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Fishing For Ghosts

By Bill Luscombe, 🕔Mon, Mar 21st, 2011


When most of the province is buried under ice and snow many of us put away our fly-fishing gear and unless you have access to a good steelhead stream and can withstand the extreme cold, which I can not, you are stuck repairing or maintaining gear and waiting for break-up. Those of us who dwell near the coast however, can do what I do; fish for ghosts.

Some of you might be saying "Well, Bill has finally cracked." about now, but I promise you I haven´t. Much of our coastline supports varying populations of sea-run cutthroat trout. I refer to them as ghosts because you can never be sure that the fish will show up or not on any given day. There are, however, a few things that will aid you in locating and catching these beautiful trout.

The best thing you can do to increase your chances of success is talk to the fisheries officers at the Ministry of Environment, Lands and Parks. They can tell you which areas support populations of sea-runs. The trout are usually associated with the beaches and estuaries of smaller streams, especially in the spring when the salmon fry are migrating downstream. Information on where populations of sea-runs exist will save you innumerable hours spent searching fruitlessly for these fish in areas they do not inhabit.

Investing in a cheap set of tide tables is the second best thing you can do to give yourself an advantage. Sea-run cutthroats show up during the late rising and flood tide. I assume that this is because bugs and other goodies get caught up in the rising water and smaller fish eat them. The sea-runs probably follow these smaller fish into the shallows and gobble them up as they cruise along. With this in mind, you can start thinking about what patterns to tie up, or buy, which might entice them to strike.

Sea-runs like to move, and they seldom stay in one spot for more than a few minutes before cruising further down the beach. Locating the schools is the greatest challenge and a good pair of binoculars saves a great deal of walking.

Patterns for freshwater cutthroats are many and varied, but patterns for sea-runs are few. Three standard patterns for the ocean-going cutthroats that continue to work remarkably well are the Mickey Finn, the Professor, and the rolled muddler. The Mickey Finn and rolled muddler are small streamer patterns that imitate baitfish. The Professor is a very old attractor pattern that relies on an interesting quirk that the sea-runs seem to have. Sea-run cutthroats, for some reason, seem to be attracted to yellow hues. I have fished many different patterns and colours when pursuing these fish and flies that contain yellow or gold work best. Keep this in mind when designing your own patterns.

My personal fly patterns are nothing more than slight variations on a theme. I tie my flies on a nickel-plated or stainless steel #6 or #8 3X long shank hook. The hook is often left bare, but sometimes I´ll wrap on some silver chenille or opalescent tubing. At the head I tie in bucktail of various colours ranging from hot pink to navy blue, but I always start with a bit of yellow and tie in the other colour(s) over that. That´s it. These little streamers are some of the easiest flies in the world to tie; the only pattern that is easier is the crystal scud.

With the knowledge of where and when to go, and armed with your killer flies, you can now venture out in pursuit of the ghosts. When you arrive at your chosen location simply stand and watch the water. If they are there, they won´t be very far offshore, usually within 50 meters. Sea-run cutthroats like to travel in small schools and will often break the surface while feeding, usually in a rolling manner, but sometimes jumping clear of the water, and this is a dead give-away as to their location.

If after a few minutes you don´t see anything nearby, put your binoculars to work.

Systematically search up and down the shoreline, looking for signs of rolling fish. There´s not a lot of sense in fishing the water blind for these trout. It is very seldom indeed that I have caught one when I have not seen any surface disturbance or jumps. Keeping this in mind, you may wish to wait them out, or you can enter the water and cast blindly to pass the time. There is no guarantee, however, that they will show up at all and you might want to walk along the shore in search of a school.

There´s not a lot of special skill required to catch these trout. The toughest part of the whole game is finding them. If you can find the cutthroats and get your fly out to them, you will usually catch them. A point to keep in mind: these are rare fish and one of the treasures of B.C. Barbless hooks and catch and release are the order of the day (and the letter of the law) when fishing for sea-run cutthroats. You may not find them, and if you do you may not hook any, but one thing is for sure, it beats staying home watching the television. One last thing, when you´re fishing for the sea-run ghosts . . . don´t get spooked.

Bill Luscombe has been hunting and fishing for most of his 42 years. He has been flyfishing for 20 years. He instructs flyfishing, and has done so for the past 12 years. He also instructs the federal FSET firearms course and the BC CORE hunter training course. He is an award-winning outdoor writer and has been writing freelance since 1987. He has been published in BC Sport Fishing Magazine, Outdoor Edge, BC Outdoors, Western Sportsman, Island Fish Finder, and the BC Hunting Guide.

Bill Luscombe was born an army brat and raised in Ladner (Delta, BC) where he was raised hunting waterfowl and pheasants. He presently resides in North Cowichan on southern Vancouver Island where he has lived and worked full time as a professional forester since 1982.

He presently works in Nanaimo for the BC Forest Service and continue to write the fly-fishing column for BC Sport Fishing Magazine as well as contributing articles freelance to various outdoor magazines in western Canada.

Bill Luscombe is also a BC Director of the Northwest Outdoor Writers Association. "Catching fish is not hard. You simply need to understand what makes them tick. If you think like a fish, you will catch fish. It´s as simple as that."- Bill Luscombe



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