All of my favorite locations to fly fish in Colorado are well over 10,000 feet above sea level. That’s actually a good thing, because when fishing these areas, you do not see many anglers and the solitude and scenery are unmatched. The bad news is that since these lakes and streams are at such high altitudes, it’s hard to determine when the snow and ice has melted enough to get to them. Some years you can get to lakes that are ice-free by the end of May, other years you have to wait until July to find the open water.
This year was one of those years where the itch to go hiking and fly fishing had to be put on hold because of all of the snow and ice the high country received in the winter months. I did all the online research, I contacted fellow hiking/fly fishing friends, I searched the internet for any and all information I could find about the possibility of the ice and snow melting and I still had to wait longer than I wanted to. Finally, around the end of June, I decided to hike to a set of lakes that I thought might be free of ice. Tom, Daniel and Conan (Daniel’s dog) decided to go along, even though the odds were 50/50 that we would actually be able to fish the lakes if the ice was out.
For my first hike of the season, I packed my Mayhem 35 full of everything I could possibly need – rain gear, water bladder, extra clothing, lunch, camera equipment, and my fly fishing essentials. With everything easily fitting inside my pack, it was a perfect morning for the two hour hike to the first lake. Overcast skies with temps in the lower 50’s made for great hiking weather. Once we got to the first lake it was a relief to see that it was indeed free of ice. We set our packs down and got our fly gear out and started fishing.
At this point I have to make clear another issue that arises when fishing the high country. Not only do you have to worry about a lake being ice free but you also have to worry about the water temperature. Once the ice comes off a lake it of course is fishable, but if you hit it too soon after the ice, the water temperature is still too cold for the fish to be very active. There’s the sweet spot when the ice is off, the lake is warmed up just perfectly, and the trout are voracious. This was not one of those days.
After a couple of hours of fishing without even seeing a trout, we decided to try our luck at another lake in the vicinity. This particular lake is unnamed and has no trail or signs of its location. Going on some information I got from a friend a couple of years ago, we decided to bushwhack up to the lake and see if it was fishable. After a half hour or so of bushwhacking over boulder fields and downed trees, we came over a ridge and got our first look at the lake. We noticed a lot of fish eating off the surface and were thrilled at the chance to catch some of these trout.
Even with all of the action we were seeing, Tom was the only one of us to catch anything, netting three nice cutthroat trout. Then the clouds started rolling in and we were getting hit with a bit of snow/sleet/rain so we packed up and headed back to find the trail out, which involved another half hour of bushwhacking to get back to our original trail.
I would have to continue to wait for my first fish in the high country, but it was still a perfect day for hiking and fishing!