We hit the road at 5:30 am bound for the Alvord stream and for being late August we were amazed at how low the temperature was as we drove across the Fort Rock Basin where it bottomed out at a chilly 22 degrees. The drive was a straight shot to Lakeview to refuel before heading out into the desert. Last year I had caught several Warner Lakes redbands, but none of them had any size to them so I had made plans to fish another small stream along the way to the Alvord Creek. However what was supposed to be a fairly main road on the map ended up being a 4wd track at best and I had to take the blow of scratching the Warner redbands from the trip due to being defeated by a road. However this road hadn't finished dealing it's punches apparently, and about 10 minutes after reaching the highway one of my rear tires blew out, an apparent victim of a sharp rock on the road. Ironically this is the first blown tire that I have had after several years of driving on rough roads and I had put new tires on my car no more than three weeks ago in preparation for this trip.
After quickly replacing the flat tire, we hit the road again for the creek. However upon arriving at the turn off to the creek the road turned about as rough as the one that I provided us with a flat and without another spare there was no way that we were going to try to drive in. This meant that if I wanted to try to get some fish from the creek I was going to have to hike in.
I wasn't quite sure how far it was go to be to get into where the creek would become fishable, but I strapped on my hiking boots and hit the trail at around 11:00am. From looking at a topo map I knew that there was a high ridge that dropped into the headwaters of another creek and than a pass before I would reach the headwaters of the creek. The first ridge was a real butt kicker, with the summit being about 1,500ft above where I started. However the scene from the top was amazing giving me a panoramic view across the Catlow Valley and to the Steens Mountains.
Looking out from the top of the first ridge toward the pass into the drainage holding these rare trout
I worked my way down the road into the extreme headwaters of a small creek where there was a small guard station built back against the hills. This was a beautiful little area with high desert meadows and a few Aspen groves scattered throughout the valley. I took a quick break just beyond this in an aspen grove along the creek, before tackling the pass.
It was a nice walk down the hill beginning in high desert sage brush and changing to a grove of aspens once I ran into the creek. The road followed the headwaters of the creek as it curved down the slopes of Warner Peak, but the creek was way to small too hold fish and it was evident that I would have to follow it till it added a few tributaries to its flow. Once the road emerged from the side of the mountain I got a view across the valley and could see that several miles out the creek traveled through a flat valley and picked up several tributaries. It was a long distance but hopefully I would find what I came for there.
I arrived at the creek at around 2:45pm and had some lunch, than rigged up my 2wt with my favorite set up for native trout, a royal pmx and black copper john dropper. The creek was about a foot wide and three inches deep in most places and unfortunately was still too small and shallow to hold any fish, so I walked downstream another 1/4 mile where I stopped to watch a herd of pronghorns cross the valley. It was here that I finally found some holding water and began to try to locate some fish. I finally found a fish where the creek rounded a corner and dredged out a small pool. As soon as I saw the trout I knew that I had something unusual, as I have caught most of the varieties of trout on the west coast and had never seen a fish like this one. It had red marks of cutthroat, with a deep rose band and along its mid section and rosy gill plates. Beyond the caudal peduncle, its spots were concentrated above the lateral line and it was olive on the back transitioning to a brassy yellow color.
I continued to fish my way downstream, finding decent holding water every time the creek would round a bend. In fact each time that the creek hit a corner with a decent amount of flow, I could expect to hook up, catch or spook a trout. The creek was so small though, that my target to land my fly in was generally about the size of a 6" circle which could be especially problematic when the wind kicked up led to me spooking my fair share of fish. I caught a fair number of fish, most of which resembled Alvords, others appearing more like Lahontan cutthroat and some appearing like a cross between the two.
After working down the creek a ways and catching a fair few trout I decided that it was getting close to time to pull the plug on things if I didn't want to be hiking in the dark so I turned around and worked my way back upstream. Not too far from where I caught my first fish I saw a large trout holding in a pool that I had either spooked or missed on the way down, so I worked my way into position for a good cast. I made my cast and my fly landed just where it needed to be, as the fish confidently rose to take my dry fly. My line tightened and the fish was on with nowhere to go in his little pool. I landed the fish which measured 15" against my net and accurately matched the description of the long lost Alvord cutthroat. It was amazing that a fish this size could manage to survive among such meager surroundings.
The fish I was looking for a large 15" cutthroat with the outward appearance of an Alvord Cutthroat
After catching the big fish I managed to hook one more smaller one, which shook my fly loose. Once past this pool though, the creek ran into the bushes and there wasn't any good holding water so I began working my way back toward where I came from. To say the least the walk back out was torture.
Looking toward Warner Peak from the creek on the way out
The sun was at its hottest point at this time and the first few miles left me completely exposed to its burning rays. Although reaching the base of the pass meant that it was time to start on the long uphill trek, the shade of the trees that grew there also meant relief from the sun.
A buck just before reaching the end of the road.
All told the hike ended up being an 20 mile round trip with a few thousand feet of elevation gain, but with the fish that I caught it was well worth it. It remains unclear how genetically pure these fish are, but Behnke has suggested that even if they aren't pure Alvords it may be possible to recreate the Alvord phenotype or genotype from these fish.