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After driving north through the Ouachita Mountains and the Arkansas River valley we made it to our next destination with daylight to spare.  At an overlook we got to see the river we’d get a chance to fish over the next couple days, it was as it looks in a summer time aerial image, low and teal in color.  A sign told us the color was due to the high mineral content in the water.  Large quantities of sulfur, manganese, and iron combined with the sediment load carried in the water causes it to appear aqua in color.  We continued on and got camp set up fast to walk down to the river and try our luck.

Chucking spinning rods it didn’t take long to get into fish.  The big green sunfish were ever present on this river as on the last, but so were the juvenile Neosho smallmouth.  We were able to catch a few before it got dark.  I even managed to catch a rock bass, a fish I haven’t caught since I spent some time in the Tennessee River watershed in North Alabama.  This river was quite different than the last, far less elevation change, no more big boulders, but tons of gravel.  Big long gravel bars along big long pools, not many fast flowing sections.  A tougher place to fly fish due to the slow water, but we’d give it a shot tomorrow.  I wasn’t too worried about tomorrow at this point, I was looking forward to dinner.  The NY strip, onions, and potatoes that were made on the cast iron pot were incredible.  I think we are getting better at camp cooking, even with interruption from dive bombing cicadas.

The next day was spent dodging rain showers and spot hopping along the river.  There were several access points upstream of where we camped that we checked out.  We fished at a few of them and probably should have spent more time at some rather than others, but that’s the joys of scouting.  It was nice to have a road alongside the river for much of the way, the only slight annoyance was when the large groups of ATVs drove by.  We must have been near some major OHV trails with the amount of ATV traffic that was in the area.  The fishing was pretty good, no real big fish, mostly smallmouth with some spots and sunfish mixed in.  There were plenty to keep us interested though which was nice.

After lunch we drove up to the local general store to have a look around.  The Ozarks seem to have no shortage of these types of places.  We each got a slice of caramel apple pie a la mode that may have been the real highlight of the trip.  Really good stuff.

After pie we hit arguably the best spot on the river that we had found, where a major trib emptied into the main stem of the river, we fished sections of each and caught multiple Neosho smallmouth.  This spot had more riffle and run than any other section we fished and that suited us perfectly.  Wish we would have stumbled upon it earlier.  It was there we wrapped up the fishing portion of our trip.  We had a long drive ahead of us on Sunday so we would not be hitting the water in the morning.  We had another solid dinner that night when Blake cooked up some chicken fajitas that had been marinating a couple days in the ice chest.  The trip, even with the shorter planning period, came together nicely.  I don’t know where the next one will be but I always have ideas.

 

After a cold night in the hammock, we got up early that morning, packed our stuff and headed on to our next stop.  I’m not sure what the actual temp was that night, but it felt like upper 30’s/low 40’s and I was under-dressed for it – it was the coldest night of the trip for me.  Lesson learned and the rest of the nights I was fairly comfortable in the hammock.  Using a fleece blanket as an insulating layer under the back was a life saver – the 35 degree mummy bag just wasn’t enough.

Our next stop was on a bit bigger water that we hoped would also hold bigger Bonneville cutthroat trout.

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It did not take long for me to upgrade my best Bonnie as one slurped a dry right next to the bank.

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Unfortunately that was the biggest on the day for me and one of few – not that I didn’t have opportunities, just that most of my fish either came unbuttoned or I pulled the fly right out of there mouth.  A much slower hookset was needed on these fish and I guess I was just too excited when I saw the slow eat.

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Blake fared much better and even had a local cheering section on top the hill.

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He took big fish honors on the day and it was great to both upgrade our Bonneville cutthroat.  Size doesn’t matter for the slam, but I had hoped we would each catch an above average version of each species.

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Satisfied, we called it quits after lunch and decided to make our way to our next stop where we hoped to catch our second cutthroat species, which is a mouthful to say, the Snake River Finespotted Cutthroat Trout.

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The first road we traveled to get to the Snake River Cutts was dicey at best and had us questioning our better judgement in at least one spot, but we made it through and onto a road that was better maintained and more frequented as it took us through the Tri-Basin Divide.

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Arriving safely at our destination definitely called for a cold beer and unfortunately when going to restock the ice chest I was a little overzealous, used a bit too much force with a few too many beers and we had our first tragedy of the trip.

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If we could make it through the night we would be able to get another ice chest the next afternoon.  You live and learn I guess.

We hit the river a bit high up in the watershed with the idea of knocking out the requirement, and the pressure of just catching one, with perhaps a smaller, more eager fish.  It worked for me, but not so much for Blake.

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A celebratory beer before they got too hot and we kept on further down the road.

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We stopped at a run that looked too good to pass up and Blake was able to quickly hook up on a decent fish.  Of course his first Snake River cutthroat would best mine, this theme continued throughout the trip – he had a knack for holding his mouth right.

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We continued to fish our way to where we planned to camp that night and in doing so picked up a few more small cutts.

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We called it a day before it got too dark on us and headed to the campground.  Once at the campsite we were greeted by one of the locals who graciously allowed us to set up in an adjacent site.  Day two was another success as we were on track to get the slam by catching two different species in two days.  We did hope to be able to upgrade our Snake River Cutthroat before the trip was over though.  In the morning we planned to head over the pass and fish a Green River trib. for Colorado River Cutts.  If we stayed on track we would have an opportunity to catch more Snake River Cutts on the last day of the trip, hopefully bigger ones too.

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I got a little taste of cutthroat trout fishing in Wyoming on my first trip to the state two years ago.  It was just fishing from the side of the road en route to Jackson, but it was enough to get me motivated to get back out there and try my hand at the state’s Cutt Slam program.

cuttslam_home_picWhat better way to experience the state of Wyoming than to try and catch it’s four native cutthroat species?  It didn’t take a whole lot of convincing to get Blake to come along – I think both of us have been looking for another trip out West since our trip to Rocky Mountain National Park back in 2012.

After a good six months worth of planning it was time to pack our stuff……

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and fly to Salt Lake City.  I had no idea Outdoor Retailer was this week, but several folks asked if that’s where we were headed.  No thanks, I’d rather go fishing.

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After a quick stop at Western Rivers Flyfisher it was on to Evanston.  Once there we made two more important stops – food/camp supplies and beer.

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Then we drove north.  On to the Wyoming Range, where we would hopefully have enough time to land our first cutthroat of the trip – the Bonneville cutthroat trout.

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In the interest of time we stopped off the side of the road, close to the same spot I fished back in 2012 and close to where we would be camping for the night.  We decided to fish some of the beaver complexes that looked pretty fishy from the road.

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We rigged our rods and got suited up lightning fast, the anticipation of catching the first fish of the trip was killing us.  The overcast skies started to drizzle rain, it didn’t take long to notice that fish rising in the ponds.  Blake was first on the board and fooled a decent Bonneville with a dry.

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It took me a little bit of time to knock the rust off, but I got on board as well.

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After that the fishing was on fire.  These Bonneville cutts were crushing a hopper pattern Blake had tied.

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The action was so consistent that it was tough to call it a day and walk back to the car, but we knew we still had to set up camp, which was not something we wanted to do in the dark – especially on night 1.

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It was a solid start to the trip though and felt really good to get the first cutthroat species under our belts. We’d actually be fishing for Bonnevilles again in the morning, but we were hoping the next stop would yield a few bigger fish.  For now it was time for cold beer and campfire and hopefully getting some sleep in a hammock system I’ve yet to sleep in.

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