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Blake and I just recently got back from a week in Utah, chasing the four native cutthroat of that state.  Flights for the trip were booked seven months ago so it’s safe to say that the trip has been on my mind in some capacity throughout all of 2017.  Admittedly though, having an infant certainly cut down on the amount of space that the trip, or any fishing trip for that matter, has occupied in my brain.  Want to think about fishing less – keep having kids – it totally works!

Fishing in Colorado in 2012 was enough to convince me that I needed to take more trout trips out west.  Having an interest in native fish and more specifically native trout meant that the Wyoming cutt slam was on a very short bucket list after Colorado.  After the success we had fishing in Wyoming in 2015 I knew I wanted to do something similar for the next trip.  I’m always thinking about the next trip, logging things I read in books or on the web for future use.  I gravitate toward the slam style programs.  They provide great outlines for planning a western trout trip.  If you want to catch four different species in their native ranges you typically have to travel to four different watersheds.  It’s a great way to fish a lot of different water and see a lot of sights that you can’t see back home.  Driving to the destinations at times is as much fun as fishing.

I looked at California’s Heritage Trout Challenge, but that seemed impossible to achieve in a week and I wasn’t looking for a two or even three part trip just yet.  Nevada has a Native Fish Slam that seemed a little more plausible, but I was a little hesitant about some of the remoteness of the destinations we would need to go to find those native fish.  At some point I want to make it to New Mexico to chase Rio Grande cutthroat and Gila trout and Arizona for Apache trout, but those are likely separate trips, otherwise that would be a lot of driving for one week.  Then in April of last year, my planning suddenly shifted to Utah as they debuted their own cutt slam program with a really fantastic website – www.utahcutthroatslam.org.  After looking into it further it just made sense for the Utah cutt slam to be our next trip.  Salt Lake City is an easy destination to fly to with relatively inexpensive flights and as a bonus you can catch all four cutthroat species within a three hour drive from the city.

To achieve the Utah cutt slam you’ll need to catch the four native cutthroat trout of the state – the Bonneville, the Bear River, the Colorado River, and the Yellowstone.  Here’s where they live:

 

Since the Yellowstone cutthroat required the longest drive, was in the most out-of-the-way destination, and lived in some of the least impressive looking water I decided we should try and knock that one out first.

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We got the earliest flight we could into Salt Lake City from New Orleans and after a few stops for supplies we set off for the Raft River Mountains, in the NW part of the state.

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Miles of interstate were followed by miles of dirt roads, but we finally arrived that evening at our first creek.  It was a small one and it was heavily used by cattle.  The cattle and the creek shared the same narrow valley and there was only so much space for the both of them.  The Yellowstone cutthroat were supposed to be there too, but it was obvious there wasn’t a very large population in the creek, so we went to work and started covering ground.

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Thankfully the cattle weren’t around at the time, but the cow shit was still there and avoiding it was impossible.  I noticed how covered my boots were when walking back to the car.  After fishing a few prime runs with nary a bite I was a little nervous.  It didn’t make me feel any better when the skies opened up, so I took off my dry and started fishing a nymph.  All we had to do was catch one right?

The heavy rain didn’t last long and as we moved up the stream things started to look better.  Blake caught a trout to get things rolling.

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I followed up with one of my own and all was right in the world again.

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More fish were caught and once you got past all the cow shit the stream wasn’t really that bad of a place to fish.  The treeless mountains at the head of the valley made for a pretty cool backdrop too.

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The size of the fish picked up as we went upstream, we never found any studs, but we found our target species and to catch the first of the four cutthroat species we needed on our first day in Utah was a pretty good feeling.

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We only spent a couple hours on that stream before we figured it was late enough and we still needed to find a place to sleep and set up camp.

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Much like Wyoming we’d be hammock camping each night in National Forest campgrounds (I like a real toilet).  Unfortunately the nearest campground was still over an hour away, so we’d be navigating to and setting up camp in the dark.  Thankfully I had printed out directions to get from place to place because there is not much cell coverage in rural Utah.  We did well finding the roads we needed to turn on and dodging jackrabbits in the dark, but we were pretty confused when we pulled into someone’s driveway at 10:00 at night and three dogs surrounded the car barking up a storm, then we realized we made a wrong turn somewhere.  We backtracked to the main road and righted the ship pretty quick, but that could have made for an interesting conversation should anyone have stepped out from that trailer.

The next day we’d wake up and head east, over to the Logan Canyon where we hoped to catch our second cutthroat species, the Bear River.

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On April 1st the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources and Utah Trout Unlimited unveiled their state’s version of the Cutt Slam program made popular by the Wyoming Game & Fish Dept. for the state of Wyoming, with the launch of www.utahcutthroatslam.org.

Here’s a brief description of the program from the site and a video:

“The Utah Cutthroat Slam is a way to have an angling adventure and support our native trout legacy. For jut $20, you can register to embark on the challenge. Money raised will be used to help fund native cutthroat trout conservation projects across the state. Can you catch and release each of the four Utah cutthroat trout subspecies in their native waters?”

 

Cutthroat trout are beautiful, live in pristine environments and are the only trout native to Utah and much of the Rocky Mountain region. Help Trout Unlimited and the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources protect this natural treasure.”

 

 

It is very similar to Wyoming’s cutt slam in that you just need to catch the four native cutthroat species of the state in their native waters, document it, and submit that documentation to them.  Utah goes a step further and requires you to register first and asks for $20, which is totally worth it, as $19 of that $20 go toward conservation projects.  It’s really a win-win for everyone.

To get your cutt slam started in the right direction, a map of the watershed areas where you can find each cutthroat species has been provided (embedded below) along with the attached note:

“This map shows general watershed areas where native cutthroat trout occur across Utah. Each shaded area represents the range one of the cutthroat subspecies, which you can determine by color. Use this map as a general guideline to find where cutthroat might be found. This is fishing; there are no guarantees. More research regarding access and specific fishery regulations should be done.”

 

I really enjoyed participating in the Wyoming cutt slam last year.  It was fun doing the research and even more fun putting that research to work and catching each cutthroat species in the span of five days.  I’ll definitely be throwing the Utah cutthroat slam on the short term bucket list, what great motivation to get back out West and toss dry flies to hungry trout.

 

Slipping out of the hammock and taking in the view on the morning of day 4 was nothing short of spectacular.

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After packing up the campsite and making the short drive through town to our destination, it was time to grab the rods and finish out our slam with a Yellowstone cutthroat.

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It was pretty cool to have fished five different streams over the course of three days and what really stood out was that each had it’s own character.  No two places we fished felt the same, which is a lot different than I can say for those small wild trout streams back in Georgia.  The stream we were about to fish was no different – it had an entirely different look and feel.  We had made our way through the Wyoming Range and were now in foothills of the Winds – and boy did we feel it.  We parked in a pasture on top of a plateau and were greeted with a nice gust of chilly air.

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We like to work our way upstream while fishing so we walked a bit downstream and began working an area where the river braided.  I hooked up with my first fish on the back side of an island in some slower water along a cut bank.

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It was a Yellowstone cutthroat and with that my Cutt Slam was complete!  Now it was up to Blake to fool one.

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Of course he had all day to do it, so I’m not ashamed to say that didn’t stop me from fishing and catching another one.

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The river was gorgeous and at times had more of a desert feel than the previous streams we fished.

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Eventually Blake was able to connect with a fish that was sitting right behind a big rock.  As was the trend, it was a nicer cutty than the previous two I had caught.

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The weather was beginning to look pretty rough so we headed to the car for a beer and lunch.  As bad as it looked, it never really rained on us and we were back on the water shortly, though not before hearing the tale of “Big Lou” from another angler that was at the parking area.  “Big Lou” was a cutthroat that this guy had caught when he first ever fished there with a guide.  Apparently “Big Lou” had quite the reputation and lived under the big rock.  We didn’t catch the name of Blake’s fish, so who knows, maybe it was “Big Lou” or maybe his kin?  We kept fishing though and I caught another small one and missed a really nice fish – twice.  He hit the dropper, then the hopper, on separate drifts, and I blew it each time.

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Just to add insult to injury, while working the next run up, Blake hooked into a stud.  Once we had the fish in the net we could tell it was the biggest of the trip.  A beautiful, golden Yellowstone cutt.  A few quick pics and then he was sent on his way.

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I ended up catching one more little guy before we called it a day.

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It felt pretty awesome to accomplish our goal.  I think what I was more happy about though, and it really didn’t matter to me who caught the fish, was that we were able to catch what I considered to be above average versions of each species.  It really validated all the planning that went into this trip.  After a nice walk back to the car we headed back into town and ran into Marlow’s fly shop just to check it out and buy more flies we didn’t need.

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With the slam complete, the next day was wide open for us.  I had an idea of where I wanted to fish before I even started planning the trip, it was a place that I read about in a report on NGTO a few years back.  The guy called it “Shangri-La” and it looked spectacular.  I asked him about it back then and logged it in the back of my head in case I ever had the opportunity.  It just so happened we had the opportunity this trip.  It would mean a drive through the Absarokas and the Tetons, toward Jackson, which made sense for us as it put us closer to Salt Lake City and our flight home.  It also would put us in prime Snake River cutt territory where I could hopefully upgrade from the dink I had previously caught this trip.  It was a no brainer, so we hit the road – again.

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With the Tetons shrouded in rain clouds we didn’t stop much for pictures.  We kept on to our destination and made sure we could find the trailhead prior to setting up camp.  The campground was starting to fill up, but we were able to find a few suitable trees and set up shop.

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With camp set up Blake went to work on the nearby river and happily reported eight fish brought to hand, including a few whitefish, which we had yet to see this trip.  This was our last night we would camp and according to the host, it was sure to be the coldest.  With that in mind I set out to collect what meager kindling I could find.  The host wished me luck and mentioned that she had collected everything in the area.  She wasn’t lying either as this campground looked like a manicured garden – no deadwood in sight.  Still I found enough to get a fire started (Blake had done a great job of this every other night) and purchased a bundle of firewood from her so that we could sustain it.  The next day would be our last hurrah in Wyoming and I’ve got to be honest, I was looking forward to a shower and a bed that next night.

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