By Spencer Durrant
Alpine lakes – those tucked away in the high country, preferably a few miles away from a major trailhead – offer some of the best fly fishing you’ll find all year long.
Since they’re only accessible for a few months out of the year, however, knowing how to effectively fish them can be challenging, especially for newer anglers. Today, we’ll go over a few different tips to use so you can catch plenty of trout the next time you visit an alpine lake.
Look for Structure
One simple thing you can do to improve your success while fishing alpine lakes is to identify structure that’s likely to attract trout. By finding structure that can be a trout’s hidey-hole, you eliminate the daunting task of blind casting and hoping for good luck.
The structure you’re looking for in a lake environment is pretty similar to structure you’d search out in a moving body of water. Rocks, submerged logs, undercut banks, or drop-offs all offer protection from predators while still allowing trout to hunt for a steady diet of aquatic insects.
You should also look for points where the shore juts out into the water. These spots are often shallower, and shallow water grows more vegetation and bugs than deep water, which means there’s more food available in these areas. Trout will move around points as they cruise the lake looking for food, too, which means they’re bound to find your flies eventually.
When you go to fish a stream in the high country, which flies do you usually have in your box? Some stimulators, elk hair caddis, or other big dry flies, and some similarly-sized nymphs. Trout in the high country are generally more receptive to big bugs since the fish have such a short growing season. The same logic applies to fish in alpine lakes.
Fishing big dry flies is a solid approach for alpine lakes, even if there’s nothing really hatching at the moment. A big calorie meal like a grasshopper will draw fish off the bottom to investigate, if nothing else. Usually, though, that much protein packed into a single fly will draw a strike from a hungry trout.
In the same vein, don’t be afraid to fish larger-than-average nymphs. Chironomids in size 10, or even 8, shouldn’t be too big for most high-country lakes. Even if the water’s home to mostly stunted brook trout, they’ll more often take a big bug than a smaller one.
The only time this advice doesn’t always hold water is when fishing streamers. While it’s true that fishing bigger flies will often give you a better chance to catch bigger fish, there’s a limit to how big you should go in most high-country settings. Fish rarely grow as big in an alpine lake as they would in a tailwater; as such, you should tailor your streamer presentation to the size of fish in the water. Size 6, 8, and 10 buggers are a great option for most any lake fishing.
When you spot a big fish actively feeding in a river, how do you go about casting to it? Do you rush in and start casting, or do you watch the fish for a few minutes and figure out the best way to approach the trout without spooking it? You probably try to accomplish the latter, although that’s not always easy to do. The same lesson applies when fishing lakes.
Trout can still see us in lakes, especially if we’re silhouetted on the shore. If you see fish rising in a lake – or feeding on nymphs – don’t just rush over as close as possible and start casting. You’ll almost always scare the fish away. Instead, look for an approach that keeps you somewhat concealed. Especially on small lakes and ponds, minimizing the impact of your presence on the lake will go a long ways to helping you catch more fish.
The fishing you’ll experience in alpine lakes can be some of the best you’ll have all year. It’s hard to beat the solitude and peace of fishing in these landscapes, which is part of what makes them so alluring. These tips should help you catch more fish the next time you visit your favorite high-country lake.
Do you have any other tips for fishing alpine lakes that you’d like to share? Let us know in the comments!