During the winter months visions of wild trout flashing through the water and striking a dry fly danced through my mind. I was consumed by a challenge I had found out about last year as a BLM range technician with the Kemmerer, WY field office. This fishing adventure is called the Wyoming Cutt Slam. A challenge bringing anglers from all over the country, the Cutt Slam was implemented by the Wyoming Game and Fish Department to increase awareness of Wyoming’s native cutthroat species and their management. So what is the challenge? The angler must catch all four sub-species of native Wyoming cutthroat trout in their native waters. This sure seemed to me like a heck of an excuse to get out and see some beautiful country while catching new fish!
The certificate awarded to those who have completed the Cutt Slam
My fly fishing buddy and I both ended up in Kemmerer, WY with the BLM for the summer. So naturally we decided it was Cutt Slam or bust. Well, this is a CLM blog. So what is the connection? In the Kemmerer field office two native species of cutthroat are found, the Colorado and the Bonneville cutthroat. Range managers cannot overlook these fish. Whether it is grazing or water development, decisions cannot be made without considering what the impact may be on the native species of trout. Riparian monitoring such as MIM or PFC help to monitor crucial trout habitat and protect them. (Also these were great for helping us find good fishing holes for later.) I learned about this challenge by learning about the fish we are paid to protect first.
PFC on Willow Creek
Now that I have validated this blog, let us move forward! The first fish on our list was the Colorado Cutt. Found in the Colorado River watershed, this trout can be hard to find and even harder to catch. Luckily we monitored on a beautiful stream that held these fish. Upon arrival to the stream, spirits were high. My friend, Grant, cast his fly out on the water and it was immediately struck by a Colorado Cutt. Sadly, he missed the fish. But this was a good sign. I was giddy with excitement as I cast. Thirty minutes later, no fish. No bites whatsoever. What happened? We will never know. Eventually Grant caught his fish out of a nice big pool.
Grant’s first Colorado Cutt
We fished up about 2 miles of stream, and even spooked out a cow moose with her young calf. I, however had no luck. We fished our way back towards the pickup. I wasn’t pouting, but I was close. Think of a kid in a grocery store who wants the sugary cereal but mom picks out the healthy choice. We came around a small bend when Grant exclaimed that he had seen a fish. I excitedly cast my fly into the hole. Nothing. Several more casts and still nothing. Out of frustration I cast far upstream to a riffle. Bam! A Colorado Cutt exploded from the water and hit my fly and I did not miss this fish. Shakily, I reeled the fish in and Grant netted him. We did no want to lose this fish without a picture. After hours of frustration here was my prize. A small trout many would not even remember. But I was ecstatic. “Twenty five percent done!” we exclaimed.
My Colorado Cutt!
The easiest fish, in my eyes was going to be the Bonneville Cutt. I had caught many last summer and knew where and how to fish for them. We packed up the pickup and headed off to the Bear River watershed. We set up camp then went down to the creek to try our luck. Right off the bat I caught a fish.
My Bonneville Cutthroat
Grant was taken aback after our misfortunes on Willow Creek. Well I had told him this would be easier! He caught his fish just upstream on a hand-tied elk hair caddis fly. Despite almost losing a flip flop and getting stuck in the mud, I think he had a great time. We caught a good number of fish before calling it a day and cooking several celebratory steaks.
Grant’s trusty lab, Sage, and his Bonneville Cutt
Now fifty percent finished it was time to tackle the two wild cards. Those being the Snake River Cutt and the Yellowstone Cutt. Saving the toughest for last and with a hot tip from a coworker, we took off after the Snake River Cutt. Just south of LaBarge, WY there is a road that follows LaBarge Creek into the Bridger National Forest. This road eventually leads to the headwaters of the Greys River. The Greys flows into the Snake River, meaning that Snake River cutts should be swimming throughout the reach. We took off after work, so we did not have much time to fish before setting up camp. We only had time to fish for half an hour before dark. Plus, the river was shallow and wide. Not exactly optimal trout habitat.
The next morning we woke, wolfed down a muffin and still groggy, pulled on our waders and set off. We fished all morning with no bites. We saw a nice fish feeding in a pool but he would not even look at our flies. He had an aloof nature about him one would expect from an English aristocrat. We were simply peasants in his eyes. Aside from this fancy-pants fish we did not see hide nor hair of a trout (just a saying of course, fish have scales). Around two we decided to hike back to camp to regroup and have a lunch. Over cheddar bratwurst we decided to take the road farther downstream in the hopes of finding better fishing. We drove down for about 45 minutes. Alongside the road were several reaches which looked quite promising. Too bad for us, a fisherman was found at each one. Frustrated and on edge, we zoomed down the road farther.
As we descended the Greys was still wide but there was an increase in depth. One section looked quite promising. A braided channel upstream created several riffles and pools. Great trout holding water. I gasped and pulled off the road. We had our fly rods prepared from earlier. We each cast out. I had a bite but missed. Grant had a bite, and he deflty set the hook. It was a nice fish. As it jumped we could tell it was a Cutt. I netted the fish and sure enough, it was a Snake River Cutt.
First Snake River Cutt I have ever seen caught.
Grant set his rod aside. It was my turn. With the pressure mounting, I cast out into a large riffle and had a soft bite. Next cast and a fish nailed my elk hair caddis. It was a beautiful Snake River Cutt with some good size. This was not a small fish! Luckily Grant was on top of netting duties and raced down to the rivers edge, net in hand. He scooped up the fish and there we had it, the Snake River Cutt! All of the anxiety and frustration vanished. I felt as if I was soaring.
One of the most beautiful fish I have ever caught
Seventy five percent done!
It was steak time back at camp.
Summer work picked up and there was less time for gallivanting through the hills chasing trout. We had a tenuous grasp on where to go for the Yellowstone Cutt. They were found throughout Yellowstone National Park, but this area is crowded with tourists and can be expensive. One of the many allures of fishing for cutthroats is the solitude their native habitats provide. So we needed an alternative. Finally we found a creek that provided us with everything we needed. High numbers of Yellowstones, camping, and a somewhat close proximity to Kemmerer.
The weekend of August sixth we took off. Full of optimism and with good music on the radio spirits were high. After several hours of driving and a stop at a local fly shop for last minute fly purchases and some tips, we got to the creek. Well, it was packed with campers and their RVs. Not what I had expected! We raced for a camping spot. Finally we found an empty one with a little isolation from the other campers. But when we went down to the creek the water did not look great. The creek was shallow and wide (sound familiar?). Grant was quite upset, visions of fishless hours on the Greys River haunted him as we pulled on our gear and strung up our rods. We tied on flies recommended by the helpful man at the fly shop and took off. Since Grant was in a foul mood I let him fish the first hole. “You can hardly call this a hole” he growled back at me. After several casts with his shoulders slumped, his rod suddenly jumped to life. I stared in amazement as a good sized Yellowstone Cutt leapt out of the water, trying to lose the hook. Grant’s eyes were the size of saucers. I fumbled with my net as I prepared to land the fish. It rushed downstream at us and ended up between my legs. Grant was shouting at me to land the fish while I stumbled about. Finally I netted the fish. “I didn’t think fish like this were in here” grant stuttered. Neither did I.
Look at that smile!
Once again Grant stepped aside. It was up to me to catch one now. Upstream and around a bend we happened upon a nice pool. As Grant held Sage back, I noticed a fish rise. I knew I had a great chance if a fish was feeding on the surface. I cast just above where I saw the fish, letting my purple hopper float directly into the fish’s path. It was a tense moment, waiting for the fly to meander into the strike zone. When the fish rose and took the fly I was ready to set the hook. My rod bent and my reel whirred as the fish took off. After a minute or two I was able to navigate the fish in close enough for Grant to net him. He did a much better job for me than I had done for him.
Yellowstone Cutthroat, finished with the Cutt Slam!
With great jubilation we continued upstream. We caught more fish than we could count that evening and the next day.
Eventually we made it back to camp for, you guessed it, steaks. This time we also brought along some cigars, for celebratory purposes. We had completed the Cutt Slam.
Conservation of our native species is crucial to maintaining what makes America and Wyoming special. All of these fish were caught on public land. Our land. Every citizen of the United States can fish these beautiful waters for native cutthroat.
The Snake River winding beneath the Teton Mountains
Maintaining these rivers and lands is what makes the work I do something I love. Without proper stewardship it would be almost impossible to complete the Cutt Slam. So go forth into the wilderness, chase these beautiful trout throughout the hills and mountains of Wyoming. Trust me, you will not be disappointed.