Monday, August 16, 2010

Wilderness Cutthroats

Perhaps no other native fish species gets as much attention in Montana as cutthroat trout. I guess the reasons are fairly obvious...fisherman, especially fly fisherman, love trout. This has really been illustrated when I sell my "Native Fish" t-shirts. I offer four species, and the two cutthroat trout shirts are by far the most popular. I have an arctic grayling shirt available, but many times customers have never heard of them. I'm not complaining, as I love cutthroats as much as anyone and I believe that any attention given to native species is a good thing. I even saw a show on Montana PBS recently about cutthroat trout called "Rising From the Shadows." Which was a great program by the way.

With large cutthroats and other trout on my mind, I set out last Friday to explore a wilderness stretch of river north of Yellowstone Park. We left Bozeman early, and after a quick stop at Dan Bailey's in Livingston, we made great time to the trailhead. After strapping on our backpacks and bear spray we hoofed it several miles to our target destination. Weather in Montana is always volatile and unpredictable. I have seen it snow just about every month of the year, and temperatures can quickly drop when cold Canadian air works it's way down the continental divide. Unfortunately for us, this was exactly the situation we found ourselves in. Here it was early August, and it was cold, wet, and raining continuously. Not to be deterred and with our hoods up, we stubbornly fished our hopper patterns and were rewarded with several nice brown trout early on. The browns later switched to caddis emergers, and my friend was having a field day sight fishing with a Lafontaine sparkle pupa. While he was working the risers, I headed up river in search of yellowstone cutthroats. I probably hiked up another mile before I found some great looking pools for fishing. I was soon rewarded, as a beautiful cutt hit my fly on the first drift. The fish was gorgeous and it's belly was a fiery red. I continued fishing and landed another half-dozen beautiful cutts and two rainbow trout.

This is not a big river, in fact it could probably be referred to as a creek. However, this river is really an amazing fishery, producing an average size of fish that is greater than many other waters. I saw five different species of fish on my trip...Rainbow Trout, Brown Trout, Cutthroat Trout, Mountain Whitefish, and some Longnose Suckers. On an interesting side note, on a trip to this river two years ago I landed a large cutthroat that had every appearance of being a westslope. (see photo)

The fish are distributed in a classic pattern with the brown trout further down river and in slower water and the cutthroats further upriver. I am always saddened to see rainbow trout mixed in with the cutts, and I definitely caught some obvious hybrids. (See Photo) This river does have a natural barrier falls, but I know that there are currently rainbows above these falls. Since this barrier already exists, however, I believe that this river would be an outstanding candidate for restoration work.

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