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Artistic view of a Male Pteronarcys californica (Pteronarcyidae) (Giant Salmonfly) Stonefly Adult from the Gallatin River in Montana
Salmonflies
Pteronarcys californica

The giant Salmonflies of the Western mountains are legendary for their proclivity to elicit consistent dry-fly action and ferocious strikes.

Case view of a Pycnopsyche guttifera (Limnephilidae) (Great Autumn Brown Sedge) Caddisfly Larva from the Yakima River in Washington
It's only barely visible in one of my pictures, but I confirmed under the microscope that this one has a prosternal horn and the antennae are mid-way between the eyes and front of the head capsule.

I'm calling this one Pycnopsyche, but it's a bit perplexing. It seems to key definitively to at least Couplet 8 of the Key to Genera of Limnephilidae Larvae. That narrows it down to three genera, and the case seems wrong for the other two. The case looks right for Pycnopsyche, and it fits one of the key characteristics: "Abdominal sternum II without chloride epithelium and abdominal segment IX with only single seta on each side of dorsal sclerite." However, the characteristic "metanotal sa1 sclerites not fused, although often contiguous" does not seem to fit well. Those sclerites sure look fused to me, although I can make out a thin groove in the touching halves in the anterior half under the microscope. Perhaps this is a regional variation.

The only species of Pycnopsyche documented in Washington state is Pycnopsyche guttifera, and the colors and markings around the head of this specimen seem to match very well a specimen of that species from Massachusetts on Bugguide. So I am placing it in that species for now.

Whatever species this is, I photographed another specimen of seemingly the same species from the same spot a couple months later.
27" brown trout, my largest ever. It was the sub-dominant fish in its pool. After this, I hooked the bigger one, but I couldn't land it.
Troutnut is a project started in 2003 by salmonid ecologist Jason "Troutnut" Neuswanger to help anglers and fly tyers unabashedly embrace the entomological side of the sport. Learn more about Troutnut or support the project for an enhanced experience here.

By Troutnut on July 7th, 2018
I drove Saturday night to my starting point for Sunday, so I was on the water fishing the Little Naches River as soon as the sun woke me up, around 7:30 am. In these small mountain streams, at this time of year, being up early doesn't seem to do much good. I started out in a canyon reach with some deep, very fish-looking pools, many of which showed no sign of fish. I clamored along the boulders and picked up a couple whopping 6-inchers, then finally a feisty 12-inch rainbow on a nymph, then more fishless pools. When I did find fish here and there, they were mostly on the small size (meaning 6" rather than 8"), and the water felt a bit too big for most of them, like in the forks of the Snoqualmie closer to home.

The character of the stream was charming, though. In covering a lot of ground quickly and peering into crystal clear pools, I was just thinking it reminded me in some ways of fishing New Zealand, where a river like this in the backcountry might hold a 22-inch brown every few pools instead of a 6-inch rainbow. I was just thinking of a grim description of the creek -- "New Zealand fish numbers, Washington fish size" -- when the water exploded beneath my feet. If my chest waders hadn't come with suspenders, I would have jumped right out of them. A fish around 27 inches shot out of a shadow in the calm shallows and into a deeper pool upstream. I didn't get much of a view, but I'm guessing it was a rare summer steelhead. That kept me more alert for the rest of the day.

I didn't see any other big fish, but the warming water boosted the pace of the action. Every pool that looked fishy now had fish, although they were mostly 5-inch rainbows or Chinook parr colliding with each other in their race to my fly. I ate lunch on a perch high above the river, from which I watched a mule deer doe and small buck cross. A little later, a stunning yellow and red Western Tanager flitted among the douglas-firs on the bank. As the creek wound back toward the road, the shrill call of dirtbikes drowned out the sounds of the wild. I eagerly await the invention of virtual-reality games that let them immersively make loud engine noises and even sniff exhaust from the comfort of their living rooms, leaving nature for those who wish to experience it.

After walking a few miles back to my car, I drove some distance to another small stream that proved to be a gem. It ran through a wide (for its size) valley flanked by steep canyon walls, occasionally butting up against the ragged black cliffs and scouring deep pools. The fish were mostly native rainbows, fat and larger than on the Little Naches, and each pool seemed to hold a single large (for its size) Westslope Cutthroat, around 10-12". This one was the star of the trip:



These great pools were fewer and farther between than I would have liked, separated by long stretches of shallow pocket water. Every little pocket held a little trout. Google Earth shows some very hard-to-reach places on this stream with more big pools, so this stream now lingers in my mind with more mystique than most. I'll be back.

On this day, though, I had a long drive home and more fishing to do on the way. Backtracking through the woods out of the mystery creek, I drove back west through Chinook Pass and stopped briefly in the evening at Huckleberry Creek, which flows out of unglaciated highlands on a northern finger of Mount Ranier. I should have guessed that a creek draining the highest mountain around might recover from snowmelt later than the rest, but I didn't. It was crystal clear, but high and cold. Few pools flowed slow enough to hold feeding fish, and in the ones that did, nothing bit.

Photos by Troutnut from Mystery Creek #211, Huckleberry Creek, and the Little Naches River in Washington

So far I've only really chased Westslope Cutthroat in small streams. Two fish around 11-12" from this stream were my biggest yet. The other one squirmed away from my gentle grip before I could get a photo.
Huckleberry Creek in Washington
Mystery Creek # 211 in Washington
The Little Naches River in Washington
A nicely-colored example of the Columbia River Redband rainbow trout subspecies, Oncorhynchus mykiss gairdneri.
Beautiful example of a Columbia River Redband trout (Oncorhynchus mykiss gairdneri), a type of rainbow.
The Little Naches River in Washington
Huckleberry Creek

From Huckleberry Creek in Washington
Huckleberry Creek in Washington
Huckleberry Creek in Washington
Mystery Creek # 211 in Washington
Mystery Creek # 211 in Washington
Mystery Creek # 211 in Washington
The Little Naches River in Washington
The Little Naches River in Washington
The Little Naches River in Washington
The Little Naches River in Washington
The Little Naches River in Washington
The Little Naches River in Washington
The Little Naches River in Washington
The Little Naches River in Washington
The Little Naches River in Washington
The Little Naches River in Washington
The Little Naches River in Washington
Mystery Creek # 211 in Washington
Mystery Creek # 211 in Washington
Mystery Creek # 211 in Washington
Mystery Creek # 211 in Washington
Mystery Creek # 211 in Washington
Mystery Creek # 211 in Washington
The Little Naches River in Washington
The Little Naches River in Washington

On-stream insect photos by Troutnut from the Little Naches River and Mystery Creek #211 in Washington

The Little Naches River in Washington
Mystery Creek # 211 in Washington

Comments / replies

Partsman
Partsman's profile picture
bancroft michigan

Posts: 321
Partsman on Jul 10, 2018July 10th, 2018, 11:31 am EDT
Wow Jason, beautiful pictures! That cutthroat is awesome. Thanks for sharing your trip with us, its almost to hot to fish here in Michigan, I tend to agree with 68 degree pledge, although I may fudge a couple degrees. I have family visiting from out west so no big deal right now, but Im ready to go once everyone has left. Please keep up the reports, as I have been invited out to Oregon, so maybe I may have to prepare for a adventure out that way.

Mike.
Martinlf
Martinlf's profile picture
Moderator
Palmyra PA

Posts: 3047
Martinlf on Jul 10, 2018July 10th, 2018, 2:22 pm EDT
Gorgeous, Jason. Thanks.
"He spread them a yard and a half. 'And every one that got away is this big.'"

--Fred Chappell
Jmd123
Jmd123's profile picture
Oscoda, MI

Posts: 2474
Jmd123 on Jul 10, 2018July 10th, 2018, 3:06 pm EDT
Again, beautiful. And wow, those Westslope Cutts! James Prosek drew one in his first book that's extremely colorful like that, and he wasn't exaggerating! And the scenery isn't too shabby either…

Jonathon
No matter how big the one you just caught is, there's always a bigger one out there somewhere...

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