Fishing Up High in Rocky Mountain National Park


Rocky Mountain National Park offers some of the best high alpine lake fishing I have ever experienced. As the snow melts out and the lakes ice off, the fly-fishing lights up. This season is fairly short as most of the lakes sit near 10,000 feet above sea level. Due to its brevity, once the seasonal change hits I am quick to dust off my 3wt rod and head up into the high country. From late June through early September, my weekends are spent tracing blue lines on maps to different bodies of water in Rocky Mountain National Park. Exploring these areas always brings about a number of adventures. This past summer, I got to revisit past favorites and new treasures in Rocky. As to not bore with a day-by-day recount of my summer, I’ll provide you with few highlights.


My first trip into Rocky for the summer was by far the longest. I had heard good things about the Haynach Lakes, located off the Green Mountain Trail on the West Side, but hadn’t made the 17 mile round trip trek. To be sure we got an early start, my hiking partner and I slept in the back of my Subaru the night before and woke up at 5:00AM to hit the trail. Even though the weather was foreboding, we decided to go for it.


With such an early start, we were pleased to have very few encounters with others while on the trail, except for an elk calf shaking off the morning dew and a few moose browsing in the meadow. For the first seven miles or so, the hike was fairly moderate, so we were able to move at a good pace. This drastically changed as we turned off the main trail towards the Haynach Lakes. From here the trail switchback through steep, rugged terrain before opening up into a large alpine meadow in which the lakes reside at the far end. We got to the lakes just after 8:30AM, and were quickly disappointed to find ourselves in a heavy fog with lots of moisture in the air.


Undaunted, we assembled our gear and tied on dry-dropper rig with a foam ant above a WD-40.  As always, the bad weather made for great fishing. It wasn’t long before we were sight fishing from the shore to cruising trout. With a significant shelf close to the shore, we were not forced to cast very far. Except for the lack of sunshine, the day was going exactly as planned until about noon. We had caught about a dozen fish between the two of us, and I decided to change up my flies, as they were getting pretty beat up. As I stepped off the shore to find a comfortable rock to sit on, I felt an unforgettable pain in my lip. My partner turned to see what her fly had gotten caught on and her face lit up with horror followed by a stream of nervous laughter. Fortunately, all we needed was a pair of forceps to manage the situation and before long we were back fishing. Interestingly the fly I pulled out my lip was salvaged and caught several more fish.


The second trip I want to recount was a solo trip I took up to Loomis Lake. This little-visited gem sits at the top of the Spruce Creek drainage on the East Side just above Spruce Lake. Its limited visitation is largely due to the fact that there is no trail ascending to Loomis from Spruce Lake. That being said, it is a much shorter hike than the 17 miles to Haynach Lakes and back. Loomis Lake clocks in at just over 10 miles roundtrip.


On this particular Saturday, I got a later start then I would have liked. Although I got momentarily "turned around" between Fern and Spruce Lake, I arrived at Loomis Lake just as the few clouds shading the sun dissipated. The Colorado sun casts shadows off the trout, which were immediately visible from the rocks overlooking the lake. With no wind, it was the ideal conditions to be at treeline. After making my way down to the shore and wading through the entangled spruce and fir trees hugging the shore, I worked my way around the lake. Again, the fly selection of the day was a foam ant with a small midge imitation below. On this particular occasion, a red ant seemed to be preferential to the cruising trout. As I completed my loop around the lake clouds began to build above the divide, so I quickly packed up and departed.


I had spent more time at the lake than anticipated, so I was coming down with just enough time to get back to the car before dark. About a quarter mile from the trailhead, this timing put me in a sticky situation. With tired eyes and legs, I was trudging along as I heard a strange whining noise coming from a tree alongside the trail. Not thinking much of it, I continued on. Almost simultaneous to the moment I passed the tree, a black bear stepped out onto the trail and began walking towards me. Immediately, I froze and reached behind me to grab my rod tube. Rod tube in hand (just in case things went from bad to worse), I began to step backwards slowly. As I stepped back past the tree with the noise, I looked up to see a young black bear cub just a few feet above my head. A few more paces back and the mother bear hopped off trail into the bushes, no longer perceiving me as a threat.



The last lake worth noting from this past summer is Mirror Lake. Like the Haynach Lakes, I had not visited this destination. I had not heard much about the fishing, aside from the fact that there were fish in the lake. The remote location of the lake was what drew me to it more. Mirror Lake is located in the northern part of Rocky Mountain National Park. We left from the Corral Creek Trailhead which sits along Long Draw Road off Highway 14. Since it requires a little more effort to get to the trailhead, this is by far the most wild unabashed area I have visited in Rocky Mountain National Park. That being said, the trail didn’t pose any significant challenges and was well maintained throughout. The hike was absolutely beautiful from start to finish providing grand vistas, densely forested areas, and open meadows along the way.


Aside from the phenomenal beauty of the scenery, the most notable part of this trip was the fishing. Fishing at Mirror Lake could be characterized by asking, “I wonder what they will eat next?” Unlike Haynach and Loomis, which are home to some species of cutthroat trout, Mirror Lake is populated by Brook Trout. These brookies were not shy. By the end of the day, I had caught trout using ants, Adams, salmonflies, mouse patterns, and pike flies, as well as two trout at the same time on a dry-dropper.


These three trips from this past summer scarcely scratch the surface of the fly-fishing opportunities in Rocky Mountain National Park. They merely rank up there in my mind, due to the anomalous events occurring along the way. Truth be told, any day spent fishing in Rocky is a day well spent, and will bring with it its own adventures and memories. After recounting mine, I’m ready for another summer above 10,000 feet. Time to hit the vice to prepare for the season ahead. 


Geoff Elliot

Alpine Anglers