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Chasing an unusual trout on the Olympic Peninsula

By Troutnut on July 27th, 2018
Lake Crescent, Washington has been geologically isolated for a long enough time that it hosts two endemic (Endemic: where found; native to; belonging exclusively to or confined to a particular place) trout strains, the Crescenti Cutthroat and the Beardslee Rainbow. The lake's only significant inlet, Barnes Creek, has a small population of cutbows that seem to be mostly cutthroat but have mixed with the local rainbows:

I had a day to spend in the area (July 27th) and hiked way upstream in pursuit of these special fish. The trailhead was more crowded than anywhere I've ever gone to fish, thanks to this:

That's Marymere Falls, on a little tributary of Barnes Creek. Beyond the spur trail leading to the falls, another trail follows Barnes Creek. It's clearly well-traveled, but I didn't see another person on it, in stark contrast to the throngs of tourists coming and going from the waterfall.

Apart from the uniqueness of the fish, the fishing--or at least the catching--was nothing special. I caught about 1/4 as many fish as I usually do on a well-populated stream of this size. Even the most inviting pools only held 1-2 fish, and some incredibly promising water produced no strikes at all. The going was rough, with slick boulders, banks lined with devil's club, huge logs to belly-crawl under, logjams to monkey through, and various other obstacles. A trail parallels the creek providing easy access to certain sections, but it also climbs high onto the hillsides in places where the creek flows through steep canyons, making exiting the creek at one's chosen time impossible in places.

Between the tricky access and slow action, I decided not to designate this one as a hidden "Mystery Creek," because I just don't think it will appeal to enough people to cause any harm, and any mention of the unique trout would give away the creek anyway. But seems like a fragile fishery, so I would encourage anyone who visits to catch & release.

The scenery, at least, was as good as it gets deep in the forest:

Photos by Troutnut from the Elwha River and Barnes Creek in Washington

Comments / replies

CrepuscularAugust 1st, 2018, 10:48 am
Boiling Springs, PA

Posts: 915
Very Nice Jason. Just a couple shades of green...Cool little trout as well.Thanks for posting.

Jmd123August 1st, 2018, 2:58 pm
Oscoda, MI

Posts: 2286
Nice flora and pretty trout! It doesn't get any better than that. I only saw devil's club once in OR, but somehow my ex-wife managed to stumble into it and got stung...I first thought it was bigleaf maple, which is most definitely a riparian species. I have seen leaves bigger than most dinner plates on that tree! They get hung with mosses too, and get this really cool shaggy look to them. Think of the habitat just in those trees! Vine maple is beautiful too, and also a riparian species. Man, a bit wistful for that year I lived on the Oregon coast...seeing all the PNW species again. Sitka spruce is my favorite western tree! (My favorite of all is the bur oak.)

Looks like some type of maidenhair fern too, plus I see good old western red-cedar. We had Port-Orford cedar down in the Coos Bay area, which pretty much took over from the red-cedar in our area. That's a beautiful tree too, gets well over 200 feet tall. BIG TREES!!!

Those special, colorful little rare trout are always worth pursuing. I mean, look at the scenery! And yes, I know it's a rough hike, been there done that in the Oregon Cascades. But that can also make the reward for the effort even sweeter - especially when you know you are one of but a few to catch those little finned gemstones.

People think coral reef fishes are beautiful, and they certainly are with their gaudy colors. But the colors of trout are more subtle and varied - how many different colors can you pick out on those fish? Twenty? More? And they fade and shade into each other, and finally all get glossed over by that purple iridescent wash...I think even more beautiful than bright screaming pink, even if it is combined with yellow or purple. And you gotta have cold, clean waters for them to even be there. So, you end up in places like that shown above catching fish like that shown above. THAT is special.

Thanks for sharing, Jason. You do take great photos!!


P.S. Have you run across a Pacific giant salamander yet? Biggest in the US...
No matter how big the one you just caught is, there's always a bigger one out there somewhere...
MartinlfAugust 2nd, 2018, 7:45 am
Palmyra PA

Posts: 2829
Gorgeous, Jason. Thanks for sharing this adventure. Nymphs? Dries? When I was in Oregon my nephew and I fished the upper Clackamus River one day. We only caught smallish rainbows, but the water was certainly big enough to harbor larger fish. I guessed that we just hadn't figured out where they were or how to catch them, but everything we consulted indicated that small bows and cutts were the norm there. I wondered about the bug life and growing season. There were certainly some bugs hatching, but I wasn't sure there would be enough through the year to support more and bigger fish. The Deschutes was full of big rainbows. Of course, it's a desert tailwater, and hosts golden stones and salmonflies, along with many other bugs. Oh, and we fished the Crooked River, another smaller desert river full of small bows, many many more, it seemed than the Clackamus. Hatches seemed prolific there, but everyone we talked with in the shops and on the stream agreed that there were very few larger fish in that river. Any thoughts on population densities and fish sizes in these streams and in the one you fished? The Northwest was so different to me--full of surprises and mysteries.
"He spread them a yard and a half. 'And every one that got away is this big.'"

--Fred Chappell
RogueratAugust 2nd, 2018, 8:12 am
Posts: 430
Dr Jason,

Beautiful scenery and a nice, concise write-up on it; much appreciated by this Midwesterner who's only got the UP of MI to compare it to. I need to head west...far, far west.
Is this the Elwha River that had the dam removed some years back? AA had a couple 'news' articles on the restoration of the Elwha, along with before-and-after images. Hard to imagine it was an impoundment for a century or more.


'Less is more...'

Ludwig Mies Vande Rohe
Jmd123August 2nd, 2018, 8:48 am
Oscoda, MI

Posts: 2286
Salmonflies - the "Hex" of the West!


P.S. Size 4-6 Stimulator with an orange body...
No matter how big the one you just caught is, there's always a bigger one out there somewhere...
TroutnutAugust 2nd, 2018, 2:51 pm
Bellevue, WA

Posts: 2454
Nymphs? Dries?

Mostly dries. I switched to nymphs for a couple fish.

Any thoughts on population densities and fish sizes in these streams and in the one you fished?

The density in this one seemed pretty low compared to other streams this size that I've fished in the area. Size is mostly small, too, though I did hook and lose a couple around 12-13". These mountain streams aren't extremely productive.

Is this the Elwha River that had the dam removed some years back? AA had a couple 'news' articles on the restoration of the Elwha, along with before-and-after images. Hard to imagine it was an impoundment for a century or more.

Yeah, it's that Elwha. It's still not open to fishing, but we stayed in a place alongside the river for a couple nights.
Jason Neuswanger, Ph.D.
Troutnut and salmonid ecologist

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