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Epic Utah creek trip: in search of the Bonneville cutthroat trout

Joined:
2013/7/30 17:16
From Fairborn, OH
Posts: 315
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I hope the mods don't mind me posting about an out-of-state trip, but since a lot of folks from here helped me get started planning my upcoming PA fishing trip, I figured I'd share a quality trip report from out my way just to show you a rare and challenging opportunity we have out West.

Having three days off in a row, I decided to make a diversion across the border to Utah to see what the lakes and creeks held. Yesterday was slow on both stillwater and the more commonly known mountain flows. It came as no surprise. At this point in the summer, unless one is willing to go deep into some tough terrain, chances are any fish they are pitching to have seen a bunch of lures and flies by now. So, today was a day to do exactly that: get into some ugly terrain and skip the browns and rainbows in favor of a much more elusive prize – the 100% native, 100% wild Utah Bonneville cutthroat trout.

For those of you aren’t familiar with the Bonneville cutthroat is the Utah state fish and, per Wikipedia, “the only native salmonid of the inland west.” They are not at all common and are actually on the Utah Sensitive Species List, but still legal to catch. Finding them in small creeks is especially tough, and my last foray into the wild for them resulted in exactly one fingerling caught. Today, I went all-out, going to a tiny, severely brush-choked creek that shall not be named in order to catch more.

On a word-of-mouth tip, I drove 2 hours to a specific creek rumored to have these fish. I did some research online only to find a single plausible fish report from a guy who had such a tough time working this creek that while he managed to hook just a couple of trout, was unable to land them due to the incredibly tight brush and limited working space. When I got to my fishing area, I found out exactly what he meant. While the walk to the water was only 150 yards or so from the road, it was the worst 150 yards you can imagine. It was a commando expedition, complete with a .38 special revolver loaded with snake shot (since going near the only water source for miles in a desert mountain range means a distinct chance of a run-in with Mr. No-legs N. Buzzbutt). I had to wet-wade in just my my boots since my waders would’ve been torn to shreds plowing through the heavy bushes and scraping tight to nearly sheer rocks. Once I finally got to the water’s edge a few things became immediately apparent:

1) There would be absolutely no backcasting or even rollcasting. With an average brush clearance of less than 5 feet, it was going to be bow and arrow casts all day.

2) The average pool size among the cascades was about 4-6’ around. It made more sense to work uphill and upstream and use the 2 or so foot shelves between these small pools for cover than to go downhill and spook every fish in the pool the moment I stepped down.

3) This was not only one of the most beautiful places I have ever fished, but if there were fish here, it is highly doubtful they had ever seen an artificial lure in their lives.
4) This was either going to be the best fishing I’ve ever done on a creek or a total waste of time.

Here’s a shot of what I was dealing with the whole way upstream:

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Armed with my recently purchased 2-wt. Temple Fork 6’ Lefty Kreh Signature Series II rod, bought specifically for these tight spaces, I made my first cast with a #12 ausable Wulff into one of the tiny pools. Nothing. I leaned the other way and made a second cast into the pool below and behind me. That one got an almost immediate strike for a fairly young, silvery fish:

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Well, that didn’t take long! So, it was up to the next pool with a goddard caddis after the first one popped my tippet when he jumped from hand. The next fish came almost as quickly…

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…followed by quite a few more in the 8-10” range…

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The biggest fish of the day was the last I caught, taping out at 12”:

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It was unreal. As far as Bonneville cutthroats go, this was a honey hole of epic proportions. It was to the point that I was spending far more time navigating the rock and figuring out casting windows than I was waiting for fish to bite. I caught somewhere between 12 and 15 with several getting off the hook before I could pull them in. Crazier still this was done in about 50 minutes of fishing covering less than 100 yards of water!

I learned that without a landing net, the best way to ensure you had ample chance of retrieving the fish without him popping your tippet was to let him where down in the water and then steer him down into the pool you were standing in for an easy hand retrieve. Here’s footage of one moments after I hooked him in the largest pool I encountered:

http://s1139.photobucket.com/user/lpl ... 2013_zps0d6b240d.mp4.html

Overall, this was an incredible day of fishing, and unquestionably the most unique creek fishing I’ve ever done. If any of you guys ever make it out west, let me know where you’ll be and I may just blindfold you and take you to my secret spot for an extremely rare and amazing fishing experience.


Posted on: 2013/8/6 1:10

Edited by Six-Gun on 2013/8/6 1:29:14


Re: Epic Utah creek trip: in search of the Bonneville cutthroat trout

Joined:
2012/1/13 15:28
From Ferguson Twp.
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Nice, that looks like a stream I'd like to fish. Great story and pics, glad you got out with the new piece. Real pretty fish, congrats.

Posted on: 2013/8/6 5:15
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Re: Epic Utah creek trip: in search of the Bonneville cutthroat trout

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2009/2/19 19:59
From Mont Co, Pa
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Those cutties are some beautiful fish! Sounds like you had a wonderful time out there.

Posted on: 2013/8/6 6:23
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Re: Epic Utah creek trip: in search of the Bonneville cutthroat trout

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2010/2/15 19:09
From Ohio
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Love it! Thanks for sharing. Native cutthroats are hard to beat. Looks like you had an excellent adventure.

Posted on: 2013/8/6 7:30


Re: Epic Utah creek trip: in search of the Bonneville cutthroat trout

Joined:
2008/1/31 17:19
From Pretty much everywhere at some point, Thorndale today.
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Nice!

For the record, PA does have some larger and more open waters. However, an experience like this one is very common here. And really, probably 90% of our wild trout water, by miles, looks an awful like your honey hole here. Those pics could honestly be mistaken for PA, aside from trout species.

Ours would be full of 5-8" brookies and the occasional 7-10" brown instead of 10" cutties.

Posted on: 2013/8/6 7:52


Re: Epic Utah creek trip: in search of the Bonneville cutthroat trout

Joined:
2010/5/1 9:10
From NE OH
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Awesome...JEALOUS!

BTW, how'd you like that TFO 2wt?

Posted on: 2013/8/6 8:22
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Re: Epic Utah creek trip: in search of the Bonneville cutthroat trout

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2011/3/8 19:04
From York, PA
Posts: 369
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Great story, great fish!

Posted on: 2013/8/6 8:29


Re: Epic Utah creek trip: in search of the Bonneville cutthroat trout

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2013/7/30 17:16
From Fairborn, OH
Posts: 315
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Thanks a lot, guys. It's one of those trips I'm going to do only occasionally to avoid educating these fish, and even then I'm going to push into new areas.

pcray - I guess I'd better be ready to get a little wet in PA, too, it seems. I'm glad you said something about the waters being this tight up there because I envisioned something a bit more open. Looks like the 6-footer is coming along on that trip to Clinton County, too.

PatrickC - regarding that 6' rod: in short, it was perfect for the job. No, you can't expect great lifting out of a short noodle rod like this, but the size is right and the sensitivity is superb. It's just what the doctor ordered for tight quarter and small to medium-sized fish. For a very specialized rod like this, I wasn't going to spend big bucks like I would for a larger setup. It turns out that I got a helluva lot of value for a $119. I have already landed more fish on this little rod than I have on my 6-wt and 8-wt rods.

Posted on: 2013/8/6 10:06


Re: Epic Utah creek trip: in search of the Bonneville cutthroat trout

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2006/12/29 10:00
From Harrisburg
Posts: 2013
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Those are some beautiful fish.

Posted on: 2013/8/6 11:17
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Re: Epic Utah creek trip: in search of the Bonneville cutthroat trout

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2008/1/31 17:19
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Six-Gun,

I don't want to give you the wrong impression. We do have medium and larger waters which are good too. They are generally limestone influenced (spring creeks) or tailwaters. And while they may be an extreme minority in terms of wild trout miles, they are the focus of the angling scene here. They are the ones that you'll read about on message boards and in magazines, and where the fly shops are set up around, etc. Southern Clinton County has a famous one, Big Fishing Creek, which is a medium sized limestoner that is very good. Spring Creek and Penns Creek would be options that would also be "close" by western standards. Spring is another medium sized stream, Penns is truly large.

But, barring limestone influence or tailwater, our larger rivers tend to get too warm for trout. They are generally stocked with trout in the spring, and a few of them get stocked in the fall as well. But they are seasonal, put and take fisheries, and will be largely devoid of trout in mid-summer. Often good smallmouth bass water, though.

However, we are much wetter than the west. This generally means that where it's not developed, it's forested. And it also means that we have a lot more flowing water per land area. We have an awful lot of little streams like your honey hole here. They stay cold, have smallish wild trout, and fish well in the summer. Perhaps summer is the best time for them! It's not like out west, where the next little stream over might be an hours drive. There are places where there are literally dozens of them within a 10 mile radius. Every little valley. And Clinton County has a lot of these. For a comparison, the fish commission lists around 300 wild trout streams in Clinton County alone. Clinton County is 898 square miles. So if it were square, it'd have sides of 30 miles.

It varies based on land use, but most of them are generally tall timber with thick rhododendron in the stream bottoms. Different type of streamside brush, but brush nonetheless.

Posted on: 2013/8/6 12:49


Re: Epic Utah creek trip: in search of the Bonneville cutthroat trout

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2012/2/15 16:35
From Butler, Pa
Posts: 570
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that pool in your video is going to haunt me, it is beautiful

Posted on: 2013/8/6 14:43


Re: Epic Utah creek trip: in search of the Bonneville cutthroat trout

Joined:
2013/7/30 17:16
From Fairborn, OH
Posts: 315
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Looking at the state maps, the stream count is indeed impressive, especially in the center of the state/where I'm headed. Honestly, while I may try some of the larger waters, some of those tight streams may be exactly what I'm after. Of course, if wild trout is what one seeks, it sounds like I'm going to do way better in those places anyway provided I find lower pressure, harder to reach sections.

It should be stated that out West, the challenge of reaching secluded places like this and what's available in PA not only results from lack of running water in most places, but the terrain. When I get home, I'll post a couple more pics showing how incredibly representative of the Rocky Mountains the place I fished is and just how insidiously the brush can mask dangerously steep, pebbled grades that can lead to disaster if you aren't mindful of where you walk. I was literally hanging onto branches in some spots to avoid a rocky sleigh ride to the creek base.

The water here is mostly quite clear, depending on whether or not it resides in a cattle run area. That can significantly increase turbidity to the point that certain streams are effective unfishable on certain days of the week wit hthe detritus from cattle movement dust kick-up and - let's face it - poo that washes into the water. Where I was, there is no cattle, and the water is clear to the eye until you got about 2 feet deep. At that point, a slight chalky finish appears and blurs out some of the deeper holes, but you can sight cast in many of the pools I found *IF* you can spot these extremely well camouflaged fish. They can disappear right in front of you until they strike in a lot of the spotted mudbottoms.

Posted on: 2013/8/6 14:48


Re: Epic Utah creek trip: in search of the Bonneville cutthroat trout

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2013/7/30 17:16
From Fairborn, OH
Posts: 315
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Quote:

StarvinMarvin wrote:
that pool in your video is going to haunt me, it is beautiful


It really was stunning as was that entire stretch of water. Get out here sometime and I'll take you to see it in person.

I have another video I will post later on that I took just before I cast into the pool. I snuck up just close enough to record some of the smaller fish in their lie at the front edge. It was so cool to look at that I didn't want to disturb it right away. I was rewarded by seeing some of the larger trout in that hole bully the smaller fish out of position so they could take their lies. Hopefully, you'll be able to make out some of these fish in the video after Photobucket compresses it. I had to stay kind of far out to avoid spooking them and the iPhone's distance distortion doesn't help. There were at least 5 or six fish that I could see in there of which I landed about 4.

The end of this particular spot got DEEP. I have no clue how far down because it went black and got chalked out as I described in my previous post. Part of me wants to go back to it and chuck a streamer in there to see if some monster cutty is hanging in the depths.

Posted on: 2013/8/6 15:06


Re: Epic Utah creek trip: in search of the Bonneville cutthroat trout

Joined:
2012/10/24 19:22
From Landenberg, PA
Posts: 1736
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great fish from such a tiny stream.

the progressive change colouration and bodyshape as you went up stream is fascinating - if you didn't know, you could think you were going from stockies to wild fish (and yes i know they were all wild AND native..) just by the colour and outline.

I'm going to guess those fish were caught within a mile of each other ?

i'd heard of that in small burns in the outer hebrides, orkneys, Falklands etc but never seen pictures of it - thank you so much for sharing !

it just shows that micro location leads to a big variety in physiology.

GB

Posted on: 2013/8/6 17:34
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Re: Epic Utah creek trip: in search of the Bonneville cutthroat trout

Joined:
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From Fairborn, OH
Posts: 315
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geebee -

Looks like I owe you yet another picture. The stretch of water covered where I caught all of these fish was so short, I snapped a shot of my truck, representing where I climbed down to the creek, versus my position where I took the photo showing where I climbed back up. I firmly believe it was less than 100 yards of water and about 6 individual pools.

As for the coloration, outwardly it seemed to be related to age/size. The smallest one I caught was the very first fish. Though he's mostly covered up, you can see he is very silver in color versus the others and has the very distinct, red "cut line" on his operculum. As the fish got bigger, they got darker and the distinct cut gave way to a large more reddish cheek patch like you see in the photo of the largest fish of the day. I will continue to pay attention to the color patterns next time I head out here to see if that changes seasonally. Supposedly, the mating season makes them completely reddish, much like salmon.

Posted on: 2013/8/6 17:47



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