Drawn to Wyoming's native cutthroats

Heidi Lewis with the Bonneville/Bear River cutthroat she used for the Wyoming Cutt-Slam. McKenzie Carlisle photo

By Heidi Lewis

Five years ago, I had no idea what a cutt-slam was. After many adventures with family and friends, I’ve now completed slams in two states.

The first time I heard about a slam, I was in the Utah Trout Unlimited Council meeting. I couldn’t figure out what a slam had to do with fishing. I was thinking about a grand slam in baseball. I finally realized the idea was to catch four native cutthroat trout in their historic range.

 When I learned I could go fishing and help conservation efforts I was all in. I paid my $20 registration – stoked to discover that $19 goes straight to conservation projects – and started fishing for Utah’s native cutthroat. I completed the Utah Cutthroat Slam in August 2018 and was excited to be No. 300 to do so. Given my busy schedule as business owner and mom of two, I appreciated that there was no time limit to do the slam. 

My first three subspecies for the Utah slam were caught with conventional flyfishing gear and my last fish was caught on my own ant pattern, tied to tippet and tied on the end of a stick. No, really. A stick I found streamside. I had to get creative in a tight space and think outside the box.

I had three friends with me from different states when I caught my last cutthroat, which only added to the excitement. There are no limits to how you can complete your slam other than using fishing gear of some sort. Completing my first slam in my home state was a proud moment I’ll never forget. I recently signed up for another Utah Cutthroat Slam in hopes of completing this one in different areas of the state or different rivers and lakes that I have yet to fish.

I completed the Wyoming Cutt-Slam last summer with my entire family in tow, but didn’t realize it until months later.

My husband and I had gone on some camping adventures in Wyoming over the last few years during the warm summer months. Living in Salt Lake City, Wyoming is a skip and a jump from home for a tempting weekend getaway. These high-elevation adventures took us to prime cutthroat country. I’ve always admired and appreciated cutthroats because they can survive tough conditions and they live in amazing places.

Heidi Lewis fishes for a Snake River cutthroat for her Wyoming Cutt-Slam. Ryan Lewis photograph

As we continued to explore this magical basin in Wyoming where three drainages meet. I discovered pretty quickly that three varieties of cutthroat trout can be caught in a weekend adventure. I was not specifically targeting these fish as that was not the intention of these trips.

We saw historical areas where travelers traversed the West to get to Oregon. They would stop over in a huge meadow to let their animals feed and rest. It was this very spot we also stopped due to a flat tire. There was a feeling of kinship with those travelers from the late 1800s as we fixed up our truck before continuing on our way. We visited a grave of a young mother who died giving birth to her eighth daughter and was laid to rest under a beautiful pine tree. As my husband drove the same dirt roads, I read about these stories out loud for us both to get a better feel for this country we explored.

The Lewis clan in search of cutthroats.

Fast forward two years to the summer of COVID. We decided to spend a long weekend in Idaho camping with the family. I had been in Yellowstone National Park only a few times 20 years ago on a motorcycle — before kids — but never in the park as an angler. I had dreamed of fishing there since picking up a fly rod in 2012, but never made it happen. 

I read the book “American Wolf”, by Nate Blakeslee, and became enthralled with Yellowstone’s most famous wolf, simply known as 06. I had visions of fishing the Lamar Valley where she lived. As we drove to the park that day from our camp in Idaho, I was excited to show my children this magical place and see it again with angling eyes.  

I Googled a story or two to read out loud about the area we were adventuring into. I came upon some about the Nez Perce, the Idaho native tribe that traversed Yellowstone with the U.S. Army on its tail in the late summer of 1877. As I read about their chase through the park, I could hardly finish reading because I couldn’t see the words. Tears streamed down my face as I shared the treatment of these people with my family. I felt it necessary to share this history with my children to better understand Yellowstone’s human history before it was a national park. 

As we entered the west entrance, I saw the Madison River for the first time in the park and I got goosebumps. The view is already breathtaking and I struggled to hold back tears seeing the river and Yellowstone’s beauty from this side of the park for the first time.  

I had to see the Lamar Valley with my own eyes. We decided to stop and have lunch in the Lamar Canyon section of the river downstream from the valley. It was there I caught my first Yellowstone cutthroat in Wyoming. I had completed the slam, but I was so happy to be there and to have landed a fish in the park that I didn’t even realize I had done it.

The Yellowstone cutthroat Heidi Lewis landed on the Lamar River in Yellowstone completed her unexpected Wyoming Cutt-Slam. Juliet Lewis photograph

Bison were scattered all over the Lamar Valley and we pulled over again to fish the upper river where it meanders through the valley among the most amazing view I had ever seen while fishing. 

Weeks after arriving home, the story emerged. Every fish does have a story. I had finished the Wyoming Slam and didn’t even realize it because I was so excited to just be in Yellowstone with my family. Finishing in the park was the greatest gift and one that I’ll never forget. I submitted all my info to the Wyoming Fish and Game. A few weeks later I received a beautiful medallion and certificate I intend to frame and am proud to show off.

Moreover, after this experience ending in Yellowstone, I’m convinced I will become a park ranger for at least one summer in YNP after retirement to help share the magic of the place.

Heidi Lewis lives in Salt Lake City with her husband, two daughters and two dogs. She serves as the Women’s Initiative chair for the Utah Council of Trout Unlimited and started the Utah Women Flyfishers group.

Guide to the Wyoming-Cutt Slam

A little intimated about venturing across the Cowboy State in an effort to complete the Wyoming Cutt-Slam? Joey Puettman has you covered. Puettman recently released the book “Joey’s Wyoming Cutt-Slam Challenge.”

In addition to finding information about Wyoming’s four native cutthroat species and good places to look for them, anglers also get useful tips about how to catch the trout. Some personal stories about people going after the slam and finding so much more are also included. 

The books is $24.95 from Joey’s Fly Fishing Foundation  and is also available on Amazon. The author is using all proceeds from the book to support youth fly fishing programs through the foundation.

Brett Prettyman