Western Native Trout

If you’re reading this, I’m going to assume that you’re a fan of fly fishing and if you’re a fan of fly fishing you’re probably a fan of protecting our natural resources where we participate in our beloved sport.   Western Native Trout Initiative is devoted to just this, protecting, repairing and recovering native trout and char habitat across 12 western states.  Check them out here: https://westernnativetrout.org/.  They are doing fantastic work!


The Starring Cast and Locations (Photo courtesy of Western Native Trout Challenge)

The Western Native Trout Initiative decided to put on a challenge to celebrate these magnificent fish in their native habitat.  There are 12 participating states with a cast of twenty native trout and char.  There are three levels of completion, Expert Caster, Advanced Caster and Master Caster.  To qualify for the first, level Expert Caster the angler must catch six species across four different states.


I’m ready for my close up, Mr. Demille. (Inland Red Band Rainbow)

I first found out about this at a Golden State Fly Casters meeting, when one of our conservation guru’s Dale Dalrymple explained the challenge and that the first 100 completers get recognized with a “First 100” hat.  While Dale explained it, I thought, this is easy, I’ve easily caught six species of trout in more than four states.  I’ll log on, get my hat and move on.  So after the meeting, I logged onto the interwebs, typed https://westernnativetroutchallenge.org/ into the web browser, register, paid my $25 and got ready to send in my photos of brown, rainbow and brook trout I’ve caught over the Southwest. 


Native Trout Food

It was at this point, that I realized that it was much, much more than just catching any trout or char in multiple states.  It was very specific trout in very specific watersheds and all the fish had to be caught AFTER the start of the program which was May, 2019.  I was feeling a bit deflated, as this wasn’t going to be as easy as I had initially thought. I took a deep breath, and looked further into the challenge.  Going through the list of species, I had two qualifying species in two different states, a Bonneville cutthroat in Idaho and an inland Redband from Oregon.  It was strange that I didn’t have one in my home state of California, but it was a solid start.  One third of the way completed.    


Lure of the West – Native Trout and Char!!  (Photo courtesy of Western Native Trout Challenge)

Fish #1 – Bonneville Cutthroat – Idaho May 2019

This fish was the last fish of the 2019 Fly Fishing Team USA Regional event in Idaho.  My final session was on the Bear River and it was an epic one with 17 fish landed (a few more that didn’t quite make the net, but let’s not talk about those) in two hours, and this fish was hooked right as the final buzzer sounded and landed a minute later.  It was the fish that handed me the final session win over a bunch of extremely talented anglers, and since time had run out, I had my controller snap a quick picture before sending it back home. 


Session winning fish – Bonneville Cutthroat

Fish #2 – Inland Redband – Oregon May 2019

Right after I got home from the Idaho competition, I got a call from a friend that their company was putting on fly fishing trip to Oregon with Wild Times Guides.  I immediately jumped at the opportunity and headed north to Oregon. The access to the river was rough, with about a 600 vertical foot canyon we had to hike into and out of.  But the reward was a bunch of beautiful, thick Inland Redband trout, and some fantastic trip with some great anglers and people.  These hard fighting fish are worthy of effort to reach them!


Pretty easy to see why they are called “Red Band” Rainbows

As 2019 began to close (and all of us were taking “Normal” for granted), I was able to get my first California Species.  A Kern River Rainbow.


California Fish Species and Range.  For more information visit https://westernnativetroutchallenge.org

Fish #3 – Kern River Rainbow - California October 2019

I was asked to speak and present at the Backcountry Hunters and Anglers event in Kern by friend and public land advocate Justin Bubenik.  I got a chance to explain European Nymphing to a bunch of people and then do an on the water clinic with those in attendance.  After the clinic I got some time to fish and was able to catch this nice little Kern River Rainbow.  I met a bunch of great people at the event, had a blast educating and volunteering and ticked off a third species!


Probably the easiest fish to start the challenge off with for Southern California Residents – The Kern River Rainbow

Due to international travel plans (new Zealand and UK), the native trout challenge took a back seat.  With the onset of COVID-19, all my international travel plans got cancelled and we were left wondering what (or even if) fishing adventures 2020 would hold.   Lesley and I looked at other local areas that we could fish while maintaining social distancing.  Two of the people I got to fish with at the Backcountry Hunters and Anglers event invited Lesley and I on a 4x4 fishing adventure in the southern sierras. 


Hitting the 4x4 Trails in search of Golden Trout

Fish #4 - California Golden Trout – California June 2020

Lesley and I packed up the Ford F-150 and headed into the Southern Sierra wilderness with Aaron, Matt and Nick.  Each of brought our own OHV (Off-road, High-clearance Vehicle) to maintain social distancing and started down the trail.  Trail was about 9 miles long and at times having the high clearance of the Ford F-150 was key.  My truck running boards bear a few scars from some rocks, but I hear scars are cool, so it’s all good.  We reached the meadow, set up our tents, rigged up the rods and hit the river.  We caught a sierra slam with Rainbows, browns and of course golden trout.  It was a great weekend away from the chaos of the real world. 


California Golden Trout – Possibly the best dressed Trout at the ball

Being so close to finalizing the Expert Caster and needing to use or lose my paid time off, Lesley and I planned a road trip across the southwest.  First stop was Arizona to visit the parental units.  We were able to get a little fishing in Prescott and got a nice carp and a little bluegill, both coming on a black pine squirrel leech.  The trip was off to a good start!  Next it was off to check fish five off the list. 


Chasing Native Trout takes you to some great remote places.  BLM camping while looking for Apache Trout.  Lesley would make a great tent model!

Fish #5 – Apache Trout – Arizona July 2020

Finding where these fish are located in the state is pretty easy, as the Western Native Trout Challenge gives you the areas of the fishes historic watershed and ranges.  The Apache trout’s native watershed is kind of out of the way, so we headed out of Prescott early and to the river.  Within a few casts, we got into some Apache trout and just like that, I was one fish away from being a completer of the Expert Caster challenge.  


AZ’s Native Trout – The Apache

After some more amazing fishing in Colorado and the Green River in Utah, the final fish would come at the end of the trip as we headed into the mountains of Utah, fishing the small backcountry streams.  The streams were tiny, maybe 7 feet wide and ranging in depth from 6 inches to no more than a couple feet deep.  We had the opportunity to fish with some of our Utah friends JC and his fiancé Kiley and our buddy Spencer. 


It’s more than just about the Trout, The Journey and the people that help you accomplish your goals make the journey that much better. The Utah Gang and Dave’s Epic COVID-19 Beard

Fish #6 - Colorado Cutthroat – Utah July 2020

I casted into a run with a hopper and size 18 soft hackle nymph.  As the hopper dropper drifted down a short run, I saw an underwater flash, followed by the hopper being pulled under.  With a downstream strike, the final fish of the challenge was on my line and it was beast for the size of the water.  My 6x tippet (JC recommended 4x as he knew their were big fish, but I didn’t take his sage advice) small fly, 2 weight rod  and the snaggy stream had my heart racing.  After what seemed like forever, I ticked off species number 6, this beautiful Colorado cutthroat. 


Colorado Cutthroat Final Fish for the Expert Caster Challenge.

After the trip, I came home to over a thousand work emails and a long list of emergencies, so it took me about a month before I caught up enough to compile the photos and locations and submitted my application for Expert Caster.  I was expecting it to take months to get the catches certified, but to my surprise there was a package awaiting me, complete with my Certificate and Western Native Trout Challenge hat, with the First 100 completers insignia within a couple of weeks after submitting.   


First 100 Insignia on the completers Hat, You’ll definitely be seeing me wearing this Hat around town and on the Streams!

What I thought was going to be this quick and easy challenge turned out to be a lot more work.  The journey took me to fantastic places, got to spend time with great people sharing the wonders of our natural environment and meeting some new trout species far exceeded the initial $25 investment. In addition to catching trout, JC gave us coordinates for a top secret spot that held face sized Apple Fritters.  When you get intel that good, you can’t turn it down!


Look at the Size of that Apple Fritter!!!!

Completing the first tier of the challenge has me motivated to complete the next two tiers over the coming years.  Its awesome knowing that foundations like the Western Native Trout Initiative are doing the phenomenal work of preserving and enhancing these resources for future generations.  I would highly encourage you to sing up and complete the challenge.  You’ll be a richer angler for the experiences you’ll find yourself on! 


The beautiful certificate for completing the Expert Caster Tier.  This will be framed and hung on the wall.  Looking forward to putting the Advanced Caster and Master Caster Certificates next to it!

By Dave Smith

Dave Smith Fly Fishing

Ca Licensed Fly Fishing Guide

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