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A surprise partial skunking on a little mountain stream

By Troutnut on July 31st, 2017
I had some nice fishing for pretty little westslope cutts the other night, but first I got mysteriously skunked on a couple stretches of the same stream that should have been really good. I don't mind a couple hours of "fishing instead of catching," but it is an interesting puzzle to be solved. I asked the locals on the Washington Flyfishing Forum, so I'll just quote what I wrote there:

I had an interesting experience yesterday evening (July 31st) fishing a very small stream on the east slope of the Cascades above 3,000 feet. When I was there for the first time eight days earlier, I was catching a pretty little westslope cutt (or five) in every likely-looking pool and pocket. Yesterday, fishing adjacent reaches at the exact same time of day, under similar weather conditions, I saw no sign of any trout. Not so much as a fingerling nipped at my fly, and no shadows darted away when I waded into a pool.

I'm new to this area and cutthroat fishing, but I've fished a lot of small streams elsewhere, and they've always been really consistent unless there's some obvious weather or seasonal reason why the fishing would change. To have a piece of water that was teeming with fish a week ago seem totally empty now was really surprising. At first I thought maybe I had gone in too far upstream above some impassible barrier, so I went back down to where I left off catching fish last week, and there was still no sign of fish in several pools that should have been full of them.

Finally, I guessed maybe the fish were making some spawning-related movements even farther into the headwaters, although that seemed unlikely. I should still have seen some immature fish scattered throughout the lower reaches. Nevertheless, I drove up even higher to try another reach, and the stream was back to normal: eager, beautiful fish everywhere I expected them. Fishing was great until dark.

I don't think the fish I caught all moved up from the reaches where I got skunked, because there are just too many barriers to migration at this water level. Temperature doesn't seem to fit as an explanation, either, because the water was plenty cool in this shady headwater throughout both trips. Hatches also don't seem to explain it; they're rarely important in streams of this character, and only tiny midges were abundant.

So I'm kind of out of ideas and wondering if anyone experienced with these fish and small Cascades streams has an explanation for the odd shift in action. Of course, I'm not complaining about briefly not catching fish -- but solving the mystery of some unusual pattern is part of the fun.


Just to follow up on a couple of the ideas that were suggested over there:

- I started fishing right around 5 pm on both days, and the water temperature was cool enough I don't think there was a need to wait for dusk before the fish would become active.

- This stream is far enough off the beaten path that it's very unlikely any angler went before me through either reach where I got skunked, and almost certain that didn't happen in both reaches.

Photos by Troutnut from Mystery Creek #200 in Washington

My biggest fish from this tiny creek so far From Mystery Creek # 200 in Washington.
My biggest fish from this tiny creek so far
Date TakenJul 31, 2017
Date AddedAug 1, 2017
AuthorTroutnut
CameraCanon EOS 7D Mark II
 From Mystery Creek # 200 in Washington.
Date TakenJul 31, 2017
Date AddedAug 1, 2017
AuthorTroutnut
CameraCanon EOS 7D Mark II
Leaving Alaska, I thought I was going to miss fireweed -- nice t From Mystery Creek # 200 in Washington.
Leaving Alaska, I thought I was going to miss fireweed -- nice t
Date TakenJul 31, 2017
Date AddedAug 1, 2017
AuthorTroutnut
CameraCanon EOS 7D Mark II
 From Mystery Creek # 200 in Washington.
Date TakenJul 31, 2017
Date AddedAug 1, 2017
AuthorTroutnut
CameraCanon EOS 7D Mark II
 From Mystery Creek # 200 in Washington.
Date TakenJul 31, 2017
Date AddedAug 1, 2017
AuthorTroutnut
CameraCanon EOS 7D Mark II
 From Mystery Creek # 200 in Washington.
Date TakenJul 31, 2017
Date AddedAug 1, 2017
AuthorTroutnut
CameraCanon EOS 7D Mark II
 From Mystery Creek # 200 in Washington.
Date TakenJul 31, 2017
Date AddedAug 1, 2017
AuthorTroutnut
CameraCanon EOS 7D Mark II
Thick swarm of midges over the creek From Mystery Creek # 200 in Washington.
Thick swarm of midges over the creek
Date TakenJul 31, 2017
Date AddedAug 1, 2017
AuthorTroutnut
CameraCanon EOS 7D Mark II
 From Mystery Creek # 200 in Washington.
Date TakenJul 31, 2017
Date AddedAug 1, 2017
AuthorTroutnut
CameraCanon EOS 7D Mark II
 From Mystery Creek # 200 in Washington.
Date TakenJul 31, 2017
Date AddedAug 1, 2017
AuthorTroutnut
CameraCanon EOS 7D Mark II
 From Mystery Creek # 200 in Washington.
Date TakenJul 31, 2017
Date AddedAug 1, 2017
AuthorTroutnut
CameraCanon EOS 7D Mark II
 From Mystery Creek # 200 in Washington.
Date TakenJul 31, 2017
Date AddedAug 1, 2017
AuthorTroutnut
CameraCanon EOS 7D Mark II
Tiny tributary trickling in over the bedrock From Mystery Creek # 200 in Washington.
Tiny tributary trickling in over the bedrock
Date TakenJul 31, 2017
Date AddedAug 1, 2017
AuthorTroutnut
CameraCanon EOS 7D Mark II
 From Mystery Creek # 200 in Washington.
Date TakenJul 31, 2017
Date AddedAug 1, 2017
AuthorTroutnut
CameraCanon EOS 7D Mark II
 From Mystery Creek # 200 in Washington.
Date TakenJul 31, 2017
Date AddedAug 1, 2017
AuthorTroutnut
CameraCanon EOS 7D Mark II
 From Mystery Creek # 200 in Washington.
Date TakenJul 31, 2017
Date AddedAug 1, 2017
AuthorTroutnut
CameraCanon EOS 7D Mark II
 From Mystery Creek # 200 in Washington.
Date TakenJul 31, 2017
Date AddedAug 1, 2017
AuthorTroutnut
CameraCanon EOS 7D Mark II
 From Mystery Creek # 200 in Washington.
Date TakenJul 31, 2017
Date AddedAug 1, 2017
AuthorTroutnut
CameraCanon EOS 7D Mark II
The whole stream fanning out half an inch deep across shallow be From Mystery Creek # 200 in Washington.
The whole stream fanning out half an inch deep across shallow be
Date TakenJul 31, 2017
Date AddedAug 1, 2017
AuthorTroutnut
CameraCanon EOS 7D Mark II
 From Mystery Creek # 200 in Washington.
Date TakenJul 31, 2017
Date AddedAug 1, 2017
AuthorTroutnut
CameraCanon EOS 7D Mark II
 From Mystery Creek # 200 in Washington.
Date TakenJul 31, 2017
Date AddedAug 1, 2017
AuthorTroutnut
CameraCanon EOS 7D Mark II

Most recent comments on this post (latest on top)

TroutnutAugust 3rd, 2017, 2:02 pm
Administrator
Fairbanks, AK

Posts: 2420
I am waiting to see what caddis Jason comes up with from all these out of the way localities :-).


I've been a bit lazy about caddis because I was out of ethyl acetate and they don't behave very well for photos without being drugged. But my order came in last week, so now I'm out of excuses. :)
Jason Neuswanger, Ph.D.
Troutnut and salmonid ecologist
CrenoAugust 3rd, 2017, 1:09 pm
Grants Pass, OR

Posts: 271
While there is alot of this kind of water throughout the coast and cascade ranges you are seeing pictures of streams during a very wet water year. If those pictures had been taken in the previous couple drought years you would be seeing very different streams. I suspect many fishermen would not have bothered walking up the nearly dry stream bed of recent years. And it would not have been fair as the fish were just trying to survive in the little water they had.

I am waiting to see what caddis Jason comes up with from all these out of the way localities :-).
CrepuscularAugust 3rd, 2017, 10:47 am
Boiling Springs, PA

Posts: 911
Maybe a one or more fishermen made their way through that section of stream earlier that day?
MartinlfAugust 2nd, 2017, 4:39 pm
Moderator
Palmyra PA

Posts: 2738
Jason, this won't be a very insightful or fulfilling response, but my experience is that fish will sometimes just throw you a curve--or knuckleball. Nothing will explain their behavior. And the mystery itself may be part of what keeps us focused on them.
"He spread them a yard and a half. 'And every one that got away is this big.'"

--Fred Chappell
Jmd123August 1st, 2017, 2:32 pm
Oscoda, MI

Posts: 2132
I rafted on and fly fished the McKenzie once when I lived out there. (About this time of the year, too.) Absolutely beautiful! Tie up a #12 caddis pattern with grey wings and a yellow body - at least that worked back in '93. There were LOTS of nice redband rainbows in there, and many were stockers though I caught at least one too beautiful to have come out of a hatchery...

You guys just keep bringing back memories to me. And I only lived there a year! That's how much that part of the world will capture your imagination. I'm sure our friend Creno can attest to this.

Jonathon
No matter how big the one you just caught is, there's always a bigger one out there somewhere...

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