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Backpacking for High Mountain Trout  at Cabela's

Backpacking for High Mountain Trout

Author: Mike Schoby

I was once accused by a past girlfriend of being single minded. I refute the accusation to this day. I was also accused of being stubborn and argumentative, but that's a different story entirely. She was a die-hard hiker, and the accusation stemmed from a discussion about backpacking.

Backpacking for mountain trout has other benefits that are hard to measure.
Popular trailheads full of SUV's and weekend mountaineers extolling the virtues of backpacking for exercise, spectacular views and "oneness with nature" (while toting bear warning bells and pepper spray) held little attraction for me. My enjoyment in the outdoors then (and now) involved deer stands in the fall, duck blinds in winter, and fly-fishing for trout in the summer. I had no time, or desire, to climb mountains just for the fun of it. However, I held the position that I would backpack anywhere with one provision. The provision being, that there be a good reason to go there in the first place, such as to hunt or fish. Hence the "single minded" argument was obviously flawed, as hunting and fishing are separate entities, and therefore cannot be singular. But, that's water under the bridge as they say. Some people will never grasp the finer points of semantics anyway.

Like all good relationships, ours was based on compromise. The weekend following our discussion found us at a trailhead in the Washington Cascade Mountains complete with SUV's, and several fleece-clad suburbanites finishing their mochas. Each seemed to have at least one golden retriever named Sport, with the stereotypical red bandana around its neck. Needless to say, I didn't ask anyone how well their dog did on blind retrieves or doubles.

Before anyone gets the idea that I am a compromising sort of guy, let it be known that I had an ulterior plan. The night before, I looked over a few maps of the area and determined there were almost more lakes than mountains, all of which were open for trout fishing. I secretly tucked a little box of well-selected flies, tippets and a small reel into my pack.
Fast moving mountain streams feed alpine lakes filled with trout.
I shouldered my pack, grabbed my walking stick, and we were off. For the next three hours I received comments from gasping lungs like, "Isn't this beautiful?" and, "See, aren't you glad you decided to expand your horizons?" After climbing continually from the trailhead, we reached a flat alpine valley rimmed with peaks. In the center of the valley there was a large beaver pond. I have to admit it was one of the more wondrous places I have ever seen. The trail led past the pond and continued (according to the guide book) to the summit of the mountain, three more hours away. We passed near enough to the water to see the dimples of trout breaking the surface. "Too bad you didn't bring your fly rod," she said, relishing my tortured expression. To which I responded, "Well, it's funny you mention that. . ." I never finished the sentence as I was met with a glare that would have killed a weaker man. Her jaw dropped as I reached into the center of my bedroll and pulled out a tiny case the length of my forearm. From it came the most beautiful sight so far, a sweet little 5-piece pack rod.

OK, so I might be single minded, but actively feeding trout were out there. I was not going to hike past them, oblivious to their presence. Quickly tying on a size 16 Elk Hair Caddis, I made a roll cast and let the fly settle on the calm surface. A quick strip made the fly skitter across the water and was immediately answered with a flash of silvery green. Then came an explosive take by a brookie that was way too small to be making explosive takes on anything. Quickly stripping in the fish I released him and cast again. Same retrieve, same fish's twin brother. This scene replayed itself over and over. I was about ready to give in and continue on with the hike when my girlfriend quietly said, "Let me give it a try". The trout were not big, but I have never seen a better place for a beginner to learn how to fly-fish for trout. The numbers and voracity of the fish were staggering. There were plenty of opportunities to set the hook and play fish, even if they were small. We both had a good time that day, each discovering a great new outdoor pastime.
Mountain trout are, for the most part, unmolested.
Since then, I have gone on many hikes, and have fished many alpine lakes. For the most part the trout don't grow very large due to the short growing season and limited forage in the water, but occasionally they will reach two or three pounds. The fishing pressure is virtually non-existent as most visitors to these remote spots are strictly hikers, not anglers.

Most alpine lakes have good populations of Rainbows, Cutthroats or Brookies. Some contain Goldens. Fly selection is fairly simple due to limited insect life and little fishing pressure. Woolly Buggers, Beadhead Hares Ears, Elk Hair Caddis and Chironomids will take most fish consistently. I have also had good success using attractor patterns such as the Royal Wulff and Royal Coachman series for these uneducated fish.

While I may have once been hesitant to try high alpine lakes, they now provide some of my most enjoyable trips of the year. The fishing is often unparalleled for numbers and there is always a chance for a fish or two that will surprise you in size. This, combined with the majestic vistas and pristine waters, makes me return again and again.

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