High-Altitude Cutthroats In The Backcountry

Fly Fishing Colorado's Gore Range

Fly Fishing Colorado's Gore Range

Day One Since the area is not well-traveled we couldn't rely on marked trails to reach the lake. Instead we drew up a plan of attack using some unconventional sources, including tele-marking blogs, old Department of Fish and Wildlife records, and USGS topo maps. Which led to a few surprises along the way. Like this flock of sheep watched over by Basque shepherds, (and by Arlo, our canine fish spotter, who's leaning out the window of our truck). We ran into the flock on our way to the trailhead. The Basques graze the high-altitude valleys in the summer, moving their sheep through a latticework of trails and logging roads from valley to valley. We waited for over an hour for the flock to clear the road before we could pass.Tim Romano
Fly Fishing Colorado's Gore Range

Fly Fishing Colorado's Gore Range

Another surprise; according to our rough estimate, the hike should have been a measly 5.2 miles. Maybe it was, but we scrambled for over eight hours on our first day, scaling 90-degree pitches and ultimately gaining 3500 feet of elevation. And we still didn't reach the lake by nightfall.Tim Romano
Fly Fishing Colorado's Gore Range

Fly Fishing Colorado's Gore Range

By the time we reached this saddle the trail had completely disappeared ... or maybe it never existed? We paused here to eat, drink and argue about how we would descend the trail-less skree and talus field ahead.Tim Romano
Fly Fishing Colorado's Gore Range

Fly Fishing Colorado's Gore Range

Charlie points toward where he thinks the lake is located. We trudged on, believing that we only had a few more hours to go. Eventually, though, we realized that reaching the lake by dark wasn't going to happen. Time to set up camp.Tim Romano
Fly Fishing Colorado's Gore Range

Fly Fishing Colorado's Gore Range

We pitched our tents in the only flat ground around ... an uncomfortable spot on the northern edge of a cliff band north of our intended destination. Charlie got up very early the next morning to scout a route he thought would lead us to the lake. Lucky for us, it did, and we set off.Tim Romano
Fly Fishing Colorado's Gore Range

Fly Fishing Colorado's Gore Range

Day Two Arlo spots one of the locals, a mountain goat. This was the first of many we encountered. High-altitude goats are extremely curious creatures. They would follow us for miles and spend a good portion of the night inspecting our camp, sniffing, stomping, and basically scaring the crap out of us.Tim Romano
Fly Fishing Colorado's Gore Range

Fly Fishing Colorado's Gore Range

Finally, we reach our destination and set up camp. Here's the site, an angler's version of an Elysian Field. A pristine lake teeming with native cutthroat trout, a spectacular sunset, and a campsite complete with a fire pit and a natural stone backrest.Tim Romano
Fly Fishing Colorado's Gore Range

Fly Fishing Colorado's Gore Range

Here's the first catch of the trip, a 17-inch Colorado River cutthroat trout. Our first day on the lake was epic. We were throwing Muddler Minnows on full-sinking lines, though often the fish would hit while the flies still floated on the surface, before the lines would pull them under.Tim Romano
Fly Fishing Colorado's Gore Range

Fly Fishing Colorado's Gore Range

Charlie casts over a shelf into deep water. One of us would scramble above and call out fish to the angler below. "Cruiser, one o'clock. Forty feet. Drop your cast ... now!" We caught fish all day long, finally quitting as the light faded.Tim Romano
Fly Fishing Colorado's Gore Range

Fly Fishing Colorado's Gore Range

Nights were cold, and huddling around the campfire was the only way to enjoy the sky without dragging a sleeping bag outside the tent.Tim Romano
Fly Fishing Colorado's Gore Range

Fly Fishing Colorado's Gore Range

Day Three Sunrise in the Gore Range. We were in our own private wilderness without another human in sight for entire trip. In a world where it seems everything has been found and known, there's something spectacular about venturing over unnamed peaks to reach an unnamed destination.Tim Romano
Fly Fishing Colorado's Gore Range

Fly Fishing Colorado's Gore Range

On day three, the fishing just turned off. It took Charlie almost six hours of walking and spotting before he was able to catch this fish, which he released. And then decided that it was the stupidest thing he could have done. We wanted fish on the dinner menu!Tim Romano
Fly Fishing Colorado's Gore Range

Fly Fishing Colorado's Gore Range

Jeff Rogers displays his arsenal. He tried them all and still came up empty-handed.Tim Romano
Fly Fishing Colorado's Gore Range

Fly Fishing Colorado's Gore Range

Ben May scouts out the action from a ledge above the lake. The fishing might have been a little slow, but there was no shortage of sights to see, nooks to explore, or places to kick back and relax.Tim Romano
Fly Fishing Colorado's Gore Range

Fly Fishing Colorado's Gore Range

Finally, Charlie lands a dinner fish! This catch was pretty much heroic, as the rest of us had given it our best and not even gotten a bite.Tim Romano
Fly Fishing Colorado's Gore Range

Fly Fishing Colorado's Gore Range

Charlie shows off his catch. According to a Fish and Wildlife survey from 1982, all the fish in the lake are Colorado River cutthroat trout. He eventually caught two more trout, enough to feed the four of us when combined with the re-hydrated food pouches we'd packed in.Tim Romano
Fly Fishing Colorado's Gore Range

Fly Fishing Colorado's Gore Range

That evening we stuffed the fish with onions, a little garlic, and salt and pepper, then wrapped them in foil and placed them directly on the coals. Delicious. Here, Jeff shows Charlie how much he appreciates his hard work.Tim Romano
Fly Fishing Colorado's Gore Range

Fly Fishing Colorado's Gore Range

The sky on the night of the third day. A nearly full moon, zero light pollution, and a whole bunch of stars creates a night perfectly bright for fishing. Charlie eventually caught one more fish after almost an hour of casting in the pitch black with a gaudy streamer.Tim Romano
Fly Fishing Colorado's Gore Range

Fly Fishing Colorado's Gore Range

Day Four Must have been the lack of oxygen at over 11,000 feet that made Charlie decide to eat his coffee on the morning of our last day out. Yum.Tim Romano
Fly Fishing Colorado's Gore Range

Fly Fishing Colorado's Gore Range

Brave or stupid? Probably both... and pretty damn cold! Although we all wanted to take a bath, Charlie was the only one ballsy enough to take this massive swan dive. Maybe it had something to do with eating his coffee grounds?Tim Romano
Fly Fishing Colorado's Gore Range

Fly Fishing Colorado's Gore Range

Charlie and Arlo make their way across a snowfield on the hike back out. It was only September, but there are north-facing areas that see very little sunlight, and in those the snow rarely melts.Tim Romano
Fly Fishing Colorado's Gore Range

Fly Fishing Colorado's Gore Range

We came across this giant grasshopper on our way down the trail. It looked prehistoric and made an unbelievably loud noise. I'm sure these buggers get blown into the lakes and rivers in the area. No wonder the fish were eating our Muddler Minows as dry flies.Tim Romano
Fly Fishing Colorado's Gore Range

Fly Fishing Colorado's Gore Range

The view after the hike out. The chute on the far left of the image is where we made our ascent on the way in. Although the hike was one of the most difficult any of us had ever done, camping completely by ourselves and hooking twenty-inch native cutthroats on a Labor Day weekend was worth it. Would we do it again? Of course! Will we tell anyone where this lake is? Not a chance!Tim Romano