"In Alaska, all our species are native," Booton said. "It's much different from the Lower 48 and throughout the West."
The rest of the summer saw Ritz traveling all around the West. In Utah, he completed the state's cutthroat slam challenge with Trout Unlimited communications director Brett Prettyman. Prettyman helped create the state slam and worked on the design and production of the commemorative medallions that anglers earn when they complete the Western Native Trout Challenge. Ritz said Prettyman was also one of the first people to encourage him to take on the challenge.
"Getting people to go fishing and making them think about the historic range of a fish makes them start to ponder other things, like 'how can I help this fish survive?' " Prettyman said in a phone interview.
Ritz fished in Wyoming, Montana, Colorado, Oregon and Washington, taking tips and guidance from local anglers and finding himself astounded by the people and places he encountered over and over again. At home in Idaho, Ritz pursued bull trout and Lochsa cutthroat.
"I've worked for years to get my first bull trout," Ritz said. Landing it while he learned about the complexities facing the threatened fish — which include efforts to reopen the Stibnite Mine near Yellow Pine — made the experience even more memorable.
Ritz even headed to Kernsville, California, to learn more about the one species he knew he had no hope of catching: the Little Kern golden trout. Wildfire closure areas surround the only waterways where it's found. Ritz said he arrived in 118-degree heat, a reminder of the challenges that trout — which typically prefer cooler water temperatures — are facing in the area.
"It wasn't just about going out and catching the fish," Booton said. "He wanted to learn as much as he could about the area, about the species. Knowing he was doing that for all his species, it was impressive."
After several months of adventures, it was time for Ritz's final fish. He said he was anxious as he drove to California's Lassen National Forest to pursue the Eagle Lake rainbow in its namesake waterway.
For Ritz, it was an emotional weekend as he concluded the venture that had consumed much of the last five months of his life. But in many ways it didn't feel like it was over.
"I thought I would feel like I had done something and it was behind me," Ritz said. "It's only made me want to do more of it."