Meet the First Angler to Complete the Advanced Level of the Western Native Trout Challenge

Steve MacMillan on a tiny stream in the California wilderness.
All photos by Steve MacMillan

The Western Native Trout Challenge, launched this year, requires anglers to fish across the West, catching and photographing native species. There are three levels of the challenge. The Expert level requires you to catch six species in fours states; Advanced level requires 12 species across eight states; and the Master level requires 18 species in 12 states. As part of Orvis’s support of the challenge, the first male, female, and youth anglers to complete each level will receive a Helios 3 fly rod.

Last month, we introduced you to the first angler to hit the Expert Level, Scott Lyons. Now, we have our first Advanced Caster, Steve MacMillan or Ely Nevada. Here’s Steve’s discussion of what it took to complete the second stage of the WNTC.

1. How long have you been fly fishing, and how did you get started?

I first dabbled in fly fishing back in 1986, when I worked as a seasonal park ranger with Nevada State Parks. Living and working in the mountains of northern Nevada gave me quite the appetite for wild and native trout. The affliction spread, and I have been chasing trout ever since, making those mountains my home. Those who know me say that I am on a different level when it comes to trout. I just tell them that I have been diagnosed with a chronic condition known as OCTD (Obsessive Compulsive Trout Disorder). I manage to keep the affliction under control by receiving regular doses of backcountry stream fishing and support from family and friends. 

Yellowstone cutthroat–Greys River, Wyoming.

2. What made you want to do the Western Native Trout Challenge?

In the last decade, I have made it my personal challenge to document all of America’s native trout, and in the process, I have participated in the Wyoming, Nevada, California, and Utah native-trout challenges. Naturally, the concept of WNTC, which covers many of the species I have researched, really grabbed my attention, and I literally started pursuing fish as soon as the program started. For me, the opportunity to travel through the West and visit some of my old friends again was a fairly easy decision.

Colorado River cutthroat–LaBarge Creek, Wyoming.

3. How did you plan your trips to catch the most species?

I made my trips as regional jaunts, in an effort to document as many species as possible. The quest began in Oregon with the redband trout, then I made my way south into northwestern Nevada for the Lahontan cutthroat. Next were Arizona and New Mexico for the Apache and Gila, followed by a trip into the Sierras for Kern River rainbow and Little Kern golden trout. The longest road excursion took me through Utah, Wyoming, Montana, and Idaho, where I added four more species during the 4th of July weekend. I filled out the first 12 species with another jaunt into the Sierras for the California golden. The easiest fish to document was the Bonneville cutthroat, in western Utah, as the fishery was a mere hour away from my residence in Ely, Nevada. Since documenting the first 12, fish I have continued adding to the list and have now caught fish in all the lower 48 states.

Little Kern River golden trout–Clicks Creek, California.

4. What was your favorite experience of the Challenge?

Anytime I am out in the wilds pursuing trout I cherish as special.  That being said, a few experiences really ring out. My visit to western Wyoming served up a native-trout angler’s dream, as I documented Colorado River, Bonneville, and Yellowstone cutts all in one afternoon. My visit to New Mexico also holds a special value because of how well the Gila trout have rebounded from the massive habitat losses in 2012. Documenting Quinn River-origin Lahontan cutts just a few miles from the Black Rock Desert in my home state of Nevada ranks right up there, as well.

Bull trout–Idaho.

5. advice would you give someone just starting out on the challenge?

Plan your trips well and utilize the resources available. All the fish I caught for the challenge were documented in waters listed in the WNTC resource links. If in doubt, contact the fisheries biologists in the state where you intend to fish. Many of my angling accomplishments would not be possible without the help of these dedicated professionals. The best strategy is to plan your excursions by reaching out to those destinations that are farthest away from where you live. This allows you the opportunity complete the hardest parts first while leaving the destinations that are closest to home as filler when you can only get away for only a day or two. It worked for me, now all I need for the next level is well-planned trip to Alaska!

Click here for more info and to register for the Western Native Trout Challenge!

2 thoughts on “Meet the First Angler to Complete the Advanced Level of the Western Native Trout Challenge”

  1. Steve,

    Congratulations. I would be honored to fish with you someday. I appreciate your dedication and devotion to your home state fish. I know you have served Nevada’s native fish well and are a fabulous ambassador to the native fisheries there. Let’s fish together someday. I’d love to share some Nevada stream time. Cheers, Scott Lyons

  2. Hello Scott. Sorry I did not see this message until recently. Thank you. Congrats on your success. Would certainly enjoy trout stories. Let me know how to reach you. thanks

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