The New Utah Cutthroat Slam

Going Native in Utah. The new Utah Cutthroat Slam asks anglers to catch all four of the state’s native subspecies, discover new waters, and help preserve trout diversity. Over the next six days, we pursued the four subspecies that make up the Utah Cutthroat Slam—Bear River, Bonneville, Yellowstone, and Colorado River cutthroats—focusing on the headwater streams that provide the best spawning habitat for these native fish. A Long Time Coming The Utah Cutthroat Slam is not a new idea. They were finally able to get the program off the ground by forging a first-ofits-kind partnership between TU and the UDWR, in which the state agency provides photos, videos, maps, and information on where to find each native subspecies, and TU manages the Utah Cutthroat Slam website (www.utahcutthroatslam.org). By paying money into the system, Sheehan believes, anglers become active partners in the conservation process, which makes them more engaged and focused on the efforts to restore the four subspecies to their original ranges. Getting on the Board The first subspecies on our itinerary was the Bear River cutthroat, so Fred and I drove east out of Salt Lake and then traveled the stunning Mirror Lake Byway into the Uinta-Wasatch-Cache National Forest. The water flows across a long screen, so the fish stay on top and drop back into the river, while the water for irrigation falls through the screen and empties into the canal. Finally, it was time to wet a line and get our Cutthroat Slam under way. On my first five casts, I got three strikes, and finally connecting on the third.

The new Utah Cutthroat Slam asks anglers to catch all four of the state’s native subspecies, discover new waters, and help preserve trout diversity.

[by Philip Monahan]

Having grown up in New England, I did not lay eyes on a cutthroat trout until I was twenty-eight years old. During a week of training to be a fly fishing guide in Montana’s Paradise Valley, I caught my first cutty on a Yellowstone River float trip with my fellow guides, and I was immediately smitten. Over the course of that summer, I fished for the species across Big Sky Country and throughout Yellowstone National Park, and I’ll never forget how along one particular bank of the Lamar River, the cutthroats rose excruciatingly slowly to inspect a hopper or pale morning dun. I found myself holding my breath in anticipation of the strike, which sometimes wouldn’t come.

Then, more than a decade ago, I introduced my two brothers to cutthroat when we spent a week completing the Wyoming Cutt-Slam, landing all four subspecies native to the Cowboy State. Not only was it a great fishing trip—which took us from Cody to Jackson to Kemmerer—but it was also a fascinating way to see firsthand the importance of protecting native subspecies from habitat destruction and hybridization. To many anglers, a cutthroat is a cutthroat, but the subtle and not-so-subtle differences among subspecies become stark when you are focused on catching each one on consecutive days.

So when my friend Brett Prettyman, Trout Unlimited’s (TU) Intermountain Communications Director, told me last April that his native Utah was launching a similar program, I knew I wanted to participate. I talked my high school buddy Fred Hays into joining me, and we flew out to Salt Lake City in early August. Over the next six days, we pursued the four subspecies that make up the Utah Cutthroat Slam—Bear River, Bonneville, Yellowstone, and Colorado River cutthroats—focusing on the headwater streams that provide the best spawning habitat for these native fish. In the process, we explored some of the most remote, beautiful trout waters the Beehive State offers, and learned about several important native-trout conservation projects.

Fred Hays releases a fine Bear River cutthroat, which fell for a dry fly on the Bear River. Because cutthroats are “fluvial”—traveling throughout a river system to spawn in tributaries and headwaters—the health of the fishery in valley rivers depends on the availability of spawning habitat in small waters. (photo by Phil Monahan)
A Long Time Coming

The Utah Cutthroat Slam is not a new idea. Wyoming celebrated the 20th anniversary of its Cutt-Slam program in 2016, and for nearly as long, Prettyman and Northern Region Aquatics Manager Paul Thompson have been pushing the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources (UDWR) to emulate its…

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