Sea Run Cutthroat

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I was sure that I saw it last week, pretty sure there was even enough of it to make a shadow. Yes, the Sun made a brief, yet welcome appearance over the area. The telltale sign that the long winter hibernation is coming to an end, and the time has come to get back outdoors and partake of all the area has to offer. Rummaging around in the closet, I found… a T-shirt, some sunglasses and a fly rod!

It has been a while since items such as those have been needed, but knowing that it might be a fleeting event, I went ahead and tugged a t-shirt over my shoulders, put on some waders, and wandered down to the beach in search of a fish or two. While walking the beach recently I had noticed the small Salmon fry have been cruising the shallows, and so figuring the Cutthroat were probably trickling out of their natal streams and beginning to harass the small fry, I figured I could give them a taste of their own medicine. It looked like there should be some willing fish around, and what had been the nicest day of the year to date also kicked of my Saltwater fishing season.

Sea Run Cutthroat are the smallest of the anadromous fish available in the bays around Quilcene, and while they lack the size of their better known cousins, Salmon and Steelhead, they are a worthy and willing adversary in the Salt. Find the bait, find the fish is always a saltwater maxim, as these fish tend to go where the food is. That sort of makes sense, even if your not a fish.

Feeding primarily close to shore (boat anglers have long said ‘keep the shore side of the boat where you can see bottom’) they can be easily tageted from the shoreline around Quilcene and Dabob Bays. Some beaches fish better at high tide, and some fish better at low tide. This is learned through the trial and error method. Fishing the lee side of points at high slack can be a productive place to start prospecting for them, as baitfish can school up in these types of areas, safe from the pull of the tidal currents. The particular stretch of beach I hit last week fishes well at high tide, especially at dusk. Things lined up rather well last week, with the stellar evening weather making it all the more pleasant.

Cutthroat in the salt are biters, they are out there feeding, and finding out what they are eating is about the only thing left after locating a school of them. Primary food sources for Sea Run Cutthroat are small baitfish, including Salmon fry (Especially Chum fry early in the year), Candlefish, small Herring and the like. They are also fond of ‘amphipods’, which for the rest of us mean small shrimp and crustaceans that can be found living along oyster strewn beaches. Small streamers and shrimp patterns are particularly useful for the fly angler, and while conventional gear fisherman  often troll flys to locate fish, these Cutts also respond well to small spinners, spoons, the tiny flatfish and other assorted hardware in the smaller sizes. Casting and retrieving is the name of the game here, and if your possessions include a boat, trolling the points, shorelines and rockpiles will yield results also. A fast strip retrieve with either a floating, sinking or intermediate (my choice) fly line works well, and a nice medium fast retrieve with a spinner, spoon or small flatfish will draw strikes from these aggressively feeding fish.

A good tactic if you have a boat would be to launch at the Herb Beck Marina, and cruise along the shoreline a ways off from the fishing zone close to shore, and simply look for baitfish flipping about on the surface, or boils and slashes that the Cutts make while attacking their prey. Once located, a somewhat stealthy approach to within casting distance is helpful to prevent spooking them. Then it’s game on. Often time Cutts travel in groups, it’s been said there is no such thing as one Cuttie in the salt. While some might argue with that, once you hit a fish it is not uncommon to hit several more in short order.

Shore-bound anglers can access the shoreline at several public locations along the bay, and at this time of year while waders are a must for this old man, later in the year ‘wet wading’ is preferable on a hot summer day. Please remember to respect private property, and while trespassing will never get you anything but a bad day, sometimes asking politely can gain you much.

These are beautiful green backed and silver sided fish, ranging from 12” up to…  well over 20”. Please remember when fishing them in the salt that WDFW regulations are Catch and Release statewide for Sea Run Cutthroat in saltwater, and the season is open year around for them. Barbless hooks also make releasing them unharmed much easier, and can save you a ticket to boot.

Oh yeah, almost forgot, I found a few of those willing fish, including a dandy that was pushing 20”, really a rather nice few hours on the water.

Local Shellfish

While fishing season is upon us, it’s always a good day to go dig clams, and perhaps harvest a few oysters also. Starting Sunday the 22nd of April, a series of daytime minus tides starts. Running from around Noon on Sunday, to about 3 pm on Thursday, these tides will provide a choice opportunity to harvest some of the local shellfish. As with the fishing, remember not to trespass, and dig only on the public beaches, as many of the tidelands in and around the Quilcene area are leased to shellfish companies, or otherwise private tidelands. There are plenty of public access areas, and a quick look at a map of tidelands will give you some ideas on where to start. Like anything else outdoor related, if you are willing to walk a bit, your overall experience will be much more satisfying.

Limits for Clams are 40 per day, and a WDFW fishing license is required. Oysters must be shucked on the beach (not a problem as I like to eat mine right there) and shells left for future oysters to grow on. Coincidentally with the daytime minus tides, some evening high tides are also occurring, so if one was so inclined, some evening Cutthroat fishing would on the agenda as well.

The question then becomes, what to do with those luscious little bivalves ? Everyone has a favorite way to cook them, from a simple steaming, a chowder, to more involved dishes that do the clams justice. I happen to like this Clam Pasta recipe and have made it many times over the years. It came, oddly enough, from a sportswriter who was a North Dakota boy like me. Guess he liked it well enough to put it on paper and share it, so I’ll do the same.

Clam Pasta Recipe

You will need :

  • 1/2 cup Olive Oil and a bit of butter
  • Lots o’ garlic and a couple of big onions
  • Small Bottle or Two of Clam Nectar
  • Your freshly havested clams (In shell or out, your choice)
  • Oregano and Basil (Parsley if you want it)
  • Parmesan or Romano Cheese
  • A pound of pasta (I use Spaghetti)

You can also add black olives, mushrooms, pimento, a few shrimp (next month), green onions or crushed red peppers.

There are no rules here………this is cooking.

Add the olive oil and butter to a large skillet, coarsely chop the onions and drop them into the hot oil along with 2-4 mince garlic cloves, and an optional dash of the crushed red peppers. Cook over low heat a long time, 30 minutes or so. You are not frying them, you want them to be translucent without burning the garlic. Stir in a couple of tablespoons  (each) of Oregano and Basil, and crack some fresh ground pepper into the mix.

When the onions are reduced and almost mushy, I add a small bottle of clam nectar. Continue to reduce this mixture, and if you feel like it, add a half cup of white wine. You could also just drink the wine, either way. Let this simmer a while over low heat, but don’t boil it away. I f you decide to add mushrooms, or olives, now is a good time to toss them into the skillet as well. This is also a good time to start boiling the pasta water, and grate some cheese as too. Add the clams to the sauce mixture and slightly increase the heat on the burner, cover and cook until the shells open.

I typically take a little over 1/2 the clams out of the shell, and leave the rest in the shell It doesn’t matter how you do it, just get them in the pan. After cooking the pasta, drain it well and here’s the part that’s a bit different, and the reason for using a ‘large’ skillet. Dump the pasta into the sauce and start mixing it around, adding the cheese as you go. Keep the burner on medium, as this will help drive off some of the pasta water that finds its way into the skillet.

Mix well, (as in do this for 5 minutes) and then serve, topping the dish with a bit more cheese, some black pepper, and if you like, some fresh parsley. Goes great with some fresh Garlic Bread, a green salad, and of course, a glass of white wine. This does not freeze well, but microwaving the leftovers works perfectly.

Enjoy…. this is good stuff Maynard! Next month the shrimp season openers start, and so this same recipe with addition of fresh Hood Canal Shrimp just gets better.

Speaking of next month, here at this blog we will be talking about those Hood Canal Shrimp, as in where to find them, how to get them and maybe a bit about eating them as well. Personally, out of the shrimp pot, off with their heads and shells, and down the hatch is my preference, but hey, to each his own.  Morels will be talked about also, and a bit more on fishing, some talk about hiking, and all the other outdoor activities that make living in this part of the Olympic Peninsula so enjoyable. Probably add another recipe as well, perhaps something with Morels.

Now head on outside and finish (or start) weeding the garden, before the weather gets too nice to spend all day working at home, and you miss all the fun!!

— John Helsper

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