By Jesse Riding
I look forward to new fishing adventures more than just about anything else. I enjoy fishing new waters and finding remote locations where you can have an entire watershed all to yourself. I love spending weeks and sometimes months, researching and planning a fishing adventure. I pour over books, maps, and Google Earth searches. Researching when and where to go is all part of the fun. Couple that with a little challenge and it makes the adventure even better. That is exactly what the state of Wyoming did with the introduction of the “Wyoming Cutt Slam” program.
For those that are new to this contest, here is a brief description. Back in 1996, the Wyoming Game and Fish Department put together a program in order to attract more anglers to their state and educate them about its native fish species. Wyoming has four native species of cutthroat trout (i.e. Yellowstone (Oncorhynchus clarkii bouvieri), Snake River Fine-Spotted (Oncorhynchus clarkii ssp), Bonneville (Oncorhynchus clarkii utah), and Colorado (Oncorhynchus clarkii pleuriticus) and the Cutt Slam program challenges anglers to catch them all in their native waters. As a side note, the resident Wyoming biologist informed me that the Yellowstone and the Snake River Fine-Spotted Cutthroat are genetically identical and classified both as Yellowstone cutthroats, but the Snake River Fine-Spotted Cutthroat are isolated to the Snake River drainage and have markings as their name implies. Although they have different colors and spots, they are only truly different by the watersheds they inhabit.
The Cutt Slam has no time limit, but can easily be completed over a period of a few days, months or a calendar year. To complete the Slam, you will need to provide the catch date, name of the river/creek or lake you caught the fish in and a picture of yourself with the species for identification and verification. Once completed, a state biologist will verify your catches and mail you a nice frame-able certificate with your name, your verified catch info and an artists’ rendering of each subspecies of cutthroat. The nice part of this challenge is that it covers the entire western side of Wyoming and will take you to some of the most beautiful country on God’s green earth.
My personal quest for the Cutt Slam started in early July, in the far west central part of Wyoming, chasing the Bonneville cutthroat. Native to the Bear River, the Bonneville cutthroat can be found in the Smith’s Fork and Thomas Fork drainages, both tributaries to the Bear River. I chose to fish Hobble Creek, a very remote tributary to the Smith’s Fork. You can access Hobble Creek from the Smith’s Fork north of Cokeville, WY or drive to the self-named campground near Lake Alice where it continues up the slope starting in Bull Gulch. Both options require river fords and a lot of hiking and are not for the faint of heart. A better option would be to stick to the Smith’s Fork, but even that has scattered access and is only open due to snowpack for a few months of the year. I fished both and caught cuts in both, but Hobble Creek was truly the adventure I was looking for. Hobble Creek is a wonderful meandering stream with plenty of large cutties. The river held good pools, runs and river bends that produced lots of large fish. I fished a beetle pattern at first and got my first few fish, but when the river slowed down in the meadows, I switched to streamers and targeted the “dark” water for the big ones. My strategy paid off and I landed many 15-20” cutties that day and even had a few giants come out for a look at the meal ticket I was providing.
A few weeks later I continued my adventure and headed to a little spot called the Tri-Divide. It is truly a magical place. Not only is it relatively easy to get to, but it is still very remote and pristine and you can catch three subspecies of cutthroats within a few hours. A perfect trifecta. The Tri-Divide is the headwaters of three streams (i.e the Greys River (tributary to the Snake River), La Barge Creek (tributary to the Green River) and the Smith’s Fork (tributary to the Bear River)). They start out of the Tri-Divide area and within a mile, turn into significant rivers draining into three of the four arteries of the west: the Columbia (Pacific), Colorado(Pacific) and Great Basin (Great Salt Lake via the Bear River). Although I had already caught my Bonneville cutthroat, I still took the opportunity to fish each drainage of the Tri-Divide. The Grey’s flows to the north where you can get
Snake River or Fine-spotted cutthroat, La Barge Creek flows to the south where you can catch Colorado cutthroat and the Smith’s Fork to the west that holds the Bear River or Bonneville cutthroat. The fish were relatively small near the headwaters, but as the water grows downstream, so do the fish. Access is very good, but you do have to hike a little to access the river in some spots. In a short period of time, I was able to catch a few cutthroat in each drainage and enjoy the beauty and wonder of the Tri-Divide. The streams are pretty ‘skinny’ and shallow for the most part in this area, so wading is not really an issue. La Barge Creek is smaller and a little deeper and you can easily find good holding water. The Grey’s River is a little wider and shallower and I found it a bit more challenging to find fish. In both cases, I used small attractor dries like stimulators and parachutes to search for and catch fish. Nymphing is not particularly effective due to the shallow water. Also with it being a warm, sunny day in July, it made more sense to try and match some of the dry activity going on.
There are many other options for getting the Colorado and Snake River cutthroat, but this was just a fun option to get two or three at one time. Other popular spots for catching the Snake River cutthroat are in the Salt, Hoback and even in Jackson Lake. Other good places for Colorado cutthroat would be in the upper Green River and its various tributaries, like Hams Fork; Also, Rock Creek, Cottonwood Creek, North Piney and South Piney. All are good spots, depending on what direction you are traveling from.
In late August, I finished my pilgrimage for the Cutt Slam through the great waters in Yellowstone National Park. Though you can catch the Yellowstone cutthroat trout outside the park, I thought it would be fitting to catch mine in the national park that shares its name. I spent three days there on return from a business trip and must say, “it was heaven on earth”. It was even better than I anticipated. Though not my first time visiting Yellowstone National Park, I was as excited as my first time with the possible completion of my quest.
One of the easiest and most accessible rivers that hold an abundance of Yellowstone cutthroat in the park is the Lamar River. Located just inside of the northeast entrance, the Lamar and its tributaries are all good choices and offer easy access near the main road. Just make sure you carry a rain jacket and bear spray with you. You never know what kind of wildlife or weather you may encounter in the backcountry of the park, so be prepared.
I chose to fish an, off the beaten path and chose a remote section of Soda Butte, at one of its tributary confluences. It was not long until I came upon an amazing pool with good holding water that looked promising. I placed a small ant pattern right in the edge of the ripple and within seconds, a nice, healthy Yellowstone cutthroat slammed my fly and it was ‘fish on’. I gently netted him, took a quick selfie and then with a soft “thank you”, I released him back into his dark lair. MISSION ACCOMPLISHED!!!
I remember getting that last cutt on my list like it was yesterday. I just about tripped and fell in the pool because I was so excited and worried about losing it. After releasing my prize, I just sat on the bank, taking it all in. All the beautiful surroundings and the great sense of relief and accomplishment rushed through my body, leaving a smile from ear to ear.
Now, this is just the way that I did my Cutt Slam. There are many other options. Plan your own fishing adventure. There are many different streams in Wyoming that contain native cutthroats. Research waters that appeal to you and get out there and give them a try. Wyoming daily fishing licenses for non-residents cost just $14. Yellowstone Park entrance fee is $30 for a week and you must also get a Yellowstone fishing permit. It costs $18 for three days and $25 for 7-days. You don’t have to have a Wyoming license to fish the park, but you can’t buy a Yellowstone license online. You have to buy it at one of the small towns before you enter the park or at one of their main lodges in the park. You might want to call ahead to confirm a place that sells them near the different entrances you might go in, to save time. I spent 45-minutes in the little town of Cooke City, MT trying to find the one place that sells them. If you choose the Northeast entrance, the only place you can get one is in the Cooke City Store on Main Street. I know you can also purchase them at a handful of fly shops in West Yellowstone.
Completing the Wyoming Cutt Slam was one of the most fun things I have done within fly fishing. Kind of similar to catching a fish on the first fly you tied or seeing a young child you have been mentoring catch their first fish. I will remember each drainage and the fish that made their mark on my life forever. I encourage everyone to participate in Wyoming’s Cutt Slam. Do it with a friend, with a brother or sister or your wife. Then do it again. You will create many amazing experiences and every time you see your certificate hanging on the wall, you will remember those amazing experiences.
In 2016, the State of Utah put together a Utah Cutthroat Slam program. Utah is my home and I have probably already fulfilled this challenge several times over. However, Utah requires you to register prior to participating in the Cutthroat Slam. So, now I am planning and researching waters for my next fishing adventure. I am going to try and catch them all in waters or sections I have never fished. A whole new adventure just opened up again for me. I know my next quest!
Jesse Riding is a Utah Native and has fished throughout the intermountain west his whole life. He has worked in fly fishing industry now for over 30 years. Jesse is currently the General Manager of Rainy’s Flies in Logan, Utah with an emphasis on sales and product development. He splits his time interfacing with dealers, sales reps, and fly designers as well as fishes every week of the year somewhere in the world. Jesse has also designed over 50 unique fly patterns that are commercially available through Rainy’s Flies.