This Colorado River cutthroat, from southern Utah, shows darkish, wealthy colours.
Photograph by Mike Hadley

Thought of one of many extra lovely trout in North America, the Colorado River cutthroat trout (Oncorhyncus clarkii pleuriticus) as soon as inhabited the high-elevation streams and lakes of the Inexperienced and Colorado River basins in components of 5 states. As was the case with many cutthroat subspecies, nevertheless, the arrival of European settlers within the West led to huge declines in CRCT populations. The place the fish are nonetheless discovered, anglers prize CRCT for his or her willingness to eat flies, the great thing about their high-country habitat, and their spectacular colours. The cutthroat-slam packages of each Wyoming and Utah require anglers to land a Colorado River cutthroat to finish the gathering of native fish species. The CRCT can be one of many subspecies of cutthroats that make up the Wyoming Cutt-Slam, the Utah Cutthroat Slam, and the Western Native Trout Challenge.

Vary and Species Historical past

The Colorado River cutthroat is taken into account by most consultants to have advanced from the Yellowstone cutthroat based mostly on geographical isolation. The unique vary of the CRCT was an inverted U form, comprising the drainages of the Colorado and Snake River and included giant sections of Colorado, Wyoming, Utah, and New Mexico, together with a small sliver in northeastern Arizona. The native subspecies was at residence in high-country lakes and funky mountain streams, and lots of populations had been “fluvial,” which signifies that they traveled inside the river system as a part of their life historical past—dwelling in the principle river however heading up small tributaries and the headwaters of the principle stem to spawn.

The CRCT is native to components of Utah, Wyoming, Colorado, and New Mexico.
Map through westerntrout.org

Historic accounts talk about CRCT as giant as seven kilos inhabiting the bigger rivers of the Higher Colorado system, however the majority of those lacustrine and fluvial populations had been extirpated due to dams, overfishing, interbreeding, and habitat loss. Of their place are often-isolated resident populations in high-country streams, many above 8,000 toes above sea stage. An essential fluvial inhabitants survives within the Little Snake River drainage, the place the fish swim up into tributaries as quickly as runoff subsides. After spawning, these fish drop again right down to the principle river, the place they spend the remainder of the 12 months.

Like all members of the Oncorhyncus genus, CRCT are spring spawners, though low water temperatures at altitude can push spawning again as late a July. A few month and a half after the spawn, fry emerge from the gravel streambed and head for slow-moving water on the margins of streams. They’re opportunistic feeders, focusing totally on aquatic and terrestrial bugs, though bigger specimens will eat smaller fish. One of many causes that anglers prize cutthroats is that they typically eat in the course of the day, and CRCT aren’t any exception. The relative shortage of meals at excessive altitudes signifies that they aren’t all that picky, as effectively.

Like many subspecies that now inhabit geographically remoted waters, CRCT can fluctuate broadly in coloration and recognizing, and lake residents typically look completely different from stream fish.

Efforts to reintroduce CRCT to their native waters have been gaining in momentum
Photograph by Fred Hays


Relying on which supply you’re consulting, Colorado River Cutthroat trout now inhabit someplace between 11% and 16% of their authentic vary. Settlers to the area within the late 1800s discovered the fish to be a invaluable meals supply, which resulted in overfishing that decimated fish populations. To compound the issue, males changed the dwindling numbers of CRCT with different species, akin to brook, brown, and rainbow trout, which outcompeted the natives, driving the CRCT from a lot of its vary. Habitat loss and overgrazing continued the decline by the early 20th century. Within the Nineties, the USFWS thought of itemizing CRCT as “endangered,” however this is able to have created restrictive protections in states the place the species remained. To forestall itemizing, Colorado, Utah and Wyoming entered a three-state settlement to guide an aggressive reintroduction program.


The higher reaches of Hermosa Creek—north of Durango, Colorado—function a great case research of a CRCT restoration program. Within the early Nineties, as extra fisheries biologists and anglers grew to become targeted on bringing again native species, Colorado Parks and Wildlife used rotenone to take away all nonnative species above a waterfall on the creek’s east fork. They then stocked genetically pure CRCT in native habitat, with out the specter of competitors. One the venture is accomplished this 12 months, 23 miles of river may have been returned to the natives, and fish counts are sturdy—as much as 600 fish per mile. Comparable packages have been underway in Wyoming and Utah, as effectively, with Utah expending probably the most assets and restoring a whole bunch of stream miles. Though that is excellent news, the subspecies nonetheless inhabits lower than a fifth of its authentic vary.

The CRCT is at residence in lakes and rivers, however lack of habitat has decreased their vary.
Photograph by Aaron Smith

Techniques and Flies

As a result of they reside principally at excessive altitudes, the place the rising season is brief, CRCT typically don’t develop very giant, and a twelve incher is a trophy. In lower-lying rivers and lakes, nevertheless, the trout can develop to a number of kilos. Like all cutthroats, they feed on aquatic and terrestrial bugs and infrequently aren’t notably cautious or selective—which makes them a favourite of anglers. CRCT appear particularly keen on terrestrial patterns, maybe as a result of high-altitude streams typically lack plentiful meals sources. For those who’re heading out for CRCT, convey a field loaded with ants, beetle, and grasshoppers, in addition to conventional mayfly and caddisfly patterns. Normal nymphs—akin to Hare’s Ears, Pheasant Tails, and Copper Johns—will often get the job completed, as effectively.


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