The How To Guide To Fishing For Cutthroat Trout In Rivers

If you’re looking for a challenge as an angler, rivers might just be the perfect place for you. Fishing for cutthroat trout in rivers can take your skills to the next level. 

Catching cutthroat trout in the rivers takes several strategies that you can master. Generally, you can go fly fishing, as it is ideal in rivers. But you can also catch these water creatures using your baitcasting gear. 

Regardless of the method, it’s worth learning about catching cutthroat trout in rivers. Cutthroat trout fishing in California rivers is even more fun if you know how to do it right. So, keep reading and make sure to take some notes on catching these water prizes. 

Strategies for Catching Cutthroat Trout in Rivers

Cutthroat trout have several types, including coastal cutthroat, Yellowstone cutthroat, and greenback trout. These creatures belong in the Salmonidae family, making them closely related to salmon. The difference is that salmon is a saltwater fish. Cutthroat trout mostly live in freshwater.


When fishing for cutthroat trout in rivers, remember that they indulge in larvae and aquatic nymphs. They find these foods below the water’s surface. Going by this feeding behavior, you can use an imitation nymph as bait in sizes 12 to 14. An excellent example is this Blue Wing Olive bead-head pheasant tail nymph fly in size 12.

Besides imitation nymphs, you can also opt for dry fly patterns. They resemble mayflies and stoneflies for cutthroat trout fly fishing. The Odds fly fishing flies kit has several dry fly patterns that will suit your needs. 

General Where-to and How-tos

Knowing about cutthroat trout hunting behavior is fundamental when fishing for cutthroat trout in rivers. In particular, they like to ambush their prey by hiding in eddies, log jams, and large boulders. Considering that, these are the places that you should target when fishing for cutthroat trout in rivers.

Light tackles might usually work with smaller cutthroat trout. But remember that these creatures can be quite aggressive as well. That is why you need to bring various baits, spinners, spoons, and other lures. This way, you’ll have more options when dealing with these freshwater animals. 

Tips and Tricks to Lure Cutthroat Trout in rivers

Here are the tips and tricks you can use when fishing for cutthroat trout in rivers.

1. You can fool the cutthroat into biting by using a stimulator dry fly. This strategy works well if there are natural stoneflies in the area.

2. Bring different imitator pattern dries and nymphs fishing for cutthroat trout in rivers. These animals are not picky eaters, so you can use your baits well.

3. You can also choose fly patterns that imitate ocean bait fish in brackish waters. Some examples include shrimp, char, and salmon. 

4. In the early seasons, you can fish for cutthroats in shallow waters, lake shelves, and ponds. However, you will need to be patient. You may need to cast in the same area several times before achieving that first bite often.

Fly Fishing

Since they are non-picky eaters, fly fishing is best for fishing for cutthroat trout in rivers. You can pick anything from your flies kit, and trout will still devour it. Concerning this, some baits are more effective in catching cutthroats. So, how do you choose the effective ones out of the flies that trout will just snack on? 

  • Cutthroats feed on invertebrates, aquatic insects, and even land insects. That includes hoppers, ants, and beetles. With this buffet selection, you might think it will be difficult to choose the perfect bait. It’s not. Always include in your kit popular imitator-type patterns- March Browns and princes. 
  • When night fishing but no cutthroats seem to be insight, you can go for streamer patterns to attract them. 
  • You can also attract cutthroat trout in rivers using leech patterns connected with breathable materials. 
  • A non-matching hatch may still attract cutthroats. Still, it is best practice to match the hatch as much as you can. This way, you can dangle the fly and see how the trout will react to it. 
  • Light tackles are preferable for cutthroats since they don’t grow big. But, you might end up catching other species, like salmon. If you use these in a larger stream, use your light tackles only in smaller streams. 
  • Choose a four to seven-weight graphite rod, preferably eight to nine feet long.
  • You can use black and silver flatfish, the black wooly bugger, and the stickleback. These patterns are effective in deep fishing during summers. They also work well for shallow fishing during spring.

Lure Fishing

When it comes to lure fishing, you can get away with most spinners and spoons in your gear. For cutthroats, make sure you have a wide selection of small, with a slight sheen, spinners, and spoons. To tackle these fish, at most, you will have to rely on your technique. 

In most cases, you can use a six-and-half-foot long medium action spinning rod and reel. When fishing for large coastal cutthroat trout, baitcasting is an ideal strategy. An interesting fact is that you don’t need special flies, baits, and lures. Leeches, minnows, and worms to attract them. 

When is the Best Time to Catch Cutthroats in Rivers

You can fish for cutthroats in rivers all year round. But, the best time to fish is between April and October. On the contrary, winter is the least preferable month. The reason for this is that cutthroats change location based on water temperature. If the water’s temperature goes up during summer, these animals will move deeper. Thus, fly fishing has become an ideal option.

On the other hand, most cutthroats spawn early during the winter months. Those that are not spawning by this period spend their time feeding. They are also inactive because of the cold water temperature. For these reasons, winter may not be the best time for fishing for cutthroat trout in rivers.

At times, high-pressure systems come during winters, warming up the weather. When this happens, you might spot cutthroats near the water’s surface. And that’s a golden opportunity to catch them. 

How to Target Cutthroat Trout in Rivers

When targeting cutthroat trout in rivers, there are other skills you need to learn. Considering the amount of work you will have to do to catch these prizes, hunting is an appropriate word. Follow these steps to catch your next trophy trout.

Go Out and Search

Small streams and rivers contain different fishes and your coveted cutthroat trout. It’ll never hurt to go out and search for cutthroat trout in rivers. 

Keep Your Eyes Open and Your Rod Away

Once you find your trout water, keep your rod away, at least for the meantime. Keep your eyes open and shade your view with either your hat or hand. This way, you’ll have a better view of what seems like holding water. You might feel bad about opportunistic trout getting away, but the patience will be worth it. This step also deviates you from becoming a blind caster.

Tread Quietly 

Considering that what you’re doing is pretty much hunting, avoid making sounds. Learn how to wade a bait without too much noise when fishing for cutthroat trout in rivers. Moreover, check if you are leaving profile silhouettes against the sky, and if you do, hide it.

As you move on your trout water, look out for fins, tails and opening and closing fish mouths. If there are none of these on your hunting grounds, it’s time for you to move somewhere else.

Watch Ahead

By watching ahead, you might detect cutthroats hiding in overhanging dogwoods and willows. They think that they are safe hiding there and might rise regularly. You won’t miss them with you looking out in those areas or spook them with your cast. 

Prepare Your Cast

If you already spot your target, prepare your cast by casting the fly at a distance. Gauge your cast to your ability. When you are fishing for cutthroat trout in rivers, remember that you’ll most likely get one shot at this point, so ensure that it counts. 

Can You Catch Cutthroat Trout in California Rivers

Yes, you can find different cutthroat trout species in California rivers. That includes such as the coastal cutthroat trout and the Lahontan cutthroat trout. During the winter, they enter the freshwater and reside there for up to five years. 

What Rivers Can You Catch Cutthroat Trout in California

Here are some places in California you can go to if you want to fish cutthroat trout in rivers:

  • Eel River
  • Salt River tributaries
  • Smith River
  • Lower Klamath River
  • Mad River
  • Redwood Creek

Final Thoughts

As challenging as it is delicious, cutthroat trout are usually found in freshwaters. Fishing for cutthroat trout in rivers requires some strategies and tricks. Some of these include having various baits in your kit and knowing how to locate trout water. It is equally crucial to learn the best time to catch these delectable fish. 

Furthermore, you can look at targeting cutthroat trout in rivers as a hunting game. It means catching your trophy trout demands stealth in scoping trout waters. You’ll need to watch out for movements while keeping yours in check. And, of course, it requires a great deal of patience.

California rivers are ideal places to master your skills in catching cutthroat trout in rivers. Out there, you’ll have a great time becoming a better angler. You might be in for a surprise trophy as well. 

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