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We were three days into our trip and we had already caught three of the four cutthroat species we needed to complete the slam.  With three days left on our trip, things were looking pretty favorable for us to achieve our goal.  A longer trip had given us some wiggle room in case something were to go awry, but so far things were going pretty good, so instead of moving on to the Bonneville cutthroat on day 4 we planned on taking our time and fish another Green River trib, and then fish a few High Uintas lakes before we’d complete the slam on a Provo River trib.  That was the plan, anyway.

On both the Wyoming and the Utah cutt slam trips Blake and I used the ENO OneLink system.  Making the decision to go the hammock camping route was an easy one when you’re planning for a trip like this.  The system packs very small, it’s easy to set up and break down, and it’s quite comfortable; especially after a day or two when your body adjusts to sleeping in a hammock after normally sleeping on a mattress.  After a long day of fishing it’s usually not a problem to fall asleep anyway.

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While planning out this trip I read through a lot of old fishing reports online from various fisheries around northern Utah that were potential places for us to come fish on our trip.  One report from the stream we were about to head to really stood out among the others and I knew that when we made it out to Utah we had to come fish it.

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Similar to what I mentioned yesterday, there is something about a high alpine meadow stream that really resonates with me.  We parked the car and took one step out of the vehicle to take in the view and then proceeded to get rigged up as quickly as possible to get down to the stream.  This was going to be a larger stream than the one yesterday, so I was hoping that also meant a few larger cutthroat would be thrown in as well.

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Blake started the day off with a small cutthroat on a chubby chernobyl, but the cutthroat proved to be few and far between.  The consistent action early on was from the brook trout.  The first time we had seen them so far this trip, but they were all over this stream.

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As we made our way further upstream the brook trout action started turning into whitefish action, I had no idea they were in this stream, but I landed a few good ones and one in particular gave me a nice fight.  It was enough for me to get a picture with him.  One man’s trash is another man’s treasure and I wasn’t sore on catching whitefish.

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Eventually each of us did end up catching a decent sized cutthroat so it wasn’t all brookies and whitefish.  I think had we gone a little further up the road and fished the stream farther upstream, closer to the mountains in the background, we would have probably done better on the cutthroat, but I still had a blast catching whitefish and brookies.  The action here wasn’t as consistent as the small stream we fished the day before, but it was still steady and no matter the species that is all you can ask for when you go out fishing.

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When it got to be lunch time we decided to make our way back to the vehicle.  The walk back was a bit further than we had expected – we covered a lot of ground on this stream.  Around every bend was another hole, run, or riffle that looked too good to pass up.  It was an awesome fishery, a beautiful stream, and I couldn’t help but crack open a beer and snap a few more pics.

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It was a good spot for a sandwich as well and after we had lunch we made our way westward on the North Slope Rd.  We passed over the Elizabeth Ridge and into the Bear River watershed.  The dirt road finally ended at Mirror Lake Hwy and then we headed south and up in elevation.  Our goal was to try and camp as close as we could to the trailhead we wanted to park at and hike from the next morning and I honestly thought it would be pretty impossible to get a campsite on a weekend night during summer, but I guess since we were there around lunch time we were able to beat folks coming up from Salt Lake City.

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After we got set up I had a few lakes picked out where I thought we could catch another new species to us, the tiger trout.  The tiger trout is a hybrid between a brown and a brook trout and they are known for their big appetites.  They can be found in the wild, but here they are more commonly caught after being stocked by the Utah DWR.  We set out from the campground and, with the help of my Garmin GPS, navigated our way through the woods a couple miles to a lake that I had been told was a good one for tigers.

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It was a beautiful lake, no doubt about that, but there really wasn’t much fish activity going on around the lake.  I don’t remember if I even saw a trout rise there.  Blake had a swipe at his dry once that I recall, but that was the only action we saw.  We moved on to another lake.

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The next lake looked worse.  It was still very pretty, but the beaver activity here was massive, mounds and dams in lots of places.  It looked like they had even managed to raise the lake level, submerging stands of pine trees in the process.  Those submerged pines put tannins in the water and really threw off the water clarity.  It looked like a cypress swamp you’d see on the Florida panhandle.  That lake was a complete bust, thankfully it was not out of the way from where we were headed, which was back by the campground.

We stopped at the lake by the campground and tried our luck just to see what was in there.  There were fish rising, so we knew it wasn’t dead, but there were also lots of other folks fishing, the lake was well worn around it’s edges.

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I took off my streamer and changed to a dry-dropper that had a small dry with an CDC emerger pattern hung off the back.  Not too long after changing I was able to spot a rise and put a cast in the middle of the ring, a few seconds later I was rewarded with a fish.  It had swiped at the dry and I ended up hooking him with the emerger.  Foul hooked fish always put up a great fight.  It was a tiger trout, but I felt a little dirty catching him like that.

I went back to fishing and was able to repeat the process shortly after, only this time the fish was actually properly hooked.  He took the emerger and after bringing him in I felt a little bit better about my tiger catch this time around.

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Tigers are pretty cool looking fish, even if this one was propagated in a lab at some fish hatchery, they still have pretty fantastic patterns.  I was happy to be able to add another species to the life list.  I’m not keeping a tally anywhere, I just like to catch anything that swims.

We’ve had pretty good luck throughout both Wyoming and Utah finding quiet campgrounds with respectable neighbors, so much so that I guess I overlooked picking one right off the main highway.  Our luck had finally run out here at Lily Lake.  We had some real winners on both sides of us.  It probably didn’t help the way our site was situated, we were on a hill, with all the other campsites in a loop below us – we could hear everyone’s conversations, it was terrible.  While setting up camp at lunch we had some real dude-bro talk in the site next to ours.  No big deal, I’ve overhead idiots talk before, but the mouth on this one cat was a bit much considering he had a kid with him.  This may have been his dad, but I couldn’t figure that part out.  I’m hoping he was just an idiot brother.

Potty mouth dude-bro wasn’t the worst though.  As it is getting dark (which out there happens after 9pm) and things were starting to calm down around the campground, people were turning in and calling it a night and we were looking to do the same.  It wasn’t happening though thanks to the neighbors on the other side of use.  I like to think I’m a pretty open minded guy, but the conversation they were holding was beyond distasteful.  I should have never been subjected to hear what Grady, Cara, and Jeremy were discussing around the campfire.  They had all hit the sauce pretty hard and did a great job projecting so everyone around could hear them go into a number of backstories.  For your entertainment I’ll rattle off a few.  See Grady has certain sexual preferences and his girlfriend Cara, whom they share 5 kids together, likely not all from the same parents, is not exactly as adventurous as he was and he was upset that she wasn’t into the same sick shit he was into.  Meanwhile Jeremy’s wife had cheated on him and they had split up and Grady and Cara were trying to convince Jeremy that he was still hurting emotionally, while Jeremy was adamant that he was really alright and he had the laundry list of one night stands to prove it.  That’s just a small snippet of the crap we were subjected to for at least 4 hours.  I guess we’re just too polite, I’m sure someone with less couth would have just gone down there and set them straight.  However I wasn’t interjecting myself into some drunken love triangle while I’m in the middle of nowhere.

Upon arrival I thought the campground hosts were pretty awesome, but I guess they were a little too much like the “cool parents” in high school and just let the whole quiet hours after 10pm thing slide.  Never again am I camping at a campground off the Mirror Lake Highway, or Utah’s Redneck Riviera as my buddy Eric put it.  Hopefully we’d have better luck tomorrow after our hike in to more High Uintas lakes.

 

On Tuesday we let the girls do their thing while Dad and I went on a guided trip down the Henry’s Fork. It was pretty nice to devote a full day to fishing. Our guide was Derek Hobbs with Trouthunter and at his suggestion we hit two different sections of the river; Box Canyon before lunch and a section downstream of Railroad Ranch after.

The Henry’s Fork was an interesting river, the two sections we fished were just a few miles apart, but they were totally different from each other. Clarity was excellent at both spots as the river was loaded with submerged vegetation. With that much salad the river was also loaded with trout food. Cased caddis covered the rocks and tricos were pretty thick as we showed up to the launch in the morning. Dad started catching fish almost right away while I was still working the kinks out.

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Once I finally got a fish to the boat I began catching them pretty regularly, though they weren’t much on size.

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Fishing ended up being pretty good for me on 8-12″ rainbows throughout the Box. Dad was able to get into the bigger fish and from the back of the boat no less. He caught a couple of stud whitefish and pretty much all the bigger rainbows we had on the day.

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I landed some whitefish of my own (a new species for both of us) though, like the rainbows, they weren’t very big. I finally managed to get a respectable rainbow toward the end of our float through the Box. We didn’t catch any monsters through Box Canyon but we did catch a bunch of trout, which is exactly what Derek told us would happen. I did briefly hook into a fish that surprised me, it was much bigger than what we had been catching, but it wasn’t on very long.

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After lunch we picked up and headed down the road. Derek told us this was where our big fish might come. The Henry’s Fork flattened out in this section and the current slowed down big time. The submerged veg was much thicker down here as well, it was matted up in spots where the river was real shallow.

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The water here was even clearer than in the Box and the fishing was tougher. As we floated downstream we saw the fish we were after. And sure enough they were bigger here than in the Box. Pods of trout would move out of the way of the boat as we floated by them. It was both exciting and frustrating to see, knowing you’re floating that big hopper right over these fish and watching none of them take it was a test of patience. I think I had one or two that came to inspect it, one swirled under, the other I missed the set. Toward the end of the float the current picked up and the river fished more like the Box. I ended up catching a few more small rainbows to get rid of the skunk on this section before we reached the take out.

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What a challenging stretch of water, I couldn’t imagine a more polar opposite for Box Canyon than that section downstream of the Ranch. We went from easy to slim pickings in just a short drive down Hwy 20 (which has to be the longest main street in the country, the city of Island Park is huge!). The Henry’s Fork was a beautiful river though and I can see why it has been written about and fawned over by nearly every fisherman that has the pleasure to fish it. It seems to be a virtual fish factory, what a resource. Derek was a great guide who made every effort to put us on fish, especially in the afternoon. I could tell he wanted us to get one of those big boys bad, but it just wasn’t in the cards.

The girls ended up back in the Park while we were fishing as the boardwalk at Grand Prismatic Spring had opened up. We didn’t get to see it in person, but at least they did. Before heading back to the cabin they shopped in West Yellowstone and did a little driving around Island Park. Mom was really excited to find an aspen with her name carved in it. It’s a sign I tell you!

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That evening we had dinner at the cabin then went outside to sit and enjoy our last cool night in Idaho (the weather was awesome the entire trip) before we had to head back to the heat and humidity of the South. As we sat outside I noticed something dark in the distance of the backyard. It looked like a cardboard cutout it was so dark, but once it moved there was no doubting it was a moose! It was very timid, not like the moose we saw near Jackson. Soon enough we saw why, it had a young calf with it. What a great way to end our stay in Island Park.

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Salmonids

The salmonids are in family Salmonidae, which has 10-11 genera divided into 3 subfamilies; Coregoninae(whitefish), Thymallinae(grayling), and Salmoninae(char/trout/salmon). Living in the Southeast you have access to a very limited amount of salmonids and I’ve caught the 3 that occur in Georgia, only 1 actually being native, the brook trout. I made my first trip out West in September of 2012 to Colorado and caught several greenback cutthroat trout in Rocky Mountain National Park – or what were considered greenbacks at the time.  Made another trip out West in August of 2013 to Teton and Yellowstone National Parks where I picked up a couple more cutthroat species.  Finally in August of 2015 I was able to complete the Wyoming Cutt Slam, picking up Wyoming’s four native cutthroat species (they do have a fifth, the Westslope, that is not required for the slam – I’ve yet to catch a Westslope).

Dr. Robert Behnke is the man when it comes to salmonid knowledge. Pick up his book if you want to learn more about this particular family, “Trout and Salmon of North America”. Another great resource is Gary Marston’s Native Trout Fly Fishing blog, he has a Trout and Salmon species page with pictures and information of all those that he has caught (which may be all that are found in the U.S.). Gary’s trip reports are a good read as well, he has had some epic road trips to catch trout in their native range. Another good resource is the Angler’s Life List & Native Fish Network. They have a fish page that illustrates the native ranges of salmonids in Google Maps.

Oncorhynchus mykiss – Rainbow trout

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Salmo trutta – Brown trout

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Brown trout are exotic to North America, so there is no native range map available on NatureServe. This is their distribution map, pink illustrates what states they might be found in (Alabama?).

Salvelinus fontinalis – Brook trout

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Oncorhynchus clarki stomias – Greenback cutthroat trout

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No range map was given from NatureServe for the greenback, but their historical range is pretty much in the state of Colorado on the Front Range, with some watersheds slipping into Wyoming. They are found in the headwaters streams of the South Platte and Arkansas River drainages.

Oncorhynchus clarki pleuriticus – Colorado River cutthroat trout

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No range map was given from NatureServe for the Colorado River cuttroat, but their historical range is headwaters streams in the Green and Colorado Rivers, as far south as the San Juan River, west of the Continental Divide.  They are currently limited to a few small headwater streams of the Green and upper Colorado rivers in Colorado, Utah, and Wyoming, including the Escalante River drainage in southern Utah

Oncorhynchus clarkii utah – Bonneville cutthroat trout

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No range map was given from NatureServe for the Bonneville, but their historical range is pretty much in the state of Utah, with some watersheds slipping into Wyoming, Idaho, and Nevada. They are found in the headwaters streams of the Bear River.

Oncorhynchus clarkii bouvieri – Yellowstone cutthroat trout

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No range map was given from NatureServe for the Yellowstone cutt, but their historical range is the Yellowstone River drainage in Montana and Wyoming and the Snake River drainage in Wyoming and Idaho.  Their current range overlaps with that of the Finespot in the Snake River drainage above Shoshone Falls.

Oncorhynchus clarkii behnkei – Finespotted Snake River cutthroat trout

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No range map was given from NatureServe for the Finespotted Snake River cutt, but their historical range overlaps the Yellowstone cutt in the states of Wyoming and Idaho. They are found in the headwaters streams of the Snake River, particularly the South Fork.

Prosopium williamsoni – Mountain whitefish

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