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Catching the Snake River’s Elusive Cutthroat Trout

Snake River Cutthroat Trout

Selective feeders with the ability to fight, cutthroat trout are a prized native fish population in Jackson Hole’s Snake River. Here’s how to wrangle one during your next fishing trip.


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f you’re fishing in Jackson Hole, you’re likely after the cutthroat trout. But this isn’t just any old fish. Nicknamed “cutties” for their distinct red-colored slash beneath their jawline, they have been endangered throughout the state of Wyoming…with the exception of Snake River. Flowing through the valley of Jackson Hole and alongside the Tetons, the Snake is one of the few places where native cutthroat trout still thrive in high enough numbers that allow them to be fished. So if planning a trip to the main stem of the Snake in spring or fall (when cutthroats are their biggest), here’s what you need to know about this elusive fish as told by Scott Smith, a guide with Grand Teton Fly Fishing.

About Cutthroat Trout & Their Habitat

Thanks to the large mountain range nearby, there is always plenty of cold, clean water running through the Snake River, even during the dry season of June through September. According to Smith, that is the ideal environment for the cutties’ favorite meal: stoneflies. And in the Grand Teton National Park sections of the river, some spreads create offshoots or smaller channels that are the main habitat for the cutthroats in the summer. Cutties flourish away from the imposing main river currents.

The Snake RiverHow to Spot a “Cuttie”

The mountainous western United States has been the home of the native cutthroat trout since before the dawn of the last ice age, about 15,000 years ago. While there are many subspecies and variations of cutthroat, each is marked by the same red colored slash along their lower jawline, a sure way to identify them in the rushing mountain waters.

How to Hook a Cutthroat Trout

Smith opts for fly tackle and dry fly barbless hooks to avoid damaging the native trout. Once you’ve seen the take, dry flies allow for a simple lift to draw the line tight and secure the hook. He also suggests keeping the fish wet through the release process – most area regulations include a ‘catch and release’ policy on these once scarce species of fish.

fly fishing fliesFacts of Flies

Make sure you are setting your Jackson Hole fishing excursion up for success by using the right equipment. Spring and early summer call for larger flies; in the fall, as the river’s flow slows, make the switch to a smaller variety. Fly movement is a big factor as well: The cutthroat reacts to movement, so moving the flies and imitating a natural motion can help you catch a prize fish. Finally, color is key. According to Scott, red and purple flies are most attractive to the cutties to elicit an aggressive strike.

Find Your Guide

If you fall on the novice end of the spectrum, it might be helpful to have a guide to set out on your “cuttie” adventures with. Grand Teton Fly Fishing offers Guided Fly Fishing, short- and full-day excursions. You can wade fish but they recommend boat fishing for comfort and safety.

Hotel Terra // Teton Mountain Lodge

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