Cutthroat are the state fish of Idaho and Wyoming, and some Western states call subspecies of cutthroat their state fish – Colorado, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, and Utah. I’m a big fan of the cutthroat, and I’ve lived in the Western US most of my life where this trout is abundant – I don’t think it’s a coincidence. The fish in the photo above was caught on the Yakima River in March, on a windy day, using a mayfly nymph pattern.
This fish was caught on a streamer on the Yakima in March as well – after a cold, slow day, we settled into a large, deep pool and tied on a black Sculpzilla pattern (see mouth).
Getting the picture yet? The Yakima’s just feeding a passion for cutthroat, and this picture actually dispels a old fisherman’s tale about the color yellow – it’s supposedly bad luck and leads to a “skunking” on the river.
I think the reason why I favor the cutthroat trout is the memories of catching them seem to stick out more – those trips where a fish made a impression on me. I’ve caught the very rare Greenback Cutthroat in Colorado, a fish that is fighting to regain it’s historical range. That trip was special because my wife Annie and I were celebrating an anniversary with a overnight hike outside Colorado Springs, and as the sun slipped behind the mountain, and the silence filled the air – except for the elk hooves on round rock as they walked to the water. I’ll remember that fish and moment forever.
I’ve recently begun fishing for coastal cutthroat (Oncorhynchus clarki clarki) in Puget Sound. These fish don’t make the long journey from stream to open salt water, but stay close to home. There have been a few people willing to share their favorite spots and techniques – tide information, patterns, and how.
Those trips are as memorable – as much as I enjoy creating memories with others when fly fishing, I really enjoy hearing others share their experiences and it forces me to listen. It’s a recurrent theme in my fly fishing, and something that I try to impart with others when guiding – to listen. And not just with your ears, but with your eyes, your soul, and your mind. Listen to what the water is saying, listen for your mind quieting. Notice when you lose track of everything around you and have to remember to breathe, and the darkening night shows the frost in your breath on that high mountain lake. You’re surrounded by trees older than you are, a moon larger than your hope of finding that fish searching for a quick meal, and calming that fear that your fly is right, the leader long enough, the knot tight enough.
Cutthroat trout hold a special place in my mind, and you can find them in pretty special places.