sea Run Cutthroat Fly Patterns . . . . .

Sea Run Cutthroat flies – favorite fly styles

Note:  This is a preview of more to come, think about 2011 as time to dig deeper into the lives and flies of Sea Run cutthroat.

Everyone who fishes Sea Runs has their preferences.  That’s what you are about to see here:  preferences, not absolutes.  I tie and fish several basic styles of flies for sea run cutthroat, depending on the circumstances of where I am fishing, time of day, time of year, and how I see the fish behaving in a particular time and place.  If you have not seen this video recently, or ever, check it out.  Chris Daughters and I shot several videos, including this one on Sea Run cutthroat fly patterns and styles, as part of an extensive set on flies designed to catch these foxy fish.


I won’t say much about or estuary and saltwater flies popular in Puget Sound, mainly because I have zip personal experience fishing there.  These fly patterns lean heavily to the baitfish and shrimp genre.  Small Clousers and modest-size scuds are apparently effective, and these fly patterns are targeting fish that are actively feeding in salt and estuarine waters.  This might make it useful to consider that individual fish often key-in on specific types, sizes, or colors of feed; if so, imitating the preferred food of the moment could be important.

Anglers fly fishing for sea-run cutthroat in Alaska and BC are in the habit of fishing egg-sac fry flies.  These are little streamer patterns with a ball of yarn or dubbing under the throat of the fly to imitate the not-quite absorbed egg-sac on a juvenile salmon fry.  This is intellectually useful but has limited application in Oregon, where the population of sac fry for sea-run cutthroat to eat is less than 0.0000367 of what it is up north.

For better or worse, as the saying goes. Here is a short description of my favorite Sea Run Cutthroat fly styles.

Traditional, named Sea Run flies. These are a few flies I tied back in the 1970s for fishing Blueback and Harvest Trout.  These principally include the Female Coachman, Pete’s Special, Spruce, and Siletz Special.  They were effective flies then, they still are, and there is some feeling of tradition associated with tying and fishing these flies.

Baitfish Imitation flies. These tend to be very slimish, longish flies intended to imitate a small fish that any self-respecting Harvest trout would want to eat.  Sea Runs, like all coastal cutthroat, are a very predaceous species:  they like to eat other fish.  Rarely, I will tie small Clousers, but I usually shy away from Clousers unless I am fishing where I want my fly to sink a little deeper.  Puget sound anglers seem to like Clousers (I have never fished there), but when fishing the upper tidal reaches of Oregon coastal rivers, I have thus far concentrated on simple streamers that fish well in the top three feet of the water, where I can see the fish take the fly.

Slim bodied wet flies. This fly style is based on the characteristics of Sea Run Cutthroat flies that were fished for decades and are well portrayed in Les Johnson’s book (fly Fishing for Sea Run Cutthroat; Frank Amato Publications).  These flies are characterized by the use of Uni Yarn for the body.  I also use Mirage Flashabou for winging these flies, finding that the flies sink well, swim true, and have just the right amount of fish drawing sparkle.  I tie these flies without tails, and I have proof that the tail omission feather increases solid hook-ups by a factor of 0.000239.

Dubbed Body Wet Flies. These depart from the profile of the slim bodied wet flies in two ways: 1) I use special fuzzy dubbing blends to make a buggy body that is thicker; and 2) I use hackles that are a little fuller, longer and/or webbier than on the slim bodied wet flies.  This fly style also incorporates Mirage Flashabou and omits the tail.

Double Hackle wet flies. This fly style incorporates a blended dubbing for a body, but places a webby hackle at both the rear and head of the fly.  Reminiscent of a Renegade fly, these flies were inspired by a fly I tied in the 1970s, a Bear Paw (I think).  This fly style continues a progression from subtle and slim to a more authoritative and juicy.  Again, no tail, but also no wing; the hackles alone are just the ticket to induce the take.

Reverse Spider Hackled wet flies. I tie these flies with rooster saddles or neck hackles rather than mallard, but the main point of these flies is that the hackles are tied with the dull side facing forward of the hook eye, and dubbing is wound at the rear of the hackle to keep the hackles “cupped” forward.  No tail, No wing.  No flash.  This is an intriguing fly style, a little difficult to tie, but effective and worth experimenting with.  A few Blueback devotees I know consider this their “secret” fly.  Dunno what to say.  Hope they won’t quit speaking to me.  Can’t be that good, a fly, can it?

Deer Body Hair Wing Flies.  The bushiest, boldest Sea Run Cutthroat fly style I tie incorporates a deer hair wing and a full hackle tied over the flared wing.  These flies tend to elicit the most spectacular reaction from Blueback, are the most fun to fish, but have one significant weakness.  Sometimes these flies excite the Sea Runs so much that they will slash at the fly, even bumping it or grabbing it by the wing only, refusing to take it in their mouth.  This makes for great fun and adrenaline rushes, but comes up short on tugification.  The solution to this dilemma is to go to a smaller fly, amping down on the bodacious properties of the fly.  Fish that will show boldly to a full profile deer wing fly will calmly engulf a slimmer, more subtle wet fly.  Not every time, but often enough that it’s worth keeping this tactic in mind.  Same tactic applies to steelhead, right?

October Caddis. As the season progresses, Sea Run Cutthroat move upriver with the Chinook.  A lot of these fish will key in on loose eggs drifting out of spawning redds, but many of these fish are also interested in eating big October Caddis and are wonderful fish to raise to a swinging fly like a caddis imitation or a smallish Muddler.

Egg patterns. These are little flies that are deadly effective and will catch harvest trout by the bucket-full when they are laying in riffles behind spawning salmon, gorging on loose eggs until they puke.  This is strike indicator fishing.   Plastic beads are not flies, but are fished in the same manner and are unspeakably effective when fished by bead-o-maniacs.  Fishing egg patterns can be crazy at times.  Although all fishing is fun in its own right, I’ve found that the thrill of catching a 12”- 14” fish is way greater when I can see the fish romp a fly just under the surface, so I concentrate my Blueback fishing down river where the fish still have blue backs.


9 thoughts on “Jay’s Thoughts on Sea Run Cutthroat Fly Patterns . . . . .

  1. Nice to see a Pete’s Special! It’s always fun to see one’s name on a known pattern, though Pete Pagnutti is the namesake & originator. I love that fly & have tied a few different versions of it the last couple of years for steelhead (& included a few in 2009 NFS Auction donation flybox), the latest an older wet-fly vernacular w/ bronze mallard wing & jc cheeks… I’ll have to tie some #7s and go get them wet.

    Very nice collection, Jay. You pretty well cover all the forage bases for SRC.

  2. Thanks for the encouragement and history lesson. I used to tie these commercially back in the 1970s and the fly still cranks out the Sea Runs. Steelhead? Sure thing.

    Hope to see you out there shortly. JN

  3. When tying the reverse spider, you can add a small glass bead behind the hackle and use that to push the reverse tied hackle forward. The bead doesn’t add much weight. I’ve had great success at Crane Prairie using an olive pattern with a sparse marabou tail and a small red bead pushing the hackle forward. When stripped, the fly darts and dies. It has more action than a typical leech or damsel pattern.

    1. Awesome. I have a friend who uses this technique for Sea Run cutthroat flies also. However, I was sworn to NOT divulge this information or even make such a suggestion. But since it comes from not-me, it is now fair game. Nice touch. JN

  4. Hi Jay, it has been awhile! I just happened across your web page on sea-run cutthroat flies. The sea-run has long been my favorite flyrod fish. Another long-time hobby of mine (since I was 11 years old, in fact) is collecting, tying, and fishing fly patterns, and I’ve always had a fascination for flies with “Special” in their names. Your web page has brought a new one, the Siletz Special, to my attention–although you said you have been tying it since the 1970s, so it’s been around for awhile. Would you be kind enough to send me your tying recipe for the Siletz Special? Many thanks, and best regards!

    1. Patrick. Wow, how cool to re-connect and that we are both still kicking around. WILCO on the Siletz Special but need to do so offline. Will explain shortly. Best Regards, JN.

  5. I love this whole collection of SRC flies. I am inspired and am going to tie a bunch of these for my fall fishing. I am leaning towards traditions with vintage gear and flies but all look delicious for SRC. I’ll post your link on my blogroll at flyfishnw.com…cheers!

    1. Hey John: i went vintage this year fishing Pfluger 1498s for spring chinook, 1495s for summer steelhead, and a Perring Automatic No. 80 for trout. Hung on anything from Burkheimer to Shakespeare Wonder Rods and Echo Glass rods it was great fun. JN>

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