Many fly anglers have heard the stories of double digit brown or rainbow trout that can be found all over the world, but few know about the massive cutthroat trout that have been caught throughout history. My second biggest ever trout of my life happens to be a Snake River Cutthroat I had the pleasure of landing in Jackson, Wyoming. These fish are aggressive and can grow to be massive!
The Biggest Cutthroat Trout in the World (According to IGFA)
According to the IGFA, the largest cutthroat trout ever caught was a 41-pound beast that was caught in 1925. Believe it or not, it was taken out of Pyramid Lake in Nevada! It was a Lahontan strain of the cutthroat. The Lahontan strain of cutthroat is generally the largest cutthroat trout you’re going to find.
A Little Bit About Cutthroat Trout
Cutthroat trout are native to cold-water areas on the West Coast of the United States, the Rocky Mountains and the Great Basin throughout the Midwest United States. Cutthroat are known for the red color under their gills. It almost looks as if the fish were cut under their gills and they’re bleeding; hence, the name cutthroat trout.
Cutthroat trout aren’t overly different in their habitat and feeding styles to the rest of the trout species. They need cold, highly oxygenated water with gravel bottoms and a healthy amount of insect life. Cutthroat trout populations have risen and fallen throughout the years, but recent efforts by state Game and Fish Departments and local chapters of trout anglers help sustain these populations and protect them at all costs.
How Old is a Cutthroat Trout
Trout generally live somewhere between five and ten years. While cutthroat trout aren’t the biggest of the trout species, they grow to be larger than brook trout but smaller than brown and rainbow trout.
Where Can I Find World Record Cutthroat Trout?
Pyramid Lake, Nevada- Home of the World Record
If you want a shot at the world record, you have to fish Pyramid Lake. Located around 30 miles north of Reno, it’s hard not to be surprised when you first stumble on it. It covers over 700 square miles and is upwards of 350 feet deep. It’s fed by the Truckee River and no water is able to escape! You can fly fish or spin fish for these trout, but if you’re fishing in the middle of the lake, stick with spin fishing.
The cutthroat trout can weigh five to ten pounds and measure in over 20 inches! With some effort, you can absolutely tie into a monster.
If you’re fly fishing, spend time fishing near where the Truckee River enters the lake. This provides good access to the fish. Large streamer patterns like the Clouser Minnow or Wooly Bugger are good options.
Snake River, Wyoming – Consistent Large and Healthy Populations
If you have a chance to target Cutthroat on the Snake River near Jackson, Wyoming, you have to do it. Running near Grand Teton National Park and further into the mountains, the Snake River provides anglers with miles of access to a fairly healthy population of fish. The Cutthroat is endangered all throughout Wyoming except for the population in the Snake River.
Snake River Cutthroat can be anywhere from 10 to 20 inches and weigh a couple of pounds.
A fly rod should be your top choice when targeting these fish! Use your 5-weight with floating line and a 3x leader and throw Caddis, Terrestrial, Stonefly and Mayfly representations. Traditional patterns like the Pheasant Tail Nymph and Chubby Chernobyl are perfect.
Omak Lake, Washington – Lahontan Strain Cutthroat are here!
Omak Lake in Washington state is well-known for their high populations of healthy cutthroat trout. The Lahontan species of these fish swim through the waters of Omak Lake. These fish can grow upwards of 20 to 25 inches and weigh several pounds. Anglers will troll with lures or cast flies throughout this lake depending on their preferences. If you’re spin fishing, use a plug!
Fly fishing is generally successful with bright Clouser Minnows! If you’re using a fly rod, make sure you’re using a 6-weight or 7-weight fly rod, so you can make longer casts and fight any of those larger fish that you might find. You’ll want 0x or 1x leader and both floating and sink-tip fly line since you’ll be throwing heavy streamers.
Meadowdale Beach Park, Washington- Sea Run Cutthroat
Meadowdale Beach Park in the Puget Sound on the coast of Washington is a great place to find sea-run Cutthroat Trout. Sea-run Cutthroat are aggressive and can grow over 20 inches and several pounds. This beach is good because it’s rocky and has a nice gravel bottom. Also, you’ll find a freshwater creek that runs into the area. This is a perfect place to find sea-run cutthroat.
You’ll want to use a 6-weight or 7-weight when you’re going after sea-run cutthroat. They don’t sit very low in the water column, so a floating line is plenty for you. Use a 2x or 3x leader and egg patterns to give yourself the best shot at these fish.
Cutthroat Trout in the News
In late July of 2022, the Tennessee record cutthroat trout was caught in the South Fork Holston River in Northeast Tennessee. It weighed in at around 1 pound!
Yellowstone National Park cutthroat trout populations are also growing and even thriving despite the 2022 summer floods. The lake trout population had nearly decimated the cutthroat population, but conservation efforts from the National Park Service and Game and Fish Department have slowly brought these populations back to a more acceptable number.
Techniques for Finding Monster Cutthroat Trout Close to Home
Cutthroat trout aren’t a very common fish across the United States. There are pockets of these fish in some western rivers and across the Midwest, so make sure you take a close look at your state department of natural resources or game and fish department website before you try and target them.
If they’re within driving distance, they’re worth targeting! They’re a beautiful fish with a strong, aggressive spirit.
Tips for Catching Big Cutthroat Trout on a Fly Rod
When you’re fishing with a fly rod, you’ll want between a 6-weight and 8-weight fast action rod. It should be 8’6” or 9’ long to give you a chance to make longer casts and give you enough power to fight the cutthroat that grows over 20 inches.
You’ll want to make sure you use a reel that matches the fly rod. If you’re using a 6-weight rod, use a 6-weight reel! It’ll help you
If you’re fishing in saltwater, use saltwater ready line like the Scientific Anglers Grand Slam. Saltwater fly line will be able to withstand corrosion and have little to no stretch, so you won’t lose fish when they take it.
For freshwater fly lines, Rio Trout is perfect! It’s a good floating line that gives you a chance at any fish you find. Make sure the size you choose matches with the rod and reel you have!
Favorite Cutthroat Trout Fly Fishing Technique
Cutthroat trout generally stay in shallower water. Unless you’re fishing in especially warm waters, you’ll find them in areas that are only a few feet deep! They also like to live in areas with gravel bottoms and plenty of cover.
Find pools, cut banks, seams and riffles. Cutthroat will always be in these areas, so make sure you take your time when fishing them. They can be spooky, but with patience and the proper fly choice, you’ll have plenty of success.
Favorite Flies for Cutthroat Trout
- Royal Wulff- A size 8 Royal Wulff is the perfect attractor pattern. If you’re searching and aren’t quite sure where the fish are hiding, use the Royal Wulff and they’ll likely find it. Cutthroat like bright and aggressive flies.
- Tungsten Flash Prince– If you need a nymph for Cutthroat, a size 16 Flash Prince is ideal. They’re a buggy looking fly, and can be fished as the bottom of a dry-dropper rig or on its own below an indicator.
- Sculpzilla– A size 4 Sculpzilla is the perfect streamer option. You can swing or drift these depending on what technique is going to work for you. Once you find the speed and drift the fish want, you’ll be able to pull multiple fish from the same area.
Guide Pro Tip: Have the right flies at the right time is one of the secrets to catching any fish with a fly. I’ve got a complete list of Cutthroat Fly recommendations in this article. 👉 Best Flies for Cutthroat Trout
Get Out and Cast a Fly to Some Cutthroat Trout
Cutthroat trout are a testament to what can happen when people put their minds together to save and sustain something. At one point, there were very low populations across the country, but with continual efforts of the state government and local anglers, the populations are on the rise. Not to mention, the fish will continue to grow and more records will likely be broken in the near future!