Thursday, June 01, 2006

The Southern Slam That Wasn't

I spent the Memorial Day weekend in the southwest going after what I like to think of as the Southern Slam: catching the Apache Trout and the Rio Grande Cutt. (The true Southern Slam would include the Gila trout which is pretty much off limits, although a few opportunities may exist). My plan was to fly into Phoenix, rent an SUV and drive to the Fort Apache Indian Reservation to fish for Apache Trout. From there I would drive to Albuquerque and make a left up into the Sante Fe National Forest and get the cutt.

Things started out bad. My Southwest flight was grounded and we had to switch planes and gates and got out much later than the 2:00 departure I was hoping for. This put me into Phoenix late for the long long drive to the reservation. By the time I got the tribal permit and got to my campground I was pitching a tent at 3:30 AM. The sun was beeming by 5:30 AM and I woke up sweating in my ziperless sleeping bag. I made a quick cup of java, scarfed down a power bar and headed to a creek that was purported to harbor a naturally reproducing population of Apache Trout.

Most of the creeks with native and wild Apache trout are closed above "55" and only open to barbless catch and release angling below the road and below the barriers. The creeks were much much lower that I had anticipated, but I did manage to find some water. This is supposed to be Apache water:

Striking out here I moved on to another spot supposed to hold apache trout, the water looked pretty good:

Unfortunately I caught only these:

I fished my as$ off that day from dawn to dusk chasing the spookiest fish in the skinniest of water in some of the roughest country and in the hottest weather I had ever fished in and came up with only Salmo Trutta (the cancer of native trout streams).

In retrpospect I could have fished a planted lake or the north fork of the white and most likely caught my quarry but I opted to spend my time in the rough country chasing wild fish. Suffice to say no Apache made it to the net, although I *think* I had one on for a brief moment (I saw the belly flash gold).

Anyway, from my defeat on the reservation I headed on to the long long drive to the Sante Fe national forest. I pitched my tent Saturday night at about 2AM. My first target was to be American Creek and if that didn't work the Upper Las Vacas above a barrier. Both of these ditches were dry so I moved downstream, but only caught some sucker-type fish.

Getting worried I was facing a double skunking I moved to another stream that was supposed to contain natives. On my way this happened:

So now I have no spare and miles of dirt to cover. Should I drive deeper into the forest? Is it too risky? I went.

I got to the Rio Cebello and started fishing above the hatchery and once again caught Trucha Mojado. I hate the brown.

Thankfully, I ran into a game and fish employee and asked where I might find some native fish. He told me that I had to hike about 2 miles further up stream where there would be a barrier, above which would be pure wild fish. Unfortunately by this time it was already 5:00, I would have to move quickly to get there with any time to fish. I went for it and got there about 6:00. This is the spot:

And a few miles up, this pond is the barrier:

I fished hard up here, but the water above the pond was skinny and the fish were few and far between so I opted to try the pond. When I got to a good spot with some casting room I looked down and found a tackle box on the ground full of traditional hardware and one fly with a propeller on it! I tried my streamers first and got no strikes. I switched to the propeller fly thinking the additional action might move a fish. I was wrong. Finally I hung some nymphs under an indicator. I fished until dark and got absolutely zero strikes. I was forced to hike out in the dark with my tail between my legs....

It looks like I'll have to take another trip out to complete my southern slam, although maybe I'll wait for them to delist the Gila.


  1. Dave,

    Excellent blog. I plan to attempt a Cutt Slam, third week in July. I've previously taken Yellowstone and Smake River fine spotted Cutts in streams south of Jackson and north in YNP. The unknowns for me are Bonnevilles and Colorado River Cutts in their native range.

    Would you be willing to offer advice?



  2. How did you not catch fish on the Rio Cebolla? They are everywhere, I have 100 fish days nearly every time. You have to hike about 3 miles past the pond to catch the cutts. They gorge themselves on everything with reckless abandon.


  3. Seth, you are breaking my heart. I assume you mean 3 miles past the barrier pond? In which case I did not hike far enough. My problem was Rio Cebolla was a back up plan. I tried to catch them in a few other streams first and then found Rio Cebolla and didn't start hiking until late in the afternoon. I made it only as far as the barrier pond and a few hundred yards past.

    Dave B