Fly Fishing for Native Cutthroat Trout
Flat Creek, WY
By Bailey Brandon
Nashville, Tennessee is lucky to be surrounded by an abundance of fisheries. Whether you’re targeting bass on the Harpeth River or trout on the Caney Fork, one does not have to drive far to be out of the city and throwing line. If you’re willing to take a two to three-hour drive, the Holston and Watauga in Northeast Tennessee have some of the best trout fisheries on the East Coast. Oh, and don’t forget Western North Carolina and the Smokies.
That all being said, fishing out west, whether it be Colorado, Utah, Wyoming, Montana or even Alaska, is a very unique experience and one that can’t be compared to our local waters.
Flat Creek is small stream that roams through the heart of Jackson, Wyoming and the National Elk Refuge. This is a river that anglers from all over the world come to fish. The small, twenty-foot-wide, clear watered stream is much different than the snake river or any other nearby water. Only fishable during the summer and early fall, you can bet caddis and mayfly hatches will be going off throughout its open season.
Figure 1: Rob and Bailey plotting their plan of attack
On Flat Creek, you target a specific kind of fish, the Native Cutthroat Trout. While this small stream is heavily exposed, you’ll be lucky to set your eyes on one of these fish. They love to hang out in the undercuts of banks, not exposing themselves to the elements or anglers.
Figure 2: Bailey fishing on Flat Creek
8AM on August 1st was opening day for Flat Creek. A buddy and I pulled up to an access point of the Elk Refuge, where cars were parked as far as the eye could see with license plates from near and far. Many anglers showed up at sunrise as the local rangers opened the gates. While we also planned to show up at sunrise, the previous evening had gotten the best of us. A local biologist was collecting data from the anglers. Of the twenty to thirty anglers who had left the river by the time we had arrived, only a few were to report a catch and release. To give you an idea, that is pretty typical for this stretch of water. Flat creek is all about quality, not quantity. These fish are spooked easily and are very smart. To come out with one, two, or even three fish for the day is a huge success. After a few months of pressure, it only becomes more difficult.
As we approached the river through waist high grass, you could barely see the top of the water through all of the insects. As anyone who has ever seen a hatch go off would tell you, it is a beautiful sight. We closely inspected the water and tied on our flies which best imitated the current hatch. I did not make a single cast for the first twenty minutes until I saw a fish rise to the top of the water. Very subtly, bubbles and ripples break broke the surface of the water. One rise, two rises, and I knew immediately that a fish was coming out from the undercut for a morning meal. I threw my Pale Morning Dun (PMD) ever so lightly about five feet upstream of the rising trout and … bam! That sucker took my fly like a bat out of hell. Adrenaline and goose bumps took over my entire body. As I yelled to my friend who was upstream, he sprinted down to get in on the action. After about ten to fifteen minutes of fighting the Cutthroat, he finally gave up and with his head was above water.
Fishing Flat Creek is a one of a kind experience. The West is known for its big waters and big fish, but Flat Creek is a smaller water with big fish. It’s not a stretch where you throw hundreds of casts, but one where you closely inspect and patiently wait for that perfect moment to trick some of the most beautiful fish the West has to offer.
Figure 3: Bailey's first catch of the day
-Bailey is one of our Ambassadors who is passionate about spending his free time fishing, biking, hiking skiing and anything else that gets him outside. Follow his adventures on instagram @rbbrandon