Community | Conservation | Fishing | Voices from the river | Youth | Youth

The gift of fishing

Ethan Perry fishes for Bonneville cutthroat trout in Mill Creek Canyon near Salt Lake City.
Perry family photo.

By Charlie Perry

Trips to waters filled with trout were the norm of my childhood. Summer adventures in Yellowstone. Weekends spent in the High Uinta Mountains of Utah. Holidays fishing the Green River in a deep red rock canyon below Flaming Gorge Reservoir.

These were special places for my family. I have many cherished memories of outings from my youth. If we weren’t fishing on the weekends, Sunday mornings were spent in church dreaming about fishing.

Ethan Perry holds a Bonneville cutthroat caught in Mill Creek Canyon near Salt Lake City. Perry family photo.

Little did my dad know at the time, but he had created a monster. I eat, sleep and love everything about trout and the water that holds them. I live for taking my kids out and passing along to them what I truly love and, hopefully, spark an interest in the outdoors that will never burn out. 

Any time away from electronics and the hustle and bustle of everyday life is invaluable for kids, not to mention adults, these days. I fish as much as possible and want to pass that passion along to my children. Fly fishing is my “checkout” of reality, it’s my “me” time. To this day while sitting in the office, I often look out the window, escape my day job just for a few minutes and dream about past and future days on the water.

Getting a chance to take people out, whether family or friends, is one of my favorite parts of the fly fishing experience. Spending time with friends and loved ones on the water is a precious commodity and should not be passed up.

Which leads me to Memorial Day weekend 2019.  While camping at a local reservoir with my dad and my two sons, I decided to start to talk about fly fishing trips for the summer. We talked about places we wanted to go, had never been and something that was challenging. I think then and there I had the idea. Not just a day trip or a quick camping trip would do, but an excursion that would take us all over this great state looking for one thing, actually four things — native cutthroat trout. It was time to do the Utah Cutthroat Slam.

 About a month after that camping trip we found time to start our quest of catching the four native cutthroat trout in their native drainages as outlined by the Utah Cutthroat Slam.  At the age of 42, with two boys (10 and 12) and my 69-year-old dad in tow we set out for our first trip at the end of June. 

Bonneville cutthroat

It took us not far from home to a local canyon filled with beautiful Bonneville cutthroat just 20 minutes from downtown Salt Lake City. It was a Friday and every one of us caught our first of the four in Mill Creek Canyon. Because this was close to home, we fished for a while and everyone caught more than just one. I thought it was pretty cool that we were catching native cutthroat in a creek where rainbows and browns had been allowed to take over during the years. The Utah Division of Wildlife Resources, in partnership with the local Trout Unlimited chapter and the U.S. Forest Service, has removed the nonnative sport fish and returned Bonneville cutthroat to their native range.

Dillon Perry searches for a Bonneville cutthroat trout. Perry family photo.

Who can leave a stream when cutthroat are eating dry flies so willingly? We celebrated by having a late lunch at a local restaurant near the mouth of the canyon.  While eating a mountain of nachos, we decided our next adventure would take us to the Raft River Mountains. 

Yellowstone cutthroat

Day two of our journey was a rough one. An early morning wakeup call was needed as we drove three hours to the northwestern corner of Utah in search of Yellowstone cutthroat. Four-wheel-drive roads and a hot July day were on the menu.  We found a forested canyon with a small creek in it and hiked down from the truck to start the trip. Thirty minutes in I had caught my trout.  Another 30 minutes later my 10-year-old caught his trout then things just shut off. It took us three more hours to get my other son his fish.  By 1 p.m. it was hot and my dad still didn’t have his fish.

My dad is pushing 70. He is in decent shape and fishes with me quite a bit. Mostly out of the drift boat where he has a nice seat to relax in when he gets tired.  Around 2 p.m. as we took a break from ducking in and out of the overgrown stream corridor, I told my dad, “I know you are tired, I know it’s hot, but we are in the middle of nowhere and we have one more trout to catch and we aren’t leaving until you do it. We are not coming back out here!”

Chuck Perry fishes for Yellowstone cutthroat in an effort to complete his Utah Cutthroat Slam. Perry family photo.

After a chuckle and a little bit of a spring in his step, he finally pulled through after missing a few trout and we were able to go 4-for-4 on this day as well. I don’t think I had ever seen that kind of relief when someone finally got a picture with a 5-inch trout. We headed off the mountain and found a small, run down café about an hour away from the creek where we had spent the day. Diner food was just what was needed after a long day like this one!

Colorado River cutthroat

Due to family vacations and work schedules not lining up, we had to take a break from our excursion of the Slam for almost a month. Finally, with a Saturday open we ran to eastern Utah to catch our Colorado River cutthroat. This creek is full of cutthroat and has been a favorite of mine for years. Many fish were missed as they came up to slurp the dry fly but sometimes the hook just doesn’t hit home. Maybe our off time had dulled some reactions.

This Colorado River cutthroat helped one of the Perry boys complete their Utah Cutthroat Slam. Perry family photo.

Like in the past trips, I had caught my fish fairly early in the trip. Then again like clockwork, my 10-year-old, then my 12-year-old and finally my dad —  I think he was being kind to us. It was a beautiful day on the creek , full of wildlife and trout, when the late morning clouds started to move in and just as we made it back to the truck, the sky unleashed its fury. Lightning and rain led to flooded dirt roads as we drove out of the canyon. Even with the short window of great weather, we had another successful trip.  We were 3-for-3 on our trout trips with one left to go!  Again, as had become our ritual after every successful day, we drove to a small town and celebrated at a small-town café.  

Bear River cutthroat

Our final cutthroat on our list was the Bear River. One week after our last outing we headed to northern Utah and a creek I had not fished in some time. I used to fish it quite a bit after high school but had not visited it in more than 15 years. To ensure we were in the best cutthroat water available, we drove to the higher end of the creek managed for the cutthroat we were after. Just as we expected, it did not take long for us to catch our fish here.  I knew it was going to be good when my dad missed three fish rising for his dry fly in the first run. We were on the river at 9:30 a.m. and finished by 10:30 a.m. My boys were ecstatic about the feat they had accomplished and now they just wanted to go sight see and eat the food that was in the cooler. My dad and I could have fished for a few more hours though. We all went back to the truck and sat around enjoying a cold drink and talked about what we had just done. Sightseeing took us to Bear Lake and we had to find a diner that served some famous Raspberry shakes. Again, another way of celebrating our accomplishment.  We took the scenic drive home that afternoon over Monte Cristo where we spotted many deer and even a cow moose.

The Perry boys each pose with one of the four cutthroat they needed to complete the Utah Cutthroat Slam. Perry family photos.

More than catching fish

 This was my second slam and knew what it was going to take, but I don’t think the boys understood what it would take to accomplish the Slam. My dad was just happy to be along for the ride and happy he didn’t have to spend another day in the Raft Rivers. My Dad has been fly fishing for more than 50 years and my boys have been fishing for maybe five or six years. It was fun to see everyone get better. Better at casting. Better at mending, better at watching a fish slurp their dry fly. In the spirit of the cutthroat we all got to spend time on the water with each other. 

We got to have a “Boys Days” for four different trips. I got to spend time with my dad and my boys got to spend time with their grandpa. I hope my kids realize how special these times are to me and especially to their grandpa. We had completed our goal of what we set out to do. Three generations of fly fisherman catching the most beautiful fish in high country settings. Life doesn’t get much better than that. Plans for next year are already in the works. Bring on Wyoming. We are going to chase the native cutthroat of Wyoming to complete their Cutt-Slam in 2020.

If you get a chance to take a kid fishing do it and, while you are at it, grab a grandpa too.

Charlie Perry is a member of the Stonefly Society Chapter of Trout Unlimited in Salt Lake City. Editor’s note: The Utah Cutthroat Slam is a partnership between Trout Unlimited and the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources. It was launched in 2016 and recently passed the 500 completions mark.