Each year I spend a lot of my time above 10,000′ fishing for golden, brook, brown, and rainbow trout. At these elevations trout have a very limited feeding season depending on snowfall. Saying this, trout are hungry and will eat most anything to add additional weight for their long winter season when the lakes freeze and other animals begin to hibernate.
What makes this environment so special for me is the landscapes I encounter while searching for trout that really don’t get bigger than 14″ on average. The glaciers, along with tectonic uplift and erosion are what created these beautiful lakes we get to fish.
There is evidence of glaication everywhere when you begin to look around. The picture above is a great example of chatter marks and striations. If you look closely you can see where the glacier ice moved over the granite rock and polished it to a mirror-like finish called glacier polish. You can also see the chatter marks and the striations it scratched into the rock. This picture is an example of glacier polish and it is found all over the Eagle Cap Wilderness, Sierra Nevada, and Goat Rocks.
The picture above is an example of the phenomenon known as Krumholtz effect. Due to gnarly weather such as wind, snow, and freezing temperatures, trees such as this lodgepole pine twist, bend, and fold stunting the tree and deforming it. It’s in this environment that trout are able to hunker-down for long, cold winters and when the ice thaws out the fish are hungry.
Here are a few flies I use at elevations with great success.
The Black Ant fly pattern is my go to pattern for high elevation lakes. This terrestrial is a very important food source at elevation where wind blows ants off of the banks, trees, and grasses. The trout will wait for an ant along the banks or below overhanging trees waiting for them to fall in. Hosmer lake in Central Oregon and the Sierra Nevada are areas I will always have black ant patterns with me.
Kaufmann’s Stimulator is another dry fly pattern I use at elevations. An Elk Hair Caddis will work too, but the stimulator has a little more “bling” that catches the fishes attention. I will strip this fly on the lake surface and have discovered once the fish begin to tear the fly apart and it begins to sink slightly, it fishes better. Usually I’ll use colors in tan, brown, gold, and black.
I was fishing a lake around 11,000′ years ago struggling to get a bite when the fish were surfacing everywhere. I used ants, Elk Hair Caddis, even Parachute Adams with no luck. Then I remembered a guy whom I issues a wilderness permit to who gave me a fly which he called the Timberline Emerger. I tied it on and instant weight on the rod. Years later I would discover that man was Randall Kaufmann.
The Kaufmann Timberline Emerger is the fly I would have if I could only choose one pattern at elevation. It rides low in the water and imitates both caddis and mayflies. It’s a must have for many guides and I’ve used it again and again with success.
These are three flies I’m very fond of along with a selection of Adams and Hoppers. I use 5wts. and leaders usually 9′ in length. Do not be afraid to strip and twitch the fly, especially if it is windy. It just looks like a bug struggling to fly away to the fish.
If you find yourself out there in the wilderness practice Leave No Trace. Easy concept, leave the area better than you found it. Let’s take care of our land for future generations.