There are still places and people in the backcountry of the interior West that transcend time. Wild places that seem unchanged from the days of Lewis and Clark still persist in this country, far from the roads. And people who persist in that same country, likewise unaffected by America in the 21st century. So it is at Hawk’s Rest, the farthest point from a road in the Lower 48. And so it is with my friend Dave Hettinger.
Dave and his wife Daronda run Dave Hettinger Outfitting in Pavillion, WY a great TU Business member. He called me one bitter winter day years ago and told me how much he appreciated the work that TU was doing at Yellowstone Lake. He said he had an admiration for Trout Unlimited because of what he’d been seeing from his backcountry camp in the Teton Wilderness. We went there together for the first time in the summer of 2016.
It was magical. The work that TU and our partners had done to reduce lake trout in the lake downstream was obvious. For the first time in years, the fish were there. Every pool held a pair or maybe a small pod of adult cutthroats – spawners, the survivors of the lake trout holocaust and the ancestors of future generations of Yellowstone cutthroats. We caught them gently, brought them to hand as quickly as possible and kept them wet. Then, as a friend says, since they belong to the river, we returned them unharmed. For a guy with a lifelong love of wild things and wild places, it was unforgettable.
So when my friend Scott Hood contacted me last winter about a trip of a lifetime, I didn’t hesitate. I hooked him up with Dave. I’ll let Scott tell you about it…
Late last winter my son Andrew reminded me that he was turning “the big 4-0” in the spring of 2020. Like any father experiencing his eldest turning forty, I was uneasy by how old I’m getting but I turned my attention back to him. “Well, what should we do to celebrate?” I asked and was increasingly uneasy when he replied, “Let’s go somewhere truly wild!”
We started discussing what that meant; “off-the-grid”, “barely accessible”, and obviously (if you know us) “world-class fly fishing” became the filters for our ideal adventure. As we began to explore the options the stories from TROUT magazine and KGB Productions film “The Return”, about the Yellowstone cutthroat’s recovery in the upper Yellowstone, became the focus of our plans. So, I threw out a net to see who-knew-what and Walt replied with glowing reviews of Hettinger Outfitting. Next thing I knew it was the first days of summer, we had convinced my son-in-law Andy (new to fly fishing) to come along, and we were packing saddlebags and holstering bear spray in the middle of a global pandemic to ride into the “most remote place in the lower 48”…and it would the best trip any of us had ever taken.
Like most people, I’d never caught a Yellowstone cutthroat but I remember being impressed by their spectacular beauty when I was only 9 years old; standing on the Fishing Bridge in Yellowstone Park. There were hundreds of them there that day, flashing their vivid colors in the clear water and preparing to make their annual journey into the wilderness. Fifty-five years later as a TU member, I was troubled to read about how the population had been decimated by the unfortunate introduction of the voracious lake trout. But now only 5 years later and through the concentrated efforts of TU and our partners, I’m very happy to report that recovery efforts have been extremely successful.
They’re not an easy species to reach, seven hours horseback on rugged mountain trails through the grizzly populated “predation pit” of the Bridger-Teton National Forest. The legendary outfitter Dave Hettinger leading a long string of pack mules led the way along with his wife Daronda (a gourmet cook), Bill Tucker (a well-armed and experienced guide), and young Jack Nystrom (the very capable camp muscle) all ensuring a safe and successful trip filled with their knowledge of decades spent in this spectacular wilderness.
We experienced all the weather the Thorofare is notorious for in early summer: clear nights where there seemed to be more stars than space between them, thunderstorms that rattled our tents as we tried to sleep, and a final chilly night with late June snow just 300 ft above camp on the mountainside. The rides in and out help define the variability of this wilderness. The ride in was hot and sunny with barely a breeze, encouraging the mosquitoes to feast. The ride out was cold and wet through snowy Two Ocean Pass along the Great Divide to the incredible “Parting of the Waters” where Two Ocean Creek splits into Pacific Creek and Atlantic Creek, one draining to the Pacific and the other eventually into the Atlantic. And through it all, Hettinger Outfitting kept us as comfortable as possible.
Between the three of us, we saw more Yellowstone cutts than we could count and caught and gently released over 48 in just 4 days of fishing…none less than 18 inches! And all with Hettinger’s amiable guide Bill dutifully watching over our shoulders with his 00 buck loaded shotgun in hand. I knew the ride in was worth it within the first hour of fishing, when Andrew – just days after his 40th, caught the first fish of the trip and the biggest trout of his life. I’m a lifetime TU member and spend a lot of time fly fishing, as does my son, and we knew we’d eventually get my daughter’s husband hooked too. It was thrilling for me and Andrew to see him catch his first big trout on fly just moments after Andrew had released the first. It’s safe to say we #got1forTU with him. And of course, I caught the most but only by a few.
We set out to go on the trip of a lifetime and through TU, Hettinger Outfitting, and all those that help preserve the beautiful wilderness of the Bridger-Teton we definitely succeeded. But the boys aren’t calling this one our last…we’re making trips like these a tradition. And as we do, we’ll continue to use outfitters that are trusted TU business members.
Dave Hettinger Outfitting (O,G)
Pavillion, WY 82523