Slam dunk

Utah's new cutthroat slam program has netted $10k for stream restoration
Utah Cutthroat Slam Program
Photo: Kris Millgate

My time on earth is split evenly between two states. Utah and Idaho. Two decades in each. I was born in one and I’ll die in the other. Based on the stellar home water I have now, I’m content staying in Idaho. That is until I have lunch with Brett Prettyman. He’s Trout Unlimited’s Intermountain communications director. We both have roots in Utah media and remained friends as our careers evolved. We meet for lunch on the six-month anniversary of his pet project: Utah Cutthroat Slam.

​“It’s extremely rewarding to be a part of this,” Prettyman says. “I really like the education aspect of it. It’s fun to explore the history of cutthroat and where they came from.”

​Prettyman and Paul Thompson, aquatics manager for Utah Division of Natural Resources, found inspiration in Wyoming’s Cutt Slam then added a twist. Money. Every angler registered in Utah’s slam pays $20. All but one dollar of that goes back into stream restoration.

​“Anglers are excited to have that much of their money going back into trout conservation and they like contributing to that,” Thompson says. “I think it’s actually given us a bit more momentum. It’s beyond the success we anticipated.”

​Wyoming Game and Fish Department started its cutt slam in the 1990s. Since then, 1,600 anglers have slammed in the Cowboy State. Mark Fowden, Wyoming’s chief of fisheries, remembers well the motivation behind the program.

​“Back in the 1990s, there wasn’t this emphasis or notoriety for native trout,” Fowden says. “What we did was try to promote native trout and get Wyoming citizens involved. That was our prime motivation. It’s doing what we want it to do.”

​But there’s no charge so it’s not making money. Utah is making money. There’s $10,000 in the pot so far and two trout projects are already funded. An under-interstate culvert improvement for spawning cutts and a creek kill that knocked out non-natives so natives could be put back in.

​“Before Utah was settled, these were the fish swimming around in our streams,” Thompson says. “We should protect and enhance that native trout component in the state.”

​Thompson has slammed twice. Prettyman is one fish away from his first slam. Fowden’s done it in Wyoming. So have his wife and son. Colton Finch was Utah’s first cutt slammer. He finished in April. The same month the slam started.

​“Without the cutt slam, I probably wouldn’t have made the effort to catch all the species,” Finch says. “I’m glad that I did it, but I just have a little passenger vehicle and I certainly pushed it beyond its limits. Even blew a tire. If you arrive at a stream with cutts and know a little about fishing, it’s not hard to catch them. But you have to get to those places. The places where they’re doing well are usually pretty remote.”

Utah Cutthroat Trout
Photo: Kris Millgate

​Remote isn’t keeping fishers away. Prettyman rattles off stats while I’m spooning soup. More than 600 anglers registered. More than 100 slams completed. Fishers from all over the country are slamming in Utah with California casters showing the most interest second only to Utah residents. Anglers from four out of five of Utah’s neighboring states are in.

​“Who’s the odd man out?” I ask. “Idaho,” he says. I spit soup in surprise. Utah plays in Idaho. I see license plates from my native state make a run north through my home state religiously on weekends. Guess Idaho doesn’t return the favor. With a wealth of natural resources in our backyard and fewer people, I can’t blame my fellow Idahoans for shunning Utah’s slam, but not one? Really?

​Then Prettyman tells me the slam is possible in one day. That does it. Six months after the launch of the Utah Cutthroat Slam, the program finally has its first Idaho angler. Me. I registered after lunch. Some time in the next year, I’ll be leaving my home water in Idaho for my native water in Utah. I’ll fish for four types of cutthroat trout all in their native range. But just for one day. Idaho won’t let me cross the border with rod in hand for longer than that.