by Jon Easdon
Colorado has over 2000 lakes that sit above 10,000 feet above sea level. A good number of those are above timberline (12,000 feet). Summertime affords us the opportunity to explore these alpine gems.
High lakes have a very short season. Generally these lakes start becoming accessible in July and will be fishable until the end of September depending on the weather.
alpine lake photos by Jon Easdon
And the weather at altitude demands our attention.
The weather at 12k plus is quite different than at lower elevations. Storms move into the high country very quickly, and can become quite scary. It is common for the temperatures to fall below freezing in a storm. I’ve seen almost a foot of snow fall in mid-July at 13,000 feet. Lightning is the main threat, and at high elevation, there is little to no options for taking shelter. A hike to these lakes can become downright frightening if lightning is present (see these Lightning Safety Tips and here). Being prepared for any and all conditions is imperative: a surplus of food, water, a fire starter, and first aid kit are the main things you should have.
A good rule when going to explore an alpine lake is to check the weather forecast before you go. Try and target days when there is little to no chance of storms. Also, always plan to hike in very early (before sunrise) and be out by the afternoon.
Most of the alpine lakes do hold fish, but always do some research on the area you are looking to go into. Some lakes completely freeze during the winter and kill off the fish in them. Typically, lakes that are no more than 10-15 feet deep will winter kill. The deeper lakes freeze, of course, but not completely to the bottom. These lakes will be prime habitat for the trout to grow quite large. I’ve seen cutthroat trout in the 10 lb. class on multiple occasions and in every region of the state.
photo by Juston Brenner
Fishing at these locations is not easy. These fish are in a spawning pattern almost immediately after ice out and will be very finicky for several weeks. The food sources in these lakes are actually plentiful, with scuds and chironomids topping the list. Alpine hopper fishing can be absolutely electric as well as other small dry fly patterns.
If you are looking to try something different and truly life changing, do some research and plan a high alpine lake trip. We have some great books in the shop on the topic of high mountain lakes and backcountry fishing. As always, our guides and staff would to help you plan your trip.
These lakes hold the most beautiful trout you will ever see, and afford the opportunity to really get off the beaten path.
Orvis 101 Introduction to Fly Fishing
Orvis 201 Streamside