Sea Run Cutthroat in Puget Sound and Hood Canal feed on many different bait fish. Right now we have a aquarium of bait in Hood Canal. Chum fry are spilling everywhere still From about Hoodsport north we are still seeing giant swarms of chum fry. We have Sandlance swarming in and out of the more developed eel grass beds, herring bait balls are as large as the eye can see in the more northern reaches of the canal, and the perch are starting to spit live babies all over just to further add to the massive buffet of food.
First lets talk a bit about Chum Fry and why these baitfish are so spread out in timing. Hood Canal has a diverse run of Chum Salmon. No I am not going to give up the run timing of each creek, but Hood Canal gets a run of chum fry in the summer (February-April Chum Fry) then again we get a run of chum in the fall (March-May Chum Fry), then we get a run in the early winter (March-June Chum Fry) which means, these fish are pretty accustomed to eating chum as a little snack this time of year.
Sandlance are the next stop on the baitfish train. These fish spawn on the sandy beaches along shorelines of Puget Sound and Hood Canal and forage in the nearshore waters in the area, which happens to be the same places Coastal Cutthroat forage. These baitfish make up a big portion of the diet of Sea Run Cutthroat and just about every other predator from kingfishers – some of our local whales. Because these fish are active for most of the year they remain some of our top baitfish patterns.
Surf Smelt spawn at high tide on shaded beaches and seem to be very predictable in their timing. The bulk of the returning adults (two years of age) seem to come into Hood Canal in the late fall and winter months. It does not take many of these adults to fill up a Cutthroat and make them lazy in their attack of flies. However the young surf smelt look like clear chumfry and are a great snack for aggressive Sea runs!
The Pacific Herring are a baitfish we have a love/hate relationship with. These baitfish tend to draw the biggest strikes, biggest fish, and most aggressive cutthroat in the water. However it takes one or two to slow the fish down and the schools tend to gorge the entire beach. What we have found is if we can get ahead of the schools a bit and throw a weighted herring fly we can find some serious fish. The trick is simply getting ahead of these huge schools. Two- Three year old Herring start spawning for the first time in the early Spring-early summer in HUGE schools or baitfish. This brings the bait right onto some of our favorite beaches to hunt big cutthroat. We can watch cutthroat literally throwing up herring as they eat our baitfish flies.
Our friend the Party Goblin are the old reliable among all SeaTrout fishermen. The Sculpin is among the most prevalent year round food sources in puget sound. The young sculpin seem to be under almost every big rock in the sound and spread up along just about every beach we can think of. These fish are scavengers in nature however will absolutely crush a lazily stripped fly, so if you end up catching one my advice is “speed up your strip.” The sculpin has spines on its gill plates that prevent the larger ones from being a favorite food source of Cutthroat, however the smaller sculpin seem to be a big hit with Sea Runs of all sizes.
If aliens existed they would be in the form of polycheate worms… Slowly I am convinced these creatures are trying to invade land and take over our youth… This could be why Missy Elliot was so popular in the 90s. Either way the cutthroat love to feed on these nasty sea worms whenever they present themselves. After full moons we see them washed up on the boat ramps and shorelines after spawning by moonlight and we find that the Sea Trout are throwing up the remains of a moonlit feast. I give polychaetes a hard time, however they have outlived 5 mass extinctions, come in every shape, color, size, and feed just about every species of fish in Puget Sound. Plus some of these worms have a pretty wild sex life. Bundling in giant worm orgies on the surface while being picked off by fish and birds then breaking apart to release their young. Being a great food to cutthroat, and knowing how to party, they quickly become a favorite pattern of most Cutthroat loving anglers.
Words by Captain Justin Waters
Photos from Brita Fordice