“Trout slam” programs aren’t new these days. There’s the Wyoming Cutt-Slam, and also the Utah Cutthroat Trout Slam, and the well-known California Heritage Trout Challenge. OK fine – even Nevada has their own Native Fish Slam too. But when it comes fo fishing, bigger is better! That’s where the Western Native Trout Challenge comes in as the heavy weight, combining the best of all the western trout slam programs. Seriously , what other trout slam program offers the challenge to catch up to 18 species of native trout across 12 states from Alaska to Arizona?
The Western Native Trout Challenge is a multi-state trout slam hosted by our friends at the Western Native Trout Initiative (WNTI). WNTI is part of the bigger National Fish Habitat Partnership program, working across 12 Western states to conserve native trout. They work hard to fund conservation efforts that include things like habitat restoration, barrier removals, watershed assessment, fish population surveys and native trout education and outreach.
What is it?
Like other “trout slam” programs, the goal is to travel around to and see if you can catch a variety of native trout in their native habitat. You can earn rewards like certificate, hats and medallions for completing the challenge. But for most anglers, it’s about bragging rights! This is where the Western Native Trout Challenge sets itself apart: the number of trout species and states involved is on a much bigger level. There are three different levels of difficulty, so you can choose what level of challenge you are up for. You can start with the ‘Expert’ level catching 6 trout species across 4 states, all the way to the highest “Master” level with a whopping 18 species (in 12 states)!
Why it’s awesome:
By taking on the Challenge, you can support native trout conservation. Of the $25 registration, $23 goes directly back into funding trout habitat restoration projects. Proceeds from the first year of the Challenge already went into helping fund habitat improvement for an important population of Westslope Cutthroat Trout in Montana’s Cottonwood Creek fish passage project.
I spoke with Dan Kenney of Orofino and Mathew Mayfield of Salmon about their experiences to get a better sense of what the Challenge is all about. Both are avid anglers from Idaho that have already finished at least one level of the Challenge, and they also had some good advice for those of us considering taking it on.
There are several “trout slams” out there these days. Why did you want to complete the Western Native Trout Challenge?
Matthew: I’ve fished a little my whole life, but started fly fishing maybe 8 or 10 years ago. I was able to take a sabbatical from work and had a 3-month road trip planned around the U.S. and Canada, so it seemed like a great opportunity to complete a multi-state challenge.
Dan: I’ve completed four state-level challenges starting with the Wyoming Cutt Slam about 20 years ago, and I also have a couple of personal versions of challenges going, so I was very pleased when the WNTI managed to put the Native Trout Challenge together. This sort of thing is my main hobby, so it’s not as if I could ignore it even if I wanted to.
Looking back on all the places you visited and species you caught, what was your most memorable experience?
Mathew: Probably a Rio Grande cutthroat trout in northern New Mexico. I spent the whole morning fishing my way up a tiny stream that I thought presented the best opportunity to catch an Rio Grande, but I didn’t see, much less catch anything. I was pretty deflated and moved on to a larger mainstem stream where I caught a few good-sized brook trout. I was fishing my way back to the truck on a nicely restored section of stream when a fish took my dry fly, and on landing it I was ecstatic to find it was a cutthroat.
Dan: My motivation in fishing is primarily in getting to see different fish and beautiful places, rather than catching many or big fish (which is fortunate, as I am not a very-skilled angler). With that in mind, I think that my most memorable experience was backpacking into a Wilderness Area in California with my fishing buddy Steve and managing to catch a Paiute cutthroat trout on my last cast at the base of a waterfall – the upper few feet of the Paiute’s tiny native range – and at a time when there were very few Paiutes in that reach because of hybridization.
If you had one piece of advice for someone who is thinking about attempting the Challenge, what would it be?
Matthew: If you’ve got the opportunity to travel and fish, go for it, and lean heavily on the great maps WNTI provides to put yourself in the best position to succeed.
Dan: Do your research, both regarding the fish and the logistics of getting there. There’s a lot of general information out there about fishing, and for the more abundant and well-distributed species (for any one state) it’s pretty easy to find the right place to fish… For the less-abundant or more-remote species for any one state – especially if you have time constraints – it is to an angler’s benefit to dig deeply and via several sources…You also don’t want to travel a long way to find out that a key road or trail is closed. This sort of information is often available on-line, but, especially once you’ve narrowed down your most likely fishing spots to a few that work for you logistically, don’t be shy in calling the state’s fish and game agency or the Forest Service to talk to the local biologists. They often have up-to-date information on both fish and on access that can save you grief or put you onto a really special place.
Tackling the Challenge is all about making an adventure that is all your own. You’ll get to experience some of the best wild places throughout the West while you try to catch native trout in their original habitats. Along the way, you’ll learn a lot about native trout, where they live, and some of the many challenges they are facing these days. If you are lucky, you might even find a new secret spot.