A Magical Day Chasing the Utah Grand Slam

Written by: Spencer Higa

Falcon's Ledge Pin

Here’s the prize for an angler lucky enough to achieve the Utah Grand Slam.

photo by Spencer Higa

Fly fishermen have different expectations when they set out to the river. Some like to catch lots of fish, while others just want to catch big fish. Here on the southern slope of the Uinta Mountains, a lot of anglers set out aiming to get a “grand slam,” which is to catch four different species of trout—brown, rainbow, cutthroat and brook—in a single day. Even better if they all come from a single river. I had the rare experience this summer of witnessing a unique double grand slam while guiding Travis and Todd, from San Diego, California.

When booking their trip, they expressed interest in fishing small streams and that they would like to do a little hiking to get to these streams. I told them that we could do that, no problem. I decided long before they arrived that we would fish the Yellowstone River—no, not that Yellowstone River—which flows from high in the Uinta Mountains toward the Green River and then into the Colorado. The upper stretch of the Yellowstone is a beautiful freestone stream with good numbers of trout. Although not big in size, these fish are feisty and at times will explode on any dry fly you drift to them.

Falcon's Ledge Brown Trout

A beautiful Uinta brown, the toughest species to catch on the way to a Grand Slam.

photo by Spencer Higa

When they arrived late in August, the river was in great condition, and the flows were perfect. I had told them the game plan the night before: we would hike to an area that I liked, and there would be a possibility of catching a grand slam. Their eyes got big as I explained that few people catch a grand slam because it’s hard to find all species at such high elevations, particularly the elusive brown trout. It was clear that they were excited by the challenge of doing what so few had done that summer.

As morning came, we sat and had a nice warm breakfast, but I could see that Travis and Todd were not interested in the spread of hot food. They wanted to get out the door as soon as possible. We got the rods ready, lunches and waders packed, and headed out the door. All we talked about during the thirty-minute drive was the grand slam. I told them that the brown trout would be our biggest challenge. I also told them that they would be rewarded with a grand slam pin if they caught all four species of trout. I knew of a few places that we were able to catch them, but it was going to be tough. They were up for the challenge.

Falcon's Ledge Rainbow

Next up: rainbow!

photo by Spencer Higa

As we pulled down to the river, their eyes lit up, and I could hear the excitement in their voices when they asked if we were going upstream or downstream. We wadered up and got each rod rigged with a yellow Stimulator, a great fly for these small streams. We began our little hike downstream to an area that I like to fish with more than one client because it’s a big enough stretch of water where I could have both of them fish together. We finally made it down to my favorite stretch when Travis, out of breath from the altitude, asked if we could hike down farther. I said, “Sure, no problem”. We waited a minute for them to catch their breathe before we resumed our hike downstream. After around ten minutes of hiking I rounded a bend and waited for Travis and Todd to catch up. I asked, “How’s this?” They looked at each other and said, “No, let’s keep going.” I nodded and kept going. We got to a bend in the river that featured a downed Christmas tree from the fierce winds we had had in the spring, which formed a nice pool below it. They looked at me and out of breathe said, “This is it”.

Todd was the first to get his fly off of his hook keeper. He began to cast just below the tree, expecting something to happen. It did. A nice trout came up and devoured his Stimulator. Todd set the hook like a pro, and the fish immediately headed for the downed tree. I told him to keep pressure on the fish to keep him from tangling us in the tree. Todd dipped his rod to the side, and began applying side pressure and got this fish to come back downstream and right into my net. I looked and couldn’t believe it. It was a brown trout, the most difficult fish to catch on this stream. We celebrated with a high five, got a picture, and released it back to the tree. It all happened so fast that Travis hadn’t even made his first cast. I now felt the pressure to put Travis in a position to catch a brown.

Falcon's Ledge Brook Trout

That’s a fine brook trout anywhere.

photo by Spencer Higa

Travis saw a nice cutbank that he wanted to try. I rigged him up with a dropper because I knew we needed to show the fish something yummy if they weren’t interested in the dry fly. On his second cast, his Stimulator disappeared, which meant one of two things: he was hung up on the bottom or it was a fish. I yelled “Set!” and as he lifted the rod, it began to bounce with life. I walked over to net the fish, and I realized that it was a brown. I couldn’t believe it. I suddenly felt scared because I didn’t want to lose this fish. After two stabs at the brown, I finally got him to the net. We cheered and bumped knuckles knowing that the hardest part of the day was over. Already this day was like no other I had ever had.

Todd’s next fish to the net was a 12-inch rainbow, the next an 8-inch brook trout, and the fourth was a beautiful 14-inch cutthroat. Yes, Todd caught his grand slam on his first four fish—something that in 17 years of guiding I’d never witnessed. We both sat and took it all in as Todd released the cutthroat.

Falcon's Ledge Cutthroat

Not the biggest cutthroat, but enough to complete the Utah Grand Slam.

photo by Spencer Higa

Just when I thought it couldn’t get any better, I looked over, and Travis had a fish on. I ran over netted it, and it was a little brook trout. His next fish was a cutthroat, and the next a nice 14-inch rainbow. Travis had also caught his grand slam on his first four fish. I looked around thinking someone was playing a joke on me, but there was not a soul around, just pine trees and a gorgeous trout stream.

The rest of the day was amazing: they each landed 20+ fish as we worked our way back to the car. Out of those fish we landed, not one of them was a brown. I was convinced that the fish gods were looking down on us that day, and they made sure Travis and Todd had a memorable day trout fishing on Utah’s Yellowstone River.

Spencer Higa is the Head Guide at Falcon’s Ledge, in Altamont, Utah.

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