Fishing Alpine Lakes in the Trinity Mountains

By: Richard Alves

A beautiful brook trout leaps out of the water and takes the fly before it touches the surface. The fish immediately makes a run for a lily pad in the crystal clear water as you work to prevent you line from getting hung up on a submerged log. When you finally prevail, you get a chance to take in the towering cliffs shadowing the other side of the lake and enjoy a couple of deep breaths of the fresh alpine air before your next cast. You have found one of those places where the trout act as if they’ve never seen a fly before. For that matter they act as if they’ve never seen a fisherman before. Wilderness lakes may prove challenging to get to, but, if you enjoy absolutely stunning scenery and like a bit of exercise, the fishing is usually worth the effort.

The first challenge is to FIND the lake! I know this sounds really strange and I’ve never been lost in my life but I turned down the wrong logging road more than once looking for a trailhead. Even the current US Forestry maps have information that is either out of date or not fully labeled. The same applies to topographic maps which can be 40 years old. With this in mind it is a good idea to study the maps and top off the gas tank before you head out. A four wheel drive vehicle is highly recommended.

Typical Trinity Road For this trip we went into the Trinity Mountains west of Castella choosing lakes that were a short walk from the nearest road. The area has about 60 alpine lakes that the department of Fish and Game almost overstocked with Rainbow, Brook and Brown Trout as part of the restoration program for the toxic spill resulting from a train derailment on the Upper Sacramento river a few years back. Because the Sacramento and McCloud Rivers get most of the local fishing attention these lakes receive very little fishing pressure.

I had the good fortune to fish with John Powell from Pine-Gri-La Fish Camp for a couple of days which saved some of our travel time between lakes. It really does help to know where you’re going. We fished three lakes a day. One of the truly amazing qualities of the area is the variety of fishing conditions we were presented with.

Castle Crags Some of the lakes have rocky bottoms and were surrounded by rugged cliffs, others have shallow muddy bottoms and water lily pads. There are a few that the predominant feature is snags and downed trees.

Float tubes or some other type of inflatable craft will increase the fishable areas, particularly if you’re fly fishing. Finding room for your backcast can be almost impossible in some places.

Both days there was a mayfly hatch in the mid-afternoon. Other than that we had to experiment with our fly selection. I picked a Fall River Special, the first cast was a winner. I stuck with that fly for the better part of the trip. We also had success with Black Ant Patterns.

Spin fishermen will find success with nightcrawlers, crickets and a variety of spinners. The best colors were silver and gold, however, a black panther martin with yellow spots or florescent green blue foxes can be the hot ticket at different times of the year.

Mt. Shasta The short walks between lakes provided some spectacular vistas. At one pass the Sutter Buttes near Yuba City were visible to the south while to the north you could see Gray Rocks, Castle Crags and Mount Shasta. One of the reason I fish is to get away to places like this to be with mother nature. Over two days I saw deer, coyote, fox, skunk, raccoon, chipmunks and squirrel and a bald eagle. A visual feast you’ll savor for awhile. If you camp take precautions, there are bears in the neighborhood.

Although the fishing pressure on these lakes is not high, they are small and the fisheries could be easily damaged. Please catch and release! If you are planning a trip, go around the new moon. When the moon is full the fish feed all night and aren’t nearly as hungry or aggressive.