Reprinted from the Sioux City Journal
Last summer was a milestone of sorts for two local fly anglers. They spent 10 days in the western part of Wyoming fishing for three subspecies of cutthroat trout in their native drainages.
Most of their time was spent high in the mountain ranges of the Bridger Teton National Forest fishing headwater streams where pure strains of Colorado, Snake River and Bonneville cutthroat swim.
For years fish management programs have threatened the cutthroats through the introduction of non-native trout, including browns, rainbows and lake trout.
Today’s fish management is changing.
In an effort to develop more appreciation and support of the Wyoming Game and Fish Department’s cutthroat management efforts, the department has initiated a fisherman’s recognition program. Titled the Wyoming’s Cutt-Slam Program, it recognizes anglers who have caught each of the four subspecies in their native range within the state.
“The first I heard about the program was when I was visiting the Dakota Angler Fly Shop in Rapid City and saw the certificate on the wall,” says Robert Gillespie.
Gillespie, Sioux City, was on his way to Montana to fish the Yellowstone River with his fishing partner Charlie Thoman, Dakota Dunes. After learning more about the program, they decided to document their catch of the Yellowstone subspecies and plan a trip to Wyoming the next year to catch the other three.
It was, they both agree, a wonderful and challenging time.
“It was the best trip ever,” Gillespie says. “I’d never fished the Bridger Teton National Forest. The scenery is gorgeous, and we both like fishing smaller streams.”
“It was fantastic,” he says. “It was the best fishing experience I’ve ever had.”
But it wasn’t easy.
The cutthroat were finicky, and weather sometimes threw them a curve.
Charlie got his Snake River cutthroat in Gros Ventre River east of Jackson Hole. The Gros Ventre is a tributary of the Snake River. While there are cutthroats in the Snake, hybridizing with rainbow trout has limited the pure strain numbers.
“I took mine in the Grey’s River, a nice little stream near the Alpine Junction south of Jackson Hole,” Gillespie says.
“That’s where I ran across fresh grizzly tracks and realized I had left my bear spray back in the car,” he says. “It took us three days to get the Snake River subspecies.”
Then it was on to Pinedale, Wyo., to catch the Colorado cutthroat.
“We wanted to fish Horse Creek southeast of Pinedale, but it rained all night and that stream was blown out,” Gillespie says. “We went back into town to both fly shops and they said to just wait it out.
“We talked to the fisheries guy there, and he referred us to North Cottonwood Creek,” he continues. “I got mine there, but by noon a big storm rolled down that valley so we moved farther south to South Cottonwood Creek and that’s where Charlie got his at about 5 p.m.”
That left the Bonneville subspecies. It has the smallest range of all the Wyoming Cutthroat. The Bear River flows just a few miles through southwestern Wyoming and its tributaries add only a few more.
“The Smith’s Fork River and Salt Creek are two small tributaries of the Bear River,” Gillespie says. “We both got our fish on Smith’s Fork. We didn’t fish Salt Creek because the willows were so thick.”
For the Yellowstone and Snake River subspecies, they did a lot of nymphing. The parachute Adams and the blue Copper John were two of the flies that took other fish,
“The most memorable experience for me was when we were fishing the South Cottonwood Creek,” Thoman says. “Bob had caught his fish, and I was struggling. Suddenly there were about 40 mayflies drifting downstream. They were floating on the water and looked like little sail boats.
“I threw my little, size 18 parachute Adams right in the middle of them and that Colorado cutthroat ignored the naturals and took my fly,” he says.
Sometimes, as they say, it’s better to be lucky than good. And fisherman’s luck plays some kind of role in every Cutt-Slam completion.
More outdoors, information can be found at http://siouxcityjournal.com/sports/recreation/outdoors/