Cutthroat Trout Fishing Tips

Are you searching for fish that can give you a real challenge as an angler? Use these trout fishing tips to help you catch the cutthroat trout, a fish that is as challenging to catch as it is delicious.

cutthroat trout fishing tips
A beautiful Colorado cutthroat trout. Source

Also known as the coastal cutthroat, greenback trout, Yellowstone cutthroat trout, and short-tailed trout, this trout is part of the Salmonidae family. It comprises of over 14 different species and almost all of them inhabit freshwater lakes, rivers, and streams.

The only exception to that rule is the coastal cutthroat trout which can be found in both salt and lake waters.


Some types of cutthroats are endangered due to overfishing, mining pollution and competition from other cutthroat species.

Cutthroat Trout Facts

Scientific Name:Oncorhynchus clarki
Common Name(s):cut, native trout, short-tailed trout, lake trout, sea trout, brook trout, Yellowstone cutthroat, Snake River cutthroat, Lahontan cutthroat, Rio Grande cutthroat, Colorado cutthroat, Utah cutthroat, Paiute cutthroat, harvest trout, blackspotted trout
CharacteristicsBlue to the silvery body with yellow, orange or red streaks depending on the type.
Depth Range0 to 200 meters
LocationsConsidered to be the most widely distributed western trout of North America. It can be found from southern Alberta all the way to New Mexico.

Types of Cutthroat Trout

Here are different kinds of cutthroat trout:

  • Greenback cutthroat trout – Only a small strain of this endangered cutthroat can be found in a small creek in Colorado.
  • Yellowstone cutthroat – This cutthroat can be found around Yellowstone National Park and this includes subspecies such as the fine spotted cutthroat.
  • Coastal cutthroat – These cutthroat spend most of their lives in coastal regions of the Pacific Ocean and return to native rivers for spawning.
  • Westslope cutthroat – These originate from Northern Idaho and northern tributaries of the Snake River.
  • Bonneville cutthroat
  • Coastal cutthroat
  • Colorado river cutthroat
  • Yellowstone cutthroat
  • Paiute cutthroat
  • Sea-run cutthroat
  • Snake River cutthroat
  • Alvord cutthroat
  • Montana cutthroat trout

How to Catch Cutthroat Trout

Cutthroats love to feast on aquatic nymphs and larvae which can be found just below the surface of the water. Use imitation nymphs as bait such as the Bead Head Pheasant tail to lure them out in sizes 12 to 14. Some people also like to use dry fly patterns that look like stoneflies and mayflies while fly-fishing for cutthroat trout.

bonneville cutthroat trout
A beautiful Bonneville cutthroat trout. Source

Since the cutthroat ambushes its prey, it can be found in typical holding cover such as log jams, eddies, large boulders, etc. However, angling can differ depending on the environment you are fishing in and the type of cutthroat you want to catch.

Generally, a light tackle should work to catch a smaller inland cutthroat. However, this fish is quite aggressive so take a variety of flies, spoons, spinners and other lures with you.

Cutthroat Tactics

  1. If you are fishing with dry flies, use a Stimulator dry fly especially if natural stoneflies are flying about. This will fool the cutthroats into biting.
  2. Use fly patterns that imitate ocean bait fish to fish for cutthroat in brackish water such as char, salmon, and shrimp.

Cutthroat Fishing Tips

  • Cutthroats are not picky eaters so make sure you have a variety of well-known imitator type patterns for nymphs and dries.
  • During the early season fish for cutthroats in shallow water or shelves in lakes and pools and be patient. You may need to cast several times in the same area to get a bite.

Fly-Fishing for Cutthroat

Cutthroat trout can eat just about anything that you can cast onto a river making them perfect for fly fishing. This is also why there is a range of flies that are effective to catch this fish. Like most trout, cutties feed on aquatic insects and invertebrates as well as land insects that fall into the water such as ants, hoppers, beetles, etc.

With such a diverse diet, you might think choosing an appropriate fly would be difficult, but it really isn’t. If you don’t match the hatch accurately, the fish will still be attracted to your flies.

A good rule of thumb is to carry popular imitator type patterns for dries and nymphs such as princes and March Browns.

If you see no sign of the fish at night, use attracts patterns such as streamer patterns to catch the cutthroat.

Usually, this trout is attracted to leech type patterns that are tied with breathable materials. Plus, just keep in mind that when you are fly fishing for cutthroats, match the hatch as best you can and just get a fly out in front of them to see how they react to it.

colorado cutthroat trout on a rock
Another beautiful Colorado cutthroat. Source

While most cutthroats do not get very large making a light tackle preferable, only use it for the smallest streams. You may end up catching salmon and other species of fish instead of your flies.

Use a 4 to 7 weight graphite rod that is about 8 to 9 feet long.

One of the best patterns to use while fishing for this trout is the stickleback, black and silver flatfish, and the black wooly bugger. Use this to fish deep during the summer and in the shallows during spring.

Lure Fishing for Trout

There is nothing in particular that you will need to catch cutthroats. Just make sure that you have a variety of small spinners and spoons that have a slight sheen to them. The best tackle to catch this fish depends on the technique you use.

However, generally speaking, you can get away with using a six and a half foot long medium action spinning rod and spinning reel.

If you are fishing for large coastal cutthroats, baitcasting should be your preferred fishing technique. You don’t need any special baits, flies, or lures though. You can use leeches, worms, and minnows to attract them.

Best Time to Catch

While this trout can be fished all year, its location varies as the water temperature rises and drops. For example, as the water heats up during the summer the cutthroat moves deeper. You can catch them via fly fishing. They can also be caught by bait and other lures.

Winter is not the best month for fishing while April to October offers the best conditions.

The trout spawn in early December and most do so early during the winter months. Cutthroat trout that are not spawning during this time focus on feeding and are also quite lethargic due to the cold water. The best time to fish during the winter is during a high-pressure system when the weather warms up a bit when the trout is easier to spot near the surface.


Q: What do cutthroat trout eat?

A: Inland cutthroat trout diet includes insects and small fish while the coastal variety eats shrimp, sandworms, squid, as well as small fish.

Q: How do you identify cutthroat trout?

A: Cutthroat trout have a yellow, orange or red streak in the skin fold on each side of the body and under the lower jaw. The color of the body ranges from cadmium blue and silvery to olive green and yellowish-green depending on the species. They are also covered with spots.

Q: Where does the cutthroat trout live?

A: Cutthroat trout live in a variety of coldwater habitats such as mountain streams, small headwater tributaries, large lakes, bog ponds, and rivers.

Insider Advice

As a beginner use a 4 weight rod if you are fishing in small streams and a 5 weight one if you are an experienced angler.

The former can be used to catch any size of trout while the latter allows you to cast further for larger fish. If you are using heavy streamer patterns, use a heavy-duty 7 weight rod.

The Anglers Behind This Article:

Jon Stenstrom

Johanes Godoy

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