Want to learn more about Fly Fishing Wyoming's Cloud Peak Wilderness? Here is an excerpt from my first book that relates youthful fishing adventures with the ecology of the Cloud Peak!
Searching for Golden Trout in the Cloud Peak
When you are standing on the edge of an alpine lake surrounded by towering gray granite formations reflected in the water’s mirrored surface, casting to trout seems the logical extension of this wilderness portrait. But wilderness and trout are a bit of a paradox. Fishing for and catching trout in unblemished mountain waters flanked by jagged spires is the pinnacle of fly fishing heaven for many. I have sipped from this cup a number of times and always returned for more. But very often, particularly in the Rocky Mountains, the trout we pursue and catch are much like the trout we find at lower elevations and outside wilderness areas: stocked fish from hatcheries or wild populations of previously stocked non-native trout.
During a trip in which I was base-camped at Lake Marion with a buddy from high school, we fished every body of water with gusto, but it was a very specific species of trout we were intent on pursuing—golden trout. This species of trout incorporates the traits that many anglers desire most in their quarry. Although diminutive when compared to other trout, golden trout are notoriously finicky when it comes to taking a fly, and they make up in color what they lack in size. The ability to trick a trout, especially a wary trout, into striking a fly is considered the height of the fly fishing art, and golden trout sit perched atop the highest rung of the finicky ladder. Golden trout also require exceptionally cold, clear, and clean high-mountain waters to survive, so anglers are drawn to remote and hidden wilderness lakes and streams to pursue these delicate wonders.
The golden trout that Terry and I pursued with unanswered patience are not native to the waters of the Cloud Peak Wilderness, the Bighorn Mountains, or the state of Wyoming; this vibrant little trout, whose beauty is reflected in the remote mountain wilderness in which they’ve been stocked, are native to the Sierra Nevada. The waters of the Cloud Peak Wilderness were probably barren of fish when Euro-American exploration and settlement of the valleys below was under way in the mid-to-late 1800s. Yellowstone cutthroat trout swam in the lower waters, but a series of falls likely prevented migration of the trout to the highest mountain waters. The disconnected alpine lakes and ponds were even more likely than headwater streams to have been fishless prior to being stocked in the Johnny Appleseed–like plantings that followed the birth of the hatchery era. The early hatchery era saw tiny trout transported to remote waters via horses and milk cans, among other innovative methods.
It has been estimated that as many as sixteen thousand high-mountain lakes in the western United States were fishless when the descendants of Europeans first laid eyes upon them. Like lower elevation waters, these fishless ponds and headwater streams, not to mention the occasional large mountain lake, were stocked with fish from across the United States and, in some instances, from across the Atlantic Ocean. The stocking of fishless waters for sport recreation was undertaken with zeal during the hatchery era, and high-altitude waters like those found in what would become the Cloud Peak Wilderness were no exception. However, the continued stocking of waters in wilderness does not sit well with many, as the activity runs counter to the definition of wilderness established in the Wilderness Act of 1964, which envisions modern wilderness as “untrammeled by man, where man himself is a visitor and does not remain.”
You can pick-up a copy of Wyoming Mountains & Home-waters or Fly Fishing Wyoming's Cloud Peak Wilderness in any bookstore or online.
Fishing adventure is just around the corner!
Until next time,
Cheers & tight lines,