Cutthroat Chronicles: Chasing Brookies

The day started as so many do – early, with a bevy of caffeinated beverages and greasy gas station food.

Mysis Mike, my buddy Bridger, and myself were on the road in search of brookies. With the snow finally melted and the roads clear enough, the high country sang a siren’s song. So we went.

In addition to brookies, the lake holds one of the healthiest populations of wild cutthroat I’ve ever seen. The cold inlet springs were stuffed to the brim with bright red Bonneville cutts, and the three of us watched the annual spring trout dance for a while. Watching fish spawn is always a magical sight, a treat I look forward to each spring and fall.

When we’d had our fill of staring at 20+ inch cutthroat, we hopped in our float tubes and began the kick around the lake. Bridger threw streamers while Mike and I fished chironomid rigs. The sun climbed higher in a cobalt sky, and hours passed before Mike bellowed, “Fish on!”

Fly fisher holding trout

I’d yet to catch anything, and Bridger smelled like skunk as well. The clear waters of the lake lent us a great view of cutthroat swimming beneath us, but I never once glimpsed the white-tipped fins of the brookies we’d gone to chase.

A few more hours passed. I finally hooked and landed a nice cutthroat, which was quickly released. We decided it was time to leave that lake – the closest to a sure thing for big brookies that I’m aware of in this part of Utah – and head to a stream not much higher up the mountain.

Fly fisher with trout

I’d counted on runoff being mostly finished at 10,000 feet. I was wrong. The stream resembled chocolate milk, and with daylight fading fast we had scant options left if we were going to find the brookies we were looking for.

I’d dragged Mike and Bridger to that particular mountain based on a whisper and a story from a few fellow anglers. Seeing as the lakes, ponds, and streams I’d been told about were so far in the backcountry, I took two of the very few buddies I can implicitly trust with secret waters.

As evening neared, however, it seemed there was nothing to keep secret. The first pond hadn’t produced brookies, the streams were still high, and the other ponds were either lifeless or the fish far smarter than the three of us.

Eventually we had to admit defeat, though doing so took some serious willpower. It’s one thing to set out fishing, just happy to catch something and get out of the house. It’s another entirely to be told that monster, potentially state-record breaking brook trout exist, to know exactly where they’re supposed to be, and come away empty-handed. It’s like watching a 400-point bull elk on your trail cam all summer long, then getting to the tree stand on the opener of the archery hunt only to never glimpse the brute.

The cutthroat I caught was a great fish, and I love those trout. This is the Cutthroat Chronicles, after all. But variety is the spice of life, and I’ve yet to meet a brookie I don’t like. Especially the big ones.

Spencer Durrant is a fly fishing writer and novelist from Utah. His debut novel, Learning to Fly, is due out in late summer 2016 from GenZ Publishing. Spencer also authors columns for the Standard-Examiner,, Hatch Magazine, On the Fly Magazine, and the Orvis Fly Fishing Blog, and is the marketing director for Trout Life. Connect with him on Twitter or Instagram @Spencer_Durrant, or on Facebook at