This is a classic Cutthroat Trout fly fishing pattern fished as a waking fly when the fish are hunting close into the shore. It represents small slim bait fish and sculpins. It is used all down the West Coast of North America from California to Alaska
THE ROLLED MUDDLER MINNOW STREAMER FLY. Hook size 10 8 6 - $US each
Fishing for Cutthroat Trout with the Rolled Muddler Minnow Fly
As winter moves into spring, salmon fry emerge from the gravel in abundance. During this time of year (now) these sea-run Cutthroat trout will be found in the lower sections of larger river systems, as they not only feed on fry but are also on their own spawning migrations. Rolled Muddlers fly patterns are a great searching pattern and work extremely well where there are a lot of stickleback or sculpin, particularly near the estuary.
There are three varieties of sea-trout. The more unusual of the bunch is the sea-run cutthroat sea-trout. It was originally classified as Salmon clarki clarki but then changed to Oncorhynchus. Compared with a river or lake system the sea offers more choice in substantial food sources. This means that sea-trout are normally much bigger than their freshwater rainbow and brown trout cousins. Steelheads are the migratory sea-run form of the Rainbow trout and are usually of a larger size than their Atlantic coast relatives; they have a faster growth rate. Sea-trout are the migratory form of the brown trout.
The smallest sea-trout species is the Cutthroat. The average weight of a sea-run cutthroat is little more than 1lb. You can find them up to 3lb in weight but that is very rare; a 5lb fish is like finding a unicorn. I am talking about fresh sea-run cutthroats not the resident lake variety that can be much bigger. I believe that it is the amount of time they spend in the sea and the range of Ocean they cover that affects their ability to put on weight and length compared with the other varieties.
You will find Cutthroat trout in pollution free rivers and streams that empty into the western seaboard of California and all the states up to Alaska. In late April and May the smolt migration happens in California. The smolt start moving towards the sea in May and June in Washington and Oregon. It is a lot later in British Columbia and Alaska because of the temperature difference. The smolt head seaward in July. They join up in shoals and start to feed on smaller fish like young pacific herrings and Anchovies. They are also like to vary their diet with the odd crustacean, shrimp and euphausid prawn. They also join up with cutthroats that have previously spawned.
Marine Biologists have discovered that shoals of Cutthroat very rarely cross areas of deep sea water and stay close to their home river estuary. They seem to prefer to hug the shore line and feed over sand and gravel in water that is no more than 10 foot deep. Atlantic sea-trout and steelheads feed in much deeper water and travel further distances in search of rich food sources.
The Cutthroat smolt managed to find enough food to increase their size. When they enter the sea most of them are about 8 inches long. Within three months they will have grown to 12 inches in length. Most sea-run cutthroats return to their fresh water home rivers by late summer or early fall / autumn. The exceptions are the cutthroats of Alaska and some near British Colombia.
The older and larger cutthroat trout that have spawned in earlier years are the ones that make the return journey first. Unlike returning salmon these sea-trout continue to feed on their journey home. Research has shown that they will take small crabs and shrimp, small fish like sculpins from the estuary. Once they get back into freshwater they will munch on caddis larvae, stonefly and mayfly nymphs. They continue hunting and feeding until they reach the spawning streams. Feeding now stops as they concentrate on the serious business of mating. These fish defiantly have a one tracked mind at this stage in their life.
The term Herling is used to describe maiden cutthroat trout that have only spent one summer feeding in the sea and have returned to fresh water. Not all Herling Cutthroat trout mate in the first year. This is also the case with some herling Atlantic sea-trout and steelheads. All herling Cutthroats return for a second summer season hunting and feeding in the ocean. This is not so for every Steelhead or Atlantic sea-trout yearling.
The one year old cutthroat trout will stay in the river system throughout the spawning period whether they mate and spawn or not. The wait until the whole population moves off towards the sea again as there is safety in numbers. Cutthroats only spend 4-5 months sea feeding. Many of the Atlantic sea-trout and steelheads over winter in the sea, feeding continually and putting on weight. This is why these species grow too much bigger sizes. The exception to this rule are some of the Alaskan and British Colombian cutthroats who over winter in the sea.
You can fish for sea-run cutthroats in the estuary at high water, using fish fry or sculpin fly patterns. The Mickey Finn, Lefty’s Deceivers and Clouser’s Minnows are a good choice to imitate the smaller saltwater fish they feed upon. A woolhead or Whitlocks Sculpin fly pattern also take Cutthroats along with the Rolled Muddler. Small crab flies and shrimp patterns are good producers. Most of them are caught in freshwater rather than in saltwater or the brackish water of the estuary.
Letter from Tom Murray
Good morning Craig. By way of introduction I am the originator of the Rolled Muddler. It was designed to imitated a three spined stickleback a prolific bait fish along the British Columbia coast in the 1970's. It became my go to fly when almost all my fishing was for Searun Cutthroat trout in the 70's 80's and 90's. There are a lot of variations now as with almost all flies because of new or now unobtainable materials. The original fly used brown mottled Turkey wing quill feather for the wing now and since the 80's I use mallard flank feather for the wing and tail. The original fly was tied on a Mustaad 9671 size 12. I have this fly in size 2 for pike and bass and size 16 for rainbow trout. A number of my fly fishing friends use this fly on 4 6 and 8 hooks for coho salmon off the beach in the fall. I have a friend in Norway who uses them for sea trout with great success. I received your write up about the rolled muddler from a fishing club friend here in Courtenay on Vancouver Island. Tight Lines
Courtenay, British Columbia
Vancouver Island, Canada
Tom Murray (a friend) he uses only a non-bead head pattern, where as I use only a bead head. Standard size #8 streamer hook. Brass (not gold) bead, mallard tail, gold mylar body, counter wrapped with gold wire (cutthroat teeth are sharp), red thread throat, four strands of pearl UV crystal flash, mallard wing, natural colored deer hair spun to form the head, trimmed aggressively with only 10 - 15 deer hairs remaining over the mallard. It is a very slim pattern with a low profile. The deer hair head "pushes" water, the bead provided a little jigging action, but the profile is slim. - Rod Hamilton
Lines are also an important consideration - clear intermediate sinking lines such as the SA Stillwater series are excellent in saltwater beach and estuary areas, as well as large clear water river systems where a stealth approach is required. As winter moves into spring, salmon fry emerge from the gravel in abundance. During this time of year (now) these sea-run trout will be found in the lower sections of larger river systems, as they not only feed on fry but are also on their own spawning migrations. Rolled muddlers are a great searching pattern and work extremely well where there are a lot of stickleback or sculpin, particularly in the estuarine environment; however when the cutties are keying in on fry, you must match the hatch to have consistent success. I learned this years ago, when I was on the Harrison River here in BC during an early March outing. Cutthroat trout were slashing the surface as they attacked fry in slower, shallow sections, and I was using a #6 rolled muddler with varied success. After cutting back the dressing to make my offering more sparse, my success increased slightly.
A distinction should be made between the sub-species of cutthroat trout we have discussed here, since there are some big differences between their habitat and forage. There are over a dozen sub-species of cutthroat trout; however I think thus far we have been discussing two or three (westslope, yellowsone and coastal). Westslope cutthroat are the fish you will find in the interior land-locked waters of BC, Alberta, and states such as Washington, Idaho, Oregon, Montana. Hoppers are definitely great for westslope cutties in the "interior" of BC, especially in late August and September. They obviously work in areas south of the border as a few of you have chimed in.
Coastal cutthroat are fish which primarily inhabit coastal streams and estuary areas in BC, Alaska, WA and Oregon. Although coastal cutthroat (sea-runs) may encounter the odd hopper (I haven't seen it) and they are opportunistic predators, I wouldn't consider them a staple food item for these sea-run trout. Conversely, I don't think a yellowstone or westslope cutthroat would come across sandlance, salmon fry, euphausiids or stickleback all too often. - By Mark Kasumovich