Press "Enter" to skip to content

Cutthroat and Campfire Tales, by John H. Monnett

Review by Hal Walter

Wildlife – December 2001 – Colorado Central Magazine

Cutthroat and Campfire Tales – The Fly-Fishing Heritage of the West
by John H. Monnett
Published in 2001 by University Press of Colorado
ISBN 0-87081-569-5

CUTTHROAT AND CAMPFIRE TALES: The Fly-Fishing Heritage of the West is a memorable collection of personal essays interspersed with historical background that may be of interest to Central Coloradans concerned with the de-evolution of the native cutthroat trout, or in fly-fishing in general.

Throughout the 16 essays author John H. Monnett displays his passion for the sport of fly-fishing through his personal experiences on the lakes and streams of the west. Between these lines, he also gives an accurate and poignant portrayal of the persecution of native trout in the West.

Central Colorado is a vortex of sorts for several subspecies of the original native trout. Of the 14 separate subspecies of cutthroats, four originally appeared in this region. Today one of these subspecies, the yellowfin which was found in Twin Lakes near Leadville, is extinct.

Another, the Greenback which flourished in the Arkansas River, is on the threatened list. And two other pure strains, the Rio Grande and Colorado River cuts, are virtually non-existent in the area.

In their place swim exotic transplants such as rainbow, German brown and brook trout, which are not really trout but char. In our high lakes and streams are hybrid cutthroats that humans have “genetically engineered” through interbreeding of other non-native cutthroat subspecies.

Monnett’s essays tell the story of how the native cutthroat subspecies which abounded when the first explorers arrived were summarily eradicated from the waters through commercial fishing, overzealous sport fishing, habitat destruction, and finally transplantation by exotics.

While I found myself flipping my tail at some of the stories like a finicky high-lake cutthroat — “The Finest Rod in Colorado Territory” comes to mind — Monnett also presented enough gritty anecdotes from the chronicles of Western fly-fishing history, long before the invention of the graphite fly rod or Gore-Tex waders, to keep me rising to the bait.

The historian sums it all up with an epilogue that encourages us to learn from our past when it comes to making decisions that will affect fisheries and the sport of fly-fishing for generations to come. For that message alone I’d encourage anyone who cares about trout or trout fishing to give this book a read.

— Hal Walter

For those interested in the current state of cutthroat restoration in the Upper Gunnison Basin, Kevin D. Alexander of the Colorado Division of Wildlife made a witty and informative presentation at the 2001 Headwaters Conference at Western State College. It’s available on-line at