Discovering Utah Through the Cutthroat Slam

After fishing the Arizona Wild Trout challenge I was eager to find similar programs. One that stuck out to me was the Utah Cutthroat Slam because I had never fished for any Cutthroat species before. It took awhile for things to come together but when a good friend I made from my fly fishing writing invited me to come out and fish Utah with him I jumped on the opportunity. The goal of the Utah Slam is to catch the four native species of cutthroat in their historic range.

#Matchingthehat with the Rep Your Water X Western Native Trout Initiative collab hat.

Anthony Guerrero is a Las Vegas local that is just as addicted to chasing native trout species as I am. From reading my Arizona Wild Trout Challenge posts we became social media friends and talked a lot about our love for these fish. It wasn’t until after I moved away from Arizona that Anthony had been going out there to complete his own wild trout challenge so our paths had not crossed. He linked up with a few of my friends there and we began planning a trip to fish together in the future. That time had come and I found myself at the Las Vegas airport wandering around 3 levels of confusion hoping to find a friend I had never met in person. Anyone as crazy as I am about these fish can’t be all that bad right? Luckily I was right and didn’t end up in a bathtub full of ice with a missing kidney or something.

We started off by heading to Arizona to meet up with my good friend Ricky Furbee. My last trip out there we had struck out on native trout so we decided to give it another shot.  At the end of the day we were all pretty exhausted and our legs barely wanted to move but we did get to catch some pure strain Apache trout. The intention of this trip was to focus on the Utah slam so after being sidetracked in Arizona we made our way to camp near the first species on the list.

As we drove down the moonless dirt road into what seemed to be the middle of nothing all I could think of was a warm fire and getting some rest. As the car came to a stop it wasn’t the tents or fire wood we went for but straight to the tumbling sound of water. With only a small head lamp and cell phone lights we checked out the pool close to camp which fueled our excitement for the next day.  After a few cold drinks and food by the fire, I climbed into my tent falling asleep almost the moment I zipped up my sleeping bag.

The next morning anticipation of our first Bonneville Cutthroat was all the wake up call we needed so we skipped coffee and went straight to rigging up our rods. The stream was our ideal set up since we all love the small stream style of fishing. After a few minutes of walking we spotted the surface rings of a rising fish and set up to get the best angle to present a fly in front of the fish. Of course the excitement of the perfect situation got the best of me and my hopper was tangled in some grass rather than being eaten by the fish. Luckily I was able to crawl down to retrieve the fly without blowing up the spot and got my second cast right where it needed to be. I watched as the small cutthroat aggressively confused my fly for easy breakfast and instantly felt the bend of my fiberglass rod. I scooped the fish up and was relieved to know the rest of this creek would be completely about enjoying my time on the water. The first spot was not the only one that was holding hungry fish and we continued up stream as everyone caught their fair share. Everyone was pretty happy with how the day had gone so far and we decided to head back into town for some lunch before driving to the next spot. On our way out Ricky and I got to see what we had missed on the dark drive last night. The road was pretty mellow and good at hiding the fact that we had traveled through a large mountain range with amazing views. A few stops to take it all in and shoot photos was a must then back on our way we went.

Southern Utah has some pretty incredible places, and our next species was right in the middle of a handful of them. The drive on Highway 12 through Dixie National Forest, Bryce Canyon National Park and past Escalante-Grand Staircase National Monument was far more impressive than I was expecting. I had heard how beautiful this area was but words cannot paint the picture properly.I was glad Anthony was behind the wheel, so I could rubberneck the whole time and take photos. Utah is one of my favorite places I have been. The smooth sound of the tires on a fresh asphalt road ended as we headed up mountain to our next stream. Ricky and I had never seen any of these places and I feel at this point the trip really changed for us. Most fishing trips are about catching fish and this one was no different at the start. We came so I could complete the slam but at this point that all seemed a little less important and the overwhelming beauty of Utah filled my mind. My focus shifted towards enjoying a new love for these lands and a craving to see more. Utah easily became one of my favorite places I have been over the next few days. The smooth sound of the tires on a fresh asphalt road ended as we headed up mountain to our next stream.

This water was similar size to the previous spot but the scenery was completely different. The previous desert mountain was replaced by pine trees and a woodsy outlook. Wild turkeys crossed the road, deer paused in caution as we drove by and cattle stood in the road as if we were in their way. We found a place to camp for the night, got geared up and headed off looking for Colorado River Cutthroat trout. This mountain range was much cooler than the last which had us all hoping we would not get too cold over night. One of the first pools I walked up to I could see some trout actively feeding. The bright coloration of one fish had me convinced it was a colored up Colorado and I sent my fly out right in front of it. Another fish was more enthusiastic and took my fly right from the one I had hoped to catch. Before I could set the hook the fish had already shook the fly and returned back in line to feed. The next cast was in the same place but this time the colorful fish rose and was on the line. From the original distance of the cast I could only see a colorful fish but during the fight I had a feeling this was not a new species to me after all. This particular section of the stream I was told only held Colorado’s but the fish on the end of my line proved otherwise. A fall colored Brook Trout was not a disappointment but seeing it above the barrier was. I returned the fish downstream and continued up looking for natives.

Even though the temperature and scenery had changed the fishing was about the same. We found ourselves throwing dries to eager fish and before long we all had another species checked off our list. The original pressure of completing the slam seemed to have faded and I began to get distracted by my surroundings. Instead of going back to camp we decided to go further into the mountains and check out a reservoir said to hold large brook trout. We ran short on daylight but got a few casts in watching fish run down streamers but nothing made it to the net. As the sun set the temperature seemed to dramatically drop. The frigid cold, difficult fishing in erie darkness and the sound of angry territorial beavers sent us back down the hill to camp. We got a fire started to warm up then began setting up the tents. As Anthony was setting up his tent he noticed something weird hanging above him and shined his light up into the tree. We must have been in someone's old deer camps because multiple bones were hung from string around the tree. At that point I think Anthony decided he was sleeping in the car and would later blame it on the low temperatures. To top off the creepy tree of bones we were picking up wood to throw on the fire and grabbed something that didn’t feel like wood onto the pile. He immediately dropped the stack of wood with a frightened yell and looked down at what he had picked up. Four deer legs had been placed neatly in the wood pile. Maybe the hunter thought it would be funny when this exact situation were to happen. It was a cold and windy night so we bundled up, climbed into our sleeping bags and tried to stay warm through the night.

We woke up and said goodbye to Ricky who had to head back to Arizona. Anthony knew I had been wanting to fish for Tiger Trout so he suggested we hike up to a reservoir that held Tigers and Brook Trout. To stay focused on the Cutthroat slam for this article I will keep it short but after a nerve racking battle I caught my first Tiger and a dang nice one. Anthony had caught some nice Brookies, we both lost some good fish and on the hike out we both caught a few Rainbows. On our way out of the mountains we celebrated with some food in a small town then headed North towards the next fish on the list.