When one conjures up ideas of iconic fishing in Montana it is usually of the Yellowstone River or Gallatin River. Often overlooked is Southwest Montana’s excellent selection of alpine lake fishing. Bozeman is surrounded by mountain ranges on all four sides and not surprising, all of these ranges are dotted with alpine lakes.
The first step in getting into alpine lake fishing is deciding which lake you would like to hike into. Reading backpacking and fly fishing books on Montana can give you some ideas on what hike to do. The biggest tool at your disposal is the Fish, Wildlife, and Parks fish stocking lists. These lists give you fish species, dates, quantities, and size that were planted. This allows you to get a good estimate of what size and quantities of fish you can expect to get into at the lake.
Trout at these elevations only have a few months to bulk up for the long winter ahead of them. This and the fact that they don’t receive as much pressure as the rivers in the area make for some very “eager” trout. It also makes for some easy and exciting fishing for kids and beginners!
When fishing alpine lakes you only need to bring a few patterns with you. Go to dry fly patterns for alpine lakes are: Elk Hair Caddis, Royal Wulffs, beetles, ants, and hopper patterns. Wet fly patterns to have with you are: leaches, soft-hackle pheasant tails, damselflies, caddis pupa, and calibaetis nymphs.
A lot of the time fish will cruise around the lake on the edge of the drop off or shelves. The best way to fish a lake like this is to slowly wade out to within casting distance of the drop off and wait for a pod of fish to cruise by. Cast your fly out in front of them and wait for a fish to strike! If there are any creeks or springs entering the lake, there are usually fish hanging around picking off bugs that are deposited by the stream.
A good day trip is up to Lava Lake, this is a mellow 2.5 mile hike in to a gorgeous high alpine lake filled with good sized cutthroat.
A great overnight fishing trip is up to Heather and Emerald Lakes. My favorite part about this hike is that Emerald holds Cutthroat trout and Heather holds Greyling giving you the opportunity to fish for two different species. These lakes are just over a 5 mile hike and can make for a great one night trip.
Spanish Creek Trail and Lakes offer up a great multi-night adventure. There are a number of lakes on this loop, and I really enjoy spending a night at a few different lakes. As with any backcountry adventure, proper planning and preparation are key!
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