KERNVILLE — The summer rain forests of the Oregon coast are hot, bug-infested and brutally uninviting unless you are looking for wild cutthroat trout that will strike with every cast.
In these remote canyons, a thick barrier of trees and vegetation hide scores of tributaries with names like Cedar, Wildcat and Savage creeks, their inky-black pools shimmering with sunlight and darting shadows: audacious, hard-fighting bluebacks — as these colorful fish are sometimes called!
Permanent residents of the Coastal Range, cutthroat trout are a reflection of their savage environment: wild, bold and itching to challenge any intrusions into their remote safe holds. Striking featherweight spinners, dry flies and streamers in all patterns, Siletz basin bluebacks are ready to feed any time of the day.
WHERE TO FIND THE WILY CUTTHROAT TROUT:
Wizened graybeards who don’t have time to embroider fantastic yarns portray these streams as God-forsaken throwbacks to a distant era when anglers packed sidearms for trouble and roomy creels for the trout. But fishing these secret creeks with their tricky covers, tangled blowdowns and brushy banks is one thing. Getting there is another. The old Forest Service roads that disappear into clouds above the river valley are in good condition, but are often hundreds of feet above the creek.
One of my favorite spots is four miles off the Siletz River Highway (Oregon 229) along a USFS rock road with several large culverts over the creek. To access the stream at these points I carry leather gloves, layers of bug juice and a machete for Jurassic-sized ferns and plants spiked with tiny, poisonous barbs. Insects swarm anything warm-blooded, probing unbuttoned shirts for palatable skin. Coastal breezes that rescue lazy anglers on the banks of the Siletz wither and die in the treetops high above the river.
Sweat comes in waves. When footholds suddenly give way, the butt of a lightweight rod can arrest an unexpected slide. The payoff comes quickly, though, as you stumble onto the rocky streambed below. Here, Cedar Creek gurgles amid the raucous noise of forest birds. The air at streamside, so torpid and moist in the brush, is clean and cool. In midsummer, the fishiest pools are the color of jade.
The only sign of other anglers is a matted wad of old fishing line, caught high on a branch from the spring runoff. A carpet of unbroken shamrock reaching to the water’s edge suggests the stream has not been fished for months — perhaps not at all, this season.
SHORT CASTS AND BUGGY EYE-CATCHERS
In these primordial hollows, buggy eye-catchers like a mottled 1/16th oz. Rooster Tail, a miniature Blue Fox or the tiny Mepps French spinner work best. Making your way downstream, hit the puddles and riffles until you encounter a black hole that is broad and long, puzzled by bus-sized logs white as old whale bones. These bottlenecks of dead wood are havens for big, voracious trout but are also snares for casually-introduced lures.
One trick is to swing your artificial into fast water and let it briefly ride the current into a hidden place before setting the blade. Wham! You should be into a fight as soon as the line goes into action.
Advantageous holes occur every 50 yards or so; work them slow as a plumber going for his tools. Getting the breadbox cutts is largely a matter of stealth. A wide and surreptitious approach to these honeyholes is a mandatory tactic. Snaking through the dense foliage is painstaking, but it hides your movement from the bigger, smarter fish. Along many streams, big game makes the job easier. Check for an “elk highway” 15 or 20 feet from the bank that may parallel the stream.
Smaller cuttthroat in these coastal brooks will answer to all invitations, but platter-sized cutts are wary as blackjack dealers. A sloppy entry will play to their suspicions, and they will simply retire. But a slow, deep retrieve over their lair, with subtle pumping from the crouched position, will draw fish like filings to a magnet.
But at the end of the day, when your moss-lined creel holds fish from a neglected mountain stream high above a legendary river, you’ll be glad you climbed into the clouds. Cutthroat trout season runs May 22-Oct.1. Check the ODFW regulations before you fish.