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Thread: Colorado Cutthroat Slam

  1. #1 supporter and plankowner
    Join Date
    Nov 2009
    Lawrence, KS

    Colorado Cutthroat Slam

    One of the apparent universals of the human condition is the desire to collect, to possess or to hoard not only things, but ideas or even just experiences. On Facebook different polls appear in waves that seek to measure “How many states you’ve visited?” “Which of these books have you read?” or “Which of these movies have you seen?” In the common vernacular, everyone has a “bucket list” to fill. I have no idea of the etymology “bucket list” but I often succumb to this temptation myself.

    Back when I first started down the road to fly fishing addiction I read a small book by M.R. Montgomery titled, “Many Rivers to Cross”. In this book Montgomery traveled to out of the way places in the west seeking to catch at least one of each of the remaining subspecies of cutthroat trout. The book particularly caught my attention as it talked about one of the three remaining cutthroat natives from Colorado—the Rio Grande Cutthroat, from this water.

    Like keeping different forms bird lists for birders or bagging 14er’s for hikers, ticking off native trout seems to capture the fancy of trout fisherfolks. (,, and It is probably not productive to get too involved trying to analyze the motivation behind these obsessions but I suspect it has something to do with the effort required to accomplish this task that somehow make it “worthy”. I prefer to catch trout on top and in streams. Going after cutthroats requires a considerable amount of effort to get to the more isolated head water streams where cutthroats are more common and generally more genetically pure. Fortunately, once back in one of these streams the eagerness of the fish compensates for my lack of fly fishing skills.

    This summer’s Colorado vacation involved coordinating part of the time with my wife, part of the time alone and part of the time with fellow flyfishers, Randy and Gary. Working out this schedule required spending some time up around the Denver area which provided a great opportunity to pursue the Colorado Cutthroat Slam.

    After dropping my wife off at DIA I motored up to Rocky Mountain National Park to meet Gary for a day of fishing. Gary is another summer Kansas refugee in the high country but seldom fishes, though he has an interest in flyfishing. I offered to “guarantee” some greenback trout if he wanted to meet up. He did. The next day we hiked about 2 miles up a small but well known stream in RMNP looking for greenbacks. I imagine that this stream has been hit hard every day, all summer long. The fish were picky for cutthroats but we still caught fish. Gary caught his first greenbacks on a fly and I got the first of three subspecies toward the cutthroat slam.

    Gary had other plans for his trips and I wanted to go more into the backcountry to fish for the Colorado River Cutthroat. Both subspecies are in the park---but on opposite sides of the divide. There is no reliable method to identify the different subspecies in the field. In fact, as newer, more precise methods of genetic analysis have been developed even the Colorado DNR found out that some fish they thought were Greenbacks were Colorado River Cutts and vice versa. All a lister can do is to choose his fishing sites carefully. Fortunately, the DNR’s Cutthroat website has a ton of information that can really inform the effort.

    To fish for the Colorado River cutthroat I decided to hike into a treeline lake, maybe try the lake for larger cutts, but concentrate on fishing the outlet stream. The hike in was about 5 miles—depending on who you ask—with about 2000 feet elevation gain.

    I got over Trail Ridge Road just as the sun was coming up—a truly inspiring place without all the touristas that would be appearing later in the day. I started up the trail head about 9:00 a.m. and soon ran into a two-headed moose.

    About 3.5 miles in I finally reached the stream and quickly wet a line in the skinny water and was able to catch my first Colorado River Cutt.

    I decided that I wanted to move on up to the lake so I headed on up the trail passing a beautiful meadow with the creek calling my name. I continued onto the lake knowing full well I’d be fishing the meadow on the way back down.

    The lake had fish rising beyond casting range with only a few cruising in close.

    Lunch gave me time to think things over. Biting flies began to torment but the thunder that started rumbling in the gathering clouds discouraged my lake fishing. I headed back down the mountain to the meadow. This was a classical meadow trickle—usually less than 2 foot wide but cut deeper into the meadow sod.

    This is catch and release water but I was encouraged by the size and willingness of the cutts in this stream. I fished in the rain and was fortunate to experience up close a couple of dozen very beautiful fish.

    The hike was worth it and I was 2 down with one to go for the slam.

    I met Randy the next day. We fish together all year long but we really try to spend some time each summer fishing in the Colorado high country. It doesn’t always work out but this summer it did. We set course for the Rio Grande river drainage in southern Colorado.

    That afternoon we practiced up with some brookies before setting our sights on a small stream with Rio Grande Cutts the next day.

    I reported on this stream last year with the not too sincere claim that I might not fish it again since the fishing couldn’t be any better. Well….. it was different, not better, but not bad…..

    Like everywhere the water was very low and this is a small creek anyway. We started in the jungle---caught far fewer than before and only a couple of any size.

    This stream also has a meadow section where we had a chance to catch several including a couple of good ones.

    Colorado Cutt Slam completed. All were caught on #14 Royal Wulff’s. All were caught after substantial uphill hikes. All were caught in one week. All were released. Good times.

    Now I have to figure out some other way to renew this challenge….hmmmm….”16 inch or better” slam? Or maybe “all three in a day” slam? Or maybe “all three from lakes slam” Or maybe “all three on one fly?” Obsession is that what fly fishing is about?

  2. #2
    Cool recount of a cool quest! Thanks for sharing it with us!

  3. #3 plankowner jeepster's Avatar
    Join Date
    Oct 2009
    Ten Feet From Hell
    Great trip report with a goal and beautiful pics.

  4. #4
    Thank you for sharing your great adventure!
    I looked at DNR's cutthroat page and the distributions of Corolado river and greenback cutts seem to be overlapped. Are there any hybrid trout in those places?


  5. #5
    Aloha, nice job on the slam. In Wyoming they used to give out a certificate. I got a fine spotted and a yellowstone and a westslope, but it was tough to get the bear lake strain. I never submitted the paperwork. I still love the beauty of the native cutties. Mems.

  6. #6 supporter and plankowner
    Join Date
    Nov 2009
    Lawrence, KS
    Thanks for the comments, folks....

    Satoshi, I'm not sure which map you refer to. I've seen several but if there was not a clear delineation along the continental divide between the Colorado River Cutthroat (west of the divide) and the Greenback cuttthroat (east of the divide) then likely it was drawn to indicate the nature of the genetic information that has been discovered over the last 5 years regarding these trout. It has always been assumed that the pre-European trout ranges for these sub species was defined by the divide but there was no way of being sure (there are a number of early museum specimens, however). Over the last 100-150 years there has been a lot of "bucket biology"---moving various species from one drainage to the other trying to "improve" the opportunities for fishing. Actually, many of the high altitude lakes were fishless until stocked by interested parties on horseback, aerial drops, etc. Some of those lakes developed sustaining populations of fish and some didn't. Other lakes were not fishless. The DNR was involved in much of the stocking as well. I've met old cow hands back in the 70's that directed me to lakes/ponds they had stocked.

    With the development of sophisticated genetic tools we have a more precise "definition" of the differences between these species but this is still research that is in flux. They are using museum specimens to "calibrate" their genetic tools but there is still a lot of work to do since they have found "greenbacks" way west where it is very unlikely as well as CR's east of the divide. The are zeroing in on their target of a test to definitively assign species designation.

    As to the hybridization question---that is really the issue. Any of these fish can and do breed with each other (that's one reason why they are sub-species instead of species) so when they are brought together by bucket biology that tends to mix everything up. This is also why the green back was once thought to be extinct.....all the populations seemed to be more CR than greenback. Hope that helps.


  7. #7
    that was as fine of a thread as I have ever read. thanks so much, i really enjoyed it. Small stream cutts are one of lifes finest pleasures. Cheers,Chris

  8. #8 supporter and plankowner
    Join Date
    Nov 2009
    Lawrence, KS
    Mems, Wyoming still has the certificate.

  9. #9
    Very nice report. Reminds me of 20 years ago when my Cutthroat trout flyfisher role model completed his Wyoming Cutt Slam.
    Last edited by joe; 08-08-2012 at 12:50 PM.

  10. #10
    nice narrative and pics. those are beautiful fish. cutthroat trout fishing is the best.

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