Chasing Natives ~ Cameron Cushman
Chasing Natives, that’s the term I stole from my good buddy Tyler Coleman about what we were doing. He was one of the several awesome individuals we met on our eight-thousand-mile journey from Florida to California and back. Our goal started out simple, to catch as many species of Cutthroat Trout that we could in their native ranges. As the trip went on it evolved into so much more than that. We travelled to places we hadn’t planned, we chased fish we hadn’t planned, and we met up with people that we hadn’t planned. That’s all part of the adventure and why I highly would recommend anyone to take a trip like ours. I should start off by saying that I enjoy chasing any and all species on the fly, for example I’ll throw for Browns or Peacock Bass which are not native to any bodies of water they present themselves in here in the states. However, if I have the opportunity I will always try to chase native fish in their native ranges.
We chased Cutthroat trout in varying environments, from high alpine lakes and streams in the Rio Grande National Forest of Colorado to arid desert mountain creeks in Utah. Marcos and I, the two main studs of the trip are glass geeks and glass is what we fished. Marcos was equipped with his 3wt and I had my Epic 476 Packlight, which I must say is the ultimate road trip and adventure rod for native trout adventures as it can handle so many different scenarios.
Lahontan Cutthroat Trout
"our eight-thousand-mile journey from Florida to California and back"
In Colorado we chased the Rio Grande Cutthroat and the state fish, the Greenback Cutthroat. We experienced the beautiful fall colors the aspens give off, two flat tires, moose, and of course the fish. Next, we headed to Utah where we would catch four species of Cutthroat, the Bonneville Cutthroat, Colorado River Cutthroat, Bear River Cutthroat, and the Yellowstone Cutthroat. Utah gave us some incredible scenery and the most varying as well for just one state. We fished for the Bonneville Cutthroat just outside of Salt Lake City in an urban creek that followed a busy hiking and mountain biking access road. For the Colorado River and the Bear River Cutthroat’s we fished canyon creeks loaded with mule deer and beaver ponds. The Yellowstone Cutthroat brought us way out into an arid high desert mountain range where most would think no trout could live yet survive. Cattle stomped smaller creeks as we made our way to the last species, leaving nothing but mud and cow patty’s behind. When we arrived at the creek we had planned to fish we were surprised to see a clear flowing creek running along the desert dust covered road. We experienced a wide range of excitement, frustration, and beauty as we traversed across Utah to include yet another two flat tires, more fall colors, new friends, and plenty of wildlife.
Arizona Apache Trout
We now faced a crossroad; do we head to Montana in search of the West Slope Cutthroat or do we head west to Nevada and California for the Lahontan Cutthroat. Initially we wanted to head to Montana as neither of us had been, but the timing couldn’t have been more off as they were just hit with their first big cold front of the year with highs in the upper twenty’s. So, we decided heading west was the best choose. With tire problems still facing us and taking up an entire day and a half to sort out we decided to push through Nevada and into California to chase Lahontan Cutthroat in a small mountain creek that averaged six to twelve inches wide with a random two-foot-wide pool here and there. This creek is one for the record books, how the fish survive the cold harsh winters in such a small body of water is insane and hopefully one day I can make the long trek with snowshoes back there during the winter. However, these guys are hungry and will jump out of the water before your fly even hits the surface in hopes of snagging a meal. Marcos was the big winner in this creek where he pulled out a beautiful Lahontan that was massive for those waters.
Bear River Cut
Finishing up with the Lahontan Cutthroat we decided to say hello to some of our recent friends that we fished for a month prior in the high Sierras, the gorgeous California Golden Trout. We hit the water early and the bite was slow with mostly lethargic fish sitting deep in the pools, however we each managed to catch two beauties before deciding to pack it up in search of another new species, the Kern River Rainbow. The Kern River Rainbow would turn out to be our toughest species of the trip with a brutal hike deep into a canyon, thickly overgrown vegetation growing over the creek, and just plan out spooky fish. I managed the first one of the trek, a gorgeous fish that measured nearly six inches or so. Pushing further into the canyon and running out of light we decided to head back and work our way through some of the water we already fished. Marcos decided to hit the same small pool I did where he immediately hooked into the smallest fish of the trip, a Kern River Rainbow that measured two inches long. The hike out was brutal and we both are sure we scared some bears off as we made our final pushes up the trailhead in the dark.
Burnt out and at the same time stoked on our catch we decided to head towards sin city. We figured we could make it to a small town about an hour away from Las Vegas that surprisingly holds some beautiful Lahontan Cutthroat, but we were just too smoked, so we did some car camping at a gas station in Barstow California. We awoke early and made the push to the start of the long dirt road into the canyon where we would meet up with our new friend Anthony who is a resident of Las Vegas, we talked Vegas, our fishing trip, and how Vegas now has a good population of cartel members. We bottomed out, scratched, ripped off parts of the cars undercarriage before finally making it to the creek. However, we were fortunate enough to catch some gorgeous fish and share more stories with one another. Now onto sin city we said our goodbyes to our new friend. We met up with another new friend, Sierra who’s a Texan transplanted into Las Vegas for work, we talked fishing, the environment, and what it’s like living in Las Vegas. Marcos had a goal during the trip that I wasn’t aware of until we were in Vegas, but he wanted to stay the night in one of the strips famous hotels. He picked the Bellagio and that’s where we would spend the night before heading for our final species the next day, the Arizona Apache Trout. We slept in until around 8 in the morning before getting ready and hitting the road for a several hour drive into Arizona to find our final species.
Arizona is a state that I find doesn’t get enough credit for its beauty and wide range of environments. If you asked most people, almost all would say it has two things, desert and the Grand Canyon. However, there is much more to Arizona, there is beautiful pine forests, high aspen forests and some pretty outstanding trout creeks that hold Apache trout. We arrived at the trailhead around one in the afternoon. It was our first adventure of the trip that we experienced rain and would have to wear rain gear. The trail started off simple and was a beautiful walk with the rain and fog giving it a cool but creepy atmosphere. A mile or so down the trail we realized that the easiness would be coming to an end, the trail took a sharp turn down into a canyon full of switchbacks. A few miles later and we make it to the creek. Wet and cold I make my way down to the first pool where I see my first Apache, I laid my fly into the pool where he quickly came up and hit the fly, but I missed the eat and spooked the fish. Another cast to the pool right below revealed a gorgeous and chunky Apache coming up and smashing my stimulator. After a quick fight I had the most beautiful fish of the trip in my hands. The golden shine was so hard to capture on camera and the spots were perfect. A few more fish later and we were on our way out, the hike was brutal and the fresh scat from a mountain lion made the hike unnerving, but we made it back to the car.
Kern River Rainbow Trout
Our fishing adventure was finished, we had caught ten species of trout. We met many new friends, saw some of the most gorgeous places the country has to offer, and created memories that will always be remembered. With a long push to Arkansas for the Fly Fishers International Southern Council Fair and giving my presentation on do it yourself fishing in South Florida we finally were on our way back home. I arrived in my driveway 7,992 miles later to be greeted by my wife and children. Marcos and I snapped one last photo of us together before he loaded up in his car and headed back to his house. What an incredible adventure it was, and I hope our film and this article inspire others to do something similar. Until next time friends!
Film - Chasing Natives
The stunning short film of this incredible adventure