All The Way Up
As someone who spends the majority of their time in the desert, sometimes you desire a cooler and greener setting. It has been a very busy and hot season here on the San Juan river in Northern New Mexico and we have all been feeling the heat. Over the last few years, I have made it a point to take some time to beat the heat and get up into the high country. Trading roadside access for some solitude, #26 midge patterns for large dry flies, and picky tail water trout for less pressured cutthroats. If you have never hiked into an alpine lake, I encourage you to do so, a short drive and hike can take you to a wildly different destination close to many anglers' back yards.
This trip started like most of my fly fishing trips, an idea, a phone call, and a day to plan. With a few gaps in my guide schedule, a change of scenery would be a nice refresher from an already long season. After a phone call with Wyatt, a plan was formed, bags were packed, and my off road driving skills would be put to the test yet again. After an hour or so of crawling over rocks and doding grazing sheep, we made it to the trail head, all that stood between us and cutthroat was a hike.
It didn’t take long. We made it down to the lake and were greeted by rising cutthroat, exactly what we were hoping to find. As the rivers down below get hot and the hatches wind down, anglers willing to hike can be rewarded with excellent dry fly fishing in the high lakes. We found most of our fish on dry flies like Stimulators, Goddard Caddis, Elk Hair Caddis, and Parachute Adams. Fishing balanced leeches and small streamers also produced. We fished 4 and 5wt rods, 9 to 12 foot leaders for the clear water, and tippet down to 5.5x. The fun thing with alpine lake fishing is that it is very straight forward, and unless the lake you’re fishing gets hammered by anglers, the fish are usually more than willing. The particular lake we fished had lots of caddis buzzing around as well as scuds swimming around the lake. You don’t need much for an alpine box, which is convenient, especially when you’re backpacking in.
When fishing up high be sure to be prepared. The weather above 10k feet can change quickly and while we were up at 12K we dealt with rain, hail, and there was still a small patch of snow up at the top. Please do your research before you hike into a lake and make sure you are prepared for a variety of weather scenarios. Let friends and family know where you’ll be and by what time you should be back into cell service or home.Keeping hydrated is also critical and whether backpacking in or doing a day hike, I always bring a water filter with me to keep my pack light.
I hope you have the chance to explore some lakes above tree line this season while you still have time. Fishing near and above tree line has become an experience I look forward to every summer. As fall rolls around these micro environments will be blanketed in snow, the lakes frozen, and the trout waiting until the ice comes off again. Get it while it's hot, as they say.
Beware of marmots, they may just mistake the hat you left on the bank as food.