By Chad Chorney
Just the other day, I was asked, “what’s your favorite trout?” Even though I’ve been fortunate enough to catch a wide variety of trout and salmon in waters stretching from Alaska to Chile, my favorite is a home-grown symbol of the American West. It’s the cutthroat. Sure, cutts may not be the biggest trout, the greatest fighters, or the most selective, but they possess some qualities that put them at the top of the pyramid.
Here in the West, cutthroat are native. Through periods of geographic isolation, cutthroat have evolved into several subspecies, with each being native to a specific drainage basin. To catch a wild cutt in its native range is one of the most satisfying and fulfilling feats in fly fishing. There’s a reason why the states of Colorado and Wyoming recognize anglers who catch a “Cutt-Slam.”
Have you ever watched an 18-inch cutthroat rise from the depths, ever so slowly, and lazily slurp your dry fly? Your hands will shake, your heart will pound, and chances are that you’ll pull the fly right out of that cutt’s mouth. Can it get any better?
Perhaps the thing I love most about cutthroat is where they live. Cutts need cold, clean water, and that means that cutthroat live in some of the most unspoiled, wild, and pristine waters in the West. Simply put, cutts live in the “best places.” I can’t think of an ugly cutthroat stream. Can you?
Like many species today, cutthroat are in peril. Drought, climate change, competition from non-native species, and habitat loss are some of the factors that pose threats to cutthroat trout. A few subspecies of cutthroat are extinct, and several others are threatened. I don’t want to face the day when I can’t catch a wild cutt from the Middle Fork of the Salmon, the St. Joe, Slough Creek, or the Yellowstone River.
Trout Unlimited staff, volunteers, and project partners actively work to protect and preserve cutthroat trout and their habitat throughout their native range. This is one of the reasons why I’m proud to work for TU. It’s all for the love of cutthroat.
Chad Chorney is Southwest Idaho Project Manager for TU’s Idaho Water Project.