So…I’ve seen a lot of big fish over the years. Big steelhead over 20lbs, Kings, well all the salmon species, pike, musky, bass, carp, multiple trout species, even walleye perch, sunfish, and other panfish. I’ve got some big ones.
But let’s talk about cutties.
I’ve got some big ones. Out of lots of places. Specically let’s talk about Westslopes. Not known for getting super huge, westlope cutthroat are a very interesting trout. They are unlike other trout and when they get larger they become something very special. They use their camouflage, lateral line, speed, and vast range to survive. On the Joe, where these wild westies have literally hundreds of miles of water to range through seeing a big one is still rare.
Well…I seened one.
I was fishing up high on the Joe. I’ll keep the exact spot to myself but the adventurous angler can find the spot way above Avery. It’s a big fish place. Big rapids, canyon walls, deep underwater trench with boulders some as big as a house. This place is loaded with trout, as is the whole river, but this place in particular has some rather large cutties in it.
I was dry fly fishing. Small size 16 bow dry. I hooked a nice 15 inch cutty. As I was bringing it in…a leviathan from the depths slowly came towards the struggling trout I had tricked and then hit it…hard. Bending the rod. It happened about 30 feet from me. I thought…holy hell that was a decent sized bull trout giving me a slap. Something that is common with bulls…hitting a trout already hooked. I landed a smaller bull on Rock Creek MT in a similar encounter with a 8 inch trout.
My heart raced. I couldn’t believe I saw a bulltrout. I landed the 15 inch cutty and recasted to other rising trout. Hoping I’d see the big trout again and maybe give me a chance to target it with a streamer.
I hooked another good sized cutty on the dry. As I was bringing it in this large trout was back, this time much more aggressive. It chased the fish in all the way to my feet. Literally could have kicked the fish in the head. But when it got close enough to really see…I realized it wasnt a bulltrout.
It was one of the biggest Westslope Cutthroat Trout I have ever seen. Over 2 ft of trout easy. It came right to me, insane ita insanely pink gill plate, its orange and red belly, and when it took a swipe at the smaller trout I had hooked, literally at my feet, I saw those bright orange cutts flash. It cared very little that I was standing there. When I landed the fish it hung out within a rod length and chased the smaller trout after I released it
Now…I’ve seen some big fish…this fish was massive…to the point I thought it was a bulltrout. 2 foot cutties are super rare. At least of the westslope variety.
I switched to a streamer. I swung and stripped theee different patterns. The big trout only showed interest in the double sparkle minnow…it gave it a chase before diving to the depths never to be seen again.
I still am having dreams about this fish. Just to have seen such a large westie is a special thing. To land one like the one I saw would be a once in alifetime experience. I know they are up there. Big old cutties, in the 5-7 year old range. Spawned a time or two, ranged hundreds of miles over their life history, survived predators, droughts, warm water, anglers, and more to become one of the gnarliest of Clarkii’s.
Spending as much time as I do riverside, I’ve seen a lot of crazy shit when it comes to wildlife…seeing that trout reignited something in me. That desire to know more, to see more, to experience more. There are trout out there that hold secrets, have history, have lessons to learn from…to have seen it was humbling. Such an impressive animal, just to see, in a time where wildlife, public lands, and the very planet seem under attack…its moments like this one involving a truly amazing and rare creature of the earth…that one can see why they are so important. Because if trout like that can still survive and pass on to the next generation…then there is still hope.
Big fish stir something inside most anglers. For me it’s that deep founded passion within. It brings it up. All the things a trout like that has had to go through just to survive boggles the mind. And having the ability to see, and be a part of its world is precious and should never be taken for granted. For when we stop seeing those trout…we know…that we are on a path that may never allow us to see them again.
Just some thoughts on what happens when I see and meet trout that literally scare the shit out of me.