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About a month ago a friend contacted me about helping him to complete Wyoming’s annual “Cutt-Slam” competition.
The Cutt-Slam is kind of a quest arranged by the Wyoming Game and Fish Department whereby fishermen seek to catch all four of Wyoming’s cutthroat trout subspecies in the same year. These subspecies are the Yellowstone, Snake River, Bonneville and Colorado River cutthroat. Upon verification catching all four in the same year, the WGFD issues a beautiful certificate which includes a color print of all four subspecies.
The four different cutthroat trout are located in their native river drainages as follows: The Yellowstone species are native to all headwaters within the Missouri River drainage, including the Bighorn Mountains, the Wind River and Yellowstone Park; the Snake River species are found — can you guess? — in the Snake, Greys, Salt and Gros Ventre drainages; the Bonneville species are in the Bear and Thomas River drainages near Pinedale; and the Colorado Cutthroat are found in the Green River drainage south of Pinedale.
My friend, Richard Sepulveda, is a military veteran living in Sheridan, and a 2012 graduate of my Healing Waters Project. He had created a wonderful plan to have his two sons and his grandson, ages 11 to 26, fly out here from North Carolina to experience the wonders of fly fishing in Wyoming. The boys flew into Denver, and Richard brought them up here to Sheridan to have me teach them to fly fish. They were then going to travel across Wyoming for five days in a quest to complete the “Slam.”
My “instructional” time involved taking them all up to the North Tongue River, above Burgess Junction, in the Bighorn National Forest. The second day I took the three boys up to the Big Horn River to just whet their interest and have them catch a bunch of rainbows and browns.
The day on the North Tongue turned out to be “home run” for the first leg of their quest for the Slam. After rigging up four fly rods, and giving some casting instruction in the parking lot, I took the two younger boys with me and sent the eldest son out with Richard. Within the first hour 13-year-old Tyler had landed a nice 16-inch cutthroat. We took a bunch of pictures to document the catch, and the boys asked me “Which sub specie is that one?” Sadly I had absolutely no idea. I have caught hundreds of cutthroat in my life, but never paid any attention to which sub specie they were! Tyler had studied the issue quite a bit, and felt confident it was a Yellowstone variety with a complete lack of spots everywhere except the tail.
The boys went on to catch a lot more fish of the same variety. They were catching them on #16 elk hair caddis and #16 squirrel nymphs. Interestingly, a few hours later the 11-year-old grandson caught a beautiful 15-inch cutthroat that had a completely different combination of spots and coloration. We took more photos and agreed that I’d check with the Game and Fish to see what the heck these guys had been catching.
The “Slam Troopers” took off for Yellowstone Park the next day, while I printed the photos and took them down to the Sheridan Game and Fish office for a little education that I was in obvious need of.
Fisheries biologist Bill Bradshaw was very happy to tell me all about the cutthroat in the Tongue. It turns out that the boys had indeed caught one each of the Yellowstone and Snake River varieties. The Department currently stocks Yellowstone cutthroat in the North Tongue, but had also put in some Snake Rivers in the past. However, since the Yellowstone brand is native to the Tongue, while the Snake River is not, only the Yellowstone fish would count toward the Slam.
That evening I fired off an email to Richard’s smartphone letting him know they had one Slam down and four to go.
I then waited until Richard got back to town and was eager to hear how their quest had gone for them. Interestingly, when they got to Yellowstone they had so much fun camping, catching trout in the Slough Creek and Lamar Rivers, seeing geysers and being chased by wild buffalo that they never left the park. They all decided that they had such little time that they didn’t want to waste it driving all over Wyoming while they were having so much fun where they were.
That’s OK. The stated purpose of the Slam is “….to encourage anglers to learn more about Wyoming’s cutthroat …and develop an appreciation and support for the Department’s cutthroat management program.” There’s no question these four fishermen very happily met the Department’s goal. They didn’t really need that certificate anyway. Besides, they now plan to make this an annual gathering, and the quest can be renewed another year!
GORDON ROSE works as a commercial fly tier and operates Sheridan WYO Healing Waters, part of a national nonprofit organization which teaches disabled military veterans fly fishing, fly tying and fly rod-building as part of their therapy.