Gill Na+, K+-ATPase activity, condition factor and seawater (SW) challenges were used to assess the development of smolt characteristics in a cohort of hatchery coastal cutthroat trout Oncorhynchus clarkii clarkii from the Cowlitz River in Washington State, U.S.A. Gill Na+, K+-ATPase activity increased slightly in the spring, coinciding with an increase in hypo-osmoregulatory ability. These changes were of lesser magnitude than are observed in other salmonine species. Even at the peak of tolerance, these fish exhibited notable osmotic perturbations in full strength SW. Condition factor in these hatchery fish declined steadily through the spring. Wild captured migrants from four tributaries of the Columbia River had moderately elevated gill Na+, K+-ATPase activity, consistent with smolt development and with greater enzyme activity than autumn captured juveniles from one of the tributaries, Abernathy Creek. Migrant fish also had reduced condition factor. General linear models of 7 years of data from Abernathy Creek suggest that yearly variation, advancing photoperiod (as ordinal date) and fish size (fork length) were significant factors for predicting gill Na+, K+-ATPase activity in these wild fish. Both yearly variation and temperature were significant factors for predicting condition factor. These results suggest that coastal O. c. clarkii exhibit weakly developed characteristics of smolting. These changes are influenced by environmental conditions with great individual variation. The data suggest great physiological plasticity consistent with the variable life-history tactics observed in this species.