Spunky and the cutthroats

My granddaughter Spunky is seven this summer - tall for her age, all arms and legs and startling ice-blue eyes. She likes swimming and riding single-tracks on her bike. She wants to do biathlon when she’s older and can climb the 16-foot fence at the tennis courts - up one side, then over the top and down the other. But what she really likes to do is fish.

Three or four years ago, her older cousins heard about Wyoming’s Cutt-Slam program – an effort to get people involved in cutthroat trout conservation by catching all four sub-species of cutthroat in the Cowboy State. They were excited by the idea, and last year the oldest two cousins completed their Cutt-Slams. They got fancy certificates that we framed, along with photos them with each of their fish. Spunky watched this for as long as she could before she just had to do it herself. She’s a year or more younger than the boys when they started, but that’s irrelevant to her. So when she turned seven this summer, Spunky started on her own Cutt-Slam.

We started in the Wyoming Range in August, fishing for Colorado River cutthroats. A friend of mine, a young rancher with 25 miles of trout stream and a land ethic a mile wide and a mile deep invited us to fish on his place. Even in a drought year, the grass looked good. He had over 4,000 cattle on the place, but the stream banks looked great. This is a sustainable family cattle operation, and he’s justifiably proud of it. And the fishing…oh, my gosh the fishing…Spunky had a 10-inch Colorado cutt in about 3 minutes. She was thrilled. She wanted to fish more, I wanted to fish more, but we had miles to go.

Up over the top of the Wyoming Range and down into the Greys River country in the midday heat. We stopped to pick a few wild raspberries and pushed on. It was hot and dusty, yet another scorcher of a day in this drought summer. But Spunky was unfazed. She ate a little lunch and announced she was ready for a Snake River cutthroat. We fished pocket water down the Greys only about two miles before she found the right fish in the right place. Patiently, cast after cast, she worked the deep green holes until she found the right one. With a shriek of victory and a burst of frantic action on the reel, the fish was hers.  Two down, two to go…

The following day found us even farther afield – this time on the upper Wind River in search of Yellowstone cutts. I expected Spunky to be wearing down a bit by now, but I underestimated my little trout bum. She was fired up and ready to go early in the morning. It was a long drive, but when we hit the public access area just before lunchtime, she was the first one on the water. The willows reeked of moose and I made sure we were noisy so we didn’t surprise any of them as we fished the first deep hole we found. Three casts into it, she had a wild Yellowstone cutthroat in the shadow of the Absarokas.

She was tired by the time we got back to the cabin. So was I. We’ll wait until next year to go after Bonneville cutthroats. But we talked as we drove about why it was important to have places for grandpas to fish with their granddaughters. We talked about the moose and antelope and the sandhill cranes and the sage grouse we saw. We talked about how we could have all these wonderful things for us and for her brothers, if we took good care of the land and the water. She understood that. She has a wild heart, my little Spunky. And with any luck at all, she’ll have wild country to love and to fish all her life. I can give her no greater gift than that.

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