By Ryan McSparran
As summer approaches, that means high alpine lakes are beginning to open up to anglers. While rivers may be experiencing runoff conditions, high country lakes are waking up from their winter slumber, and this is a great time of year to start exploring.
Fishing alpine lakes early in the summer can be a ton of fun. These waters can take some extra hiking to access. But the fishing is often well worth the effort.
Here are a few tips for early summer fishing on high mountain lakes:
Find the Right Place at the Right Time
Knowing which lakes are accessible can be a challenge. Some high country trails will be free of snow in May. Others may not be accessible until early July. This year, our low snowpack in Colorado means that even high elevation trails should be passable earlier than normal. But sometimes there’s only one way to find out – go for a hike!
In many cases, it takes a bit of trial and error. With no reliable information on when or where alpine lakes are becoming free of ice, it takes a little experimenting and good luck. If you know a trail is heavily timbered and shady, it may hold snow later than a trail that’s on an open or south-facing slope. If you’ve got a pair of snowshoes, it might not be a bad idea to pack them along.
Think About Your Fly Selection
When the ice begins to clear away from high altitude lakes, trout will be looking for food in a serious way. Because these waters tend to be remote and see very little fishing pressure, fly selection usually isn’t technical. However, your effort to reach a high alpine lake will be rewarded if you come prepared with appropriate bugs.
This time of year, the ground in high alpine basins will be saturated with water from melting snow. The banks of these lakes at or near timberline will often be strewn with drowned worms and other invertebrates. Many timberline lakes in Colorado are also home to scuds, which become a staple food source for trout throughout the summer. Spend time fishing leech patterns, worm patterns, scuds and other still-water flies.
Also consider the fact that hatches of aquatic insects happen much later at high elevations. While major dry fly hatches might have happened months earlier at lower elevations, you may not see these bugs on the water until mid-summer at a remote wilderness lake.
Be Prepared for Changing Conditions
Early summer in the mountains can bring anything, especially when you venture up to timberline. You could see rain, snow, hail or sunshine. Some of the best alpine lakes require some effort to reach. So bring your hiking boots and a backpack with the essentials. Pack your rain gear, a few spare layers, a first aid kit, snacks, water and water treatment.
Fishing with a light line fly rod can be a ton of fun on these types of waters. But when you’re up high, wind is always a possibility. So consider taking a 5-weight or even a 6-weight fly rod to help you battle windy conditions.
This summer, get out there and explore those little blue dots on the map!
Ryan McSparran is an outdoor writer, and a fly fishing and hunting professional based in Colorado.