Southern Alberta lost a true gentleman and sportsman last week, with the passing of Joseph “Joey” Coccioloni, a long-time resident of Pincher Creek. Joey was born in Coleman, Crowsnest Pass on November 17, 1929, and passed away November 29, 2017. He was in his 88th year.
“Cutch,” as he was called by his friends, was the quintessential outdoorsman, and epitomized the meaning of what a real mountain man was like.
Joey was one-of-a-kind, and one of the most colorful characters I have ever met. Nowhere was he more at home than when walking the mountains, forests, and streams of southwest Alberta. Few people were as familiar with this region as Joey, and he knew the landscape like the back of his hand. He spent a lifetime hunting, fishing, hiking, and exploring the backcountry, and enjoyed sharing stories of his adventures, and misadventures, with anyone who cared to listen. It seemed he always had an interesting tale or funny joke to tell, along with plenty of laughs and smiles.
The first time I met Joey was at a Trout Unlimited fundraising dinner in Pincher Creek, about 30 years ago. He had donated one of his custom-built fly rods for the main raffle and was on hand for the event. His fly rods were a work of art and were always in great demand.
Over the next few years, I would bump into Joey from time-to-time at the Beaver Mines General Store, and we became friends. Later, when I was operating the Crowsnest Angler Fly Shop in Crowsnest Pass, Joey stopped by regularly to pick up supplies and chat. I always looked forward to seeing him walk through the door. Joey was a wealth of information and I learned a lot from him. His visits to the shop continued until his recent decline in health.
On Golden Ponds
One of Joey’s many accomplishments occurred in 1959 when he assisted the local Fish & Wildlife Department in introducing golden trout to several alpine lakes in the West Castle Valley. Joey, along with three other men, backpacked 3800 fingerlings in galvanized Wajax containers up the steep slopes of Barnaby Ridge, where they stocked two of the three lakes that lay beneath the towering peaks of Southfork Mountain. These remote, high-country waters are a popular destination for adventurous anglers to this day.
The other men involved in stocking golden trout on September 18, 1959 were Pincher Creek Fish & Wildlife Officers, Chuck Gordon, Frank Somerville, and Lawrence Scheffelmiar.
Barnaby Ridge – 2002
Forty-three years later to the day, on September 18, 2002, I made a trip with Joey up Barnaby Ridge. He wanted to show me the original route taken by the group of men in 1959, when they transported the goldens into Southfork – Barnaby lakes. Unlike today, there was no trail leading to these waters, and the men climbed Barnaby Ridge a bit further south of where people ascend these days. The route they chose was shorter, steeper, and more direct than the well-worn switchback trail people follow nowadays. Not only did Joey carry his share of trout that day, he also served as a guide, showing the others the quickest way up the mountain. There was fresh snow in the high-country, which made climbing slippery and treacherous. Time was of the essence, and they needed to reach their destination as quickly as possible, before the oxygen in the water they were carrying had depleted. Otherwise, the precious golden trout fingerlings might suffocate and perish. The men made it safely and in time, and the tiny fish were soon swimming freely in their new home.
Joey was 72 years of age when we hiked Barnaby Ridge in 2002. He was extremely agile and in amazing shape, and climbed the steep terrain like a mountain goat. I was nearly thirty years his junior and had a hard time keeping up with him.
Joey was a man of integrity and had great personal attributes. He was a man of many hats and talents. He was a coal miner in Crowsnest Pass in his younger days, before starting Cutch Trucking, a Hot Shot trucking company, which he operated for 45 years. He was also a mountain guide and outfitter, trapper, hunter, angler, conservationist, fly-tyer, master rod-builder, musician, mentor, role model, devoted family man, and a great friend to many people. Joey was predeceased by his loving wife, Rita, of 51 years and is survived by a son and daughter, and five grandchildren.
A Memorial Service was held for Joey at the Pincher Creek United Church on Monday, December 4, 2017. There was not an empty seat available.
There will never be another Cutch, and he will be missed by all those who knew him.
Even the Mountains Will Miss Him
He was the odd man out
No coal mines or trains or city life for him
The paths he trod were in the mountains
And the mountains were his true home.
He climbed them all or as many as one can in one lifetime;
Followed the footpaths of the deer and
The elk, the mountain goats and even to the caved bear;
The wild things, the things he knew to be most real.
Today the trees will whisper together “where has gone that thin, strong man?”
Where the crunch of his boots and the smell of his rifle?
Where the fishing rod and his creel full of fresh caught trout?
“Where has gone that thin, strong man?”
And the wind in the mountains will shout down in answer,
“He has gone to the quiet place.”
And we who remain will hold him in heart and mind
And even the mountains will miss him.
-Jim Milvain (Joey’s nephew)
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Article References & Credits
Land, Forest, Wildlife (Alberta Government Publication)
Vol. 5, No. 2 (July – August, 1962)
Article – Golden Trout Established
Joey Coccioloni (image #1, 2) – courtesy of Bob Costa
Stocking golden trout (image #4) – courtesy of Chuck Gordon
Even the Mountains Will Miss Him – courtesy of Jim Milvain
Vic, you’ve done a great service for so many of us who loved Cutch. I keep having to remind myself that he’s really gone. I’m missing him a lot and the reality of no more visits is hitting home hard.
For years I tried to get him back out on the Oldman with me but it was too much of an emotional struggle for him. He had such fond memories of days gone by on the river, but the losses of loved ones that he shared those memories with were too much to bear.
Then one day while we were visiting he said, “Bob, I want to fish the Oldman again. Let’s go.” I was beside myself with shock because I thought that day would never happen. This was shortly before his beloved Rita began her more serious decline. We set a day and he came to my house, and off we went to share a very memorable day.
With his kerchief on in Willie Nelson fashion we walked a great stretch of water and talked about what a special place we had the luxury of enjoying. Once in awhile we’d even cast to fish. It was great to listen to Joe reminisce with stories on the river that only he could tell. And, “that’s a fact!”
I didn’t think that would be the last time we’d fish together but unfortunately, it did turn out that way. He said that he wanted to do it again and I assured him that we would, but he was already suffering with his leg problem. On the Oldman, yet again, just wasn’t meant to be. But I sure cherish the memory of that one day that he gave me to remember.
Thanks again for a wonderful tribute to a great friend.
Well said. Anyone who spent even a small amount of time with Joe will have at least one or two things they will always remember about him, whether it was his tales of adventure, his humor, his kindness, or his mannerism.
I know you spent a lot of time with Joe over the past several years, maybe not fishing but just being a good friend, and being there for him when he needed some help. I’m sure he remembered that. In my mind, I can hear him now saying, “That’s a fact!”
Thanks for commenting and sharing your story.
Good article, Vic. Cutch was a one-of-a-kind guy alright, and there are a lot of folks out there with fond memories of any time they may have spent with him. Go rest high on that mountain, Joey.
I’m glad you liked the story. In the past, I’ve enjoyed listening to some of your stories of Joey. They are always funny and entertaining to hear. Thanks for commenting.
Nicely done Vic. It is so important to pay tribute to guys like Joey… It was amazing to meet him and to hear his stories. There were some trapping stories I dared not share in my column that made my hair stand on end… When I finished my interview with him he insisted I try his garlic/orange juice concoction.. Good God what a kick it had.
The pics in your blog are wonderful. That Barnaby Ridge story is terrific.
They don’t make em like that anymore.
You’re right, it’s important to pay homage to guys like Joey. There are very few people like him around anymore. It would take most of us 2 or 3 lifetimes to do what he did in one. His stories, as you know, were amazing.
The Barnaby Ridge trip I made with him in 2002 is something I’ll always remember. I enjoyed reading your story earlier this year about Joey, “Tales of a York Creek Trapper,” in the Pass Herald. I read it again last week, as I was putting my piece together. I’m glad you enjoyed the tribute. Thanks for your compliments and comments.
Thanks for this Vic and for allowing me to be a part of it. It is truly a beautiful tribute to Joe.
Your poem, in itself, is a wonderful tribute to Joe. Thanks for sharing it with everyone. Joe was a man of the mountains and they will miss his presence. Thanks for commenting.
Joey was my uncle, and my favourite one at that. As a wee kid, I was very enamoured by my tall, handsome, guitar-playing uncle who always had time for me. He once went to Chinook Lake (Allison) to fish with my dad. After an hour of no bites, he said to my dad, “Look up at the Crow (Crowsnest Mountain) in about and hour and a bit.” He drove up the road to the turn off and proceeded to climb. Sure enough, he had a mirror that he flashed to the lake to signal that he was up on the top. Dad didn’t catch a thing that day but knew he could never keep up with him so stayed right where he was.
The year following the fire here in the Pass, 2004, he, Marg Hay, and I climbed up Turtle Mountain from Hillcrest, up through the most amazing bloom of wild flowers that I had ever seen, which was due to the fire. We crossed the top and down to Blairmore. He turned 75 the fall. What a guy. He lived to be outdoors, even his back yard. Sunshine was his oxygen and a fishing reel was the motor. I will miss him very much. Thank you, Vic, for your lovely, loving tribute to my one-of-a-kind uncle Joe.
It was an honor to do this for the Coccioloni family and relatives, and I’m pleased you liked the tribute. I’m sure you will always cherish the memories of the times you spent with your uncle Joe. I think his story-telling abilities has rubbed off on you. Thanks for sharing your stories and for your call earlier!
I have known of Joe for many years, as he lived only a few blocks from where I grew up. As I grew in age I worked on his vehicles along with my boss. I got to know Joe even more. One day I was talking about fishing with him and how my kids loved fishing in the Cottonwood Campground pond and how we didn’t have much luck, as I am not a very good angler. Well, about half an hour later he shows back up and gives me these rigs with a bouncy ball and container full of flies. He instructed me how to set them up and how to retrieve them. I asked him how much he wanted for this. He told me the smile on the kid’s faces is payment enough. That year we caught more fish than ever. The kids had a blast. I will never forget that day or year. In fact those two rigs he gave me still get used on fishing trips around the country. Rest easy Joe. And fish the great waters in the sky.
Joey sure loved to help kids catch fish. I remember those bobbers he used to make out of small rubber balls. I ran into him once at Beauvais Lake, quite a few years ago. I think I may have been fishing there with my wife and granddaughter. Joey explained how he made these bobbers and that they were good for kids, or anyone, who wanted to use a fly when fishing with a spinning rod. You could cast those bobbers half-way across the lake, and they wouldn’t break if you hit a rock with them. He gave us one of these bobbers, as well. Thanks for sharing your stories.
Vic: Real nice tribute. Cutch…what an amazing guy and outdoorsman. The Golden Trout piece/info, and his role, was also great. Nice post.
Sometimes, there are people who you hope will be around forever. Cutch was one of them. Thanks for your comments.