By Tony Nelson
To most Wasatch front fishermen, alpine fishing means the Uintas, backpacking to small remote lakes and hungry pan sized trout. Many fishermen devote their entire summer to exploring the many beautiful alpine fishing opportunities these mountains have to offer.
Weather and snow pack are not the only obstacles facing Alpine fishermen. Time is a critical factor. Time is something we could all use more of, this is especially true for the alpine angler. Most high country lakes are only fish-able from July to late September making it necessary to cram as much fishing as possible into this short period of time. Distance is another limiting factor, each hour you spend driving is an hour you don’t spend fishing.
How can a alpine junkie spend more time fishing and less time traveling? Wasatch front anglers need only look in their own backyard for quality alpine fishing close to home. Our Wasatch Mountains are far from undiscovered, on any given weekend hundreds of hikers and bikers take to the trails to enjoy the outdoors. But these same mountains and the pristine lakes hidden in their peaks are overlooked by most fishermen. Several productive alpine lakes are within a short drive and hike from Salt Lake City.
Three of the most beautiful and accessible are Lake Blanche, Florence, and Lillian. These lakes are all located within an 8900 foot glacial carved basin, making it possible to fish all three in the same day. These lakes have a southern exposure making them some of the first lakes in the high country to shed their protective coating of ice. Ice off on these lakes generally occurs around the latter part of May. However, on years when the snow pack is extremely heavy, access to these lakes may not be possible until the first week in June.
The lakes are located within the “Mill B South Fork Drainage” in Big Cottonwood Canyon. The trailhead to Lake Blanche is located 4.5 miles from the mouth of the canyon at the S-Turn. The Forest Service has recently improved the facilities and enlarged the parking area to better accommodate visitors to this popular hiking destination. From the parking area it is necessary to hike along Big Cottonwood Creek for a quarter of a mile to a sign, located on the right, marking the beginning of the trail. The Lake Blanche trail is well maintained and takes you through one of the most beautiful glacially carved canyons in the Wasatch. The Lake Blanche basin with its three lakes is a result of this glacial ice. The power of these glaciers is evidenced by the glass smooth rocks and boulders that surround the lakes in the basin. The trail is 2 3/4 miles long and takes you through three different plant zones. As you begin the hike you will be in a zone dominated by oak, as you progress up the trail you enter the pine and aspen zone and finally before you reach the lake you enter a rocky alpine zone. It is possible from this area to view parts of Salt Lake County and the Great Salt Lake. The vegetation on this part of the trail consists of mosses, lichens and alpine wildflowers. Caution should be observed when hiking on these smooth rock fields especially when they are wet. The trail ends at a deteriorating rock wall overlooking Lake Blanche.
Lake Blanche, Florence and Lillian are full of beautiful, fat Brook trout. Most of these trout are stocked every other year by plane. Brook trout are also very successful at reproducing in these high mountain lakes providing additional populations of wild fish. These trout average 11 inches in size with a good possibility of putting a 14 inch trout in your creel. Our experience shows that fish caught in Lillian are larger while Florence has the largest population of trout. Lake Blanche is somewhere in between. On our first trip this year we caught and released 53 nice Brook Trout in a couple of hours. We planned our trip to coincide with ice off and were on the lake within a day or two of this event. When we crested the knoll overlooking Lake Blanche the surface of the water was boiling with the ripples of rising trout. We caught these fish on a assortment of jigs, lures and flies. It would have been possible at the peak of this feeding frenzy to have used bare hooks with similar success.
One of the most successful methods we have found to entice the Brook trout in these lakes is to fish with a 1/16 ounce mini-tube jig. Almost every cast was met with a hard strike followed by a screaming run to the deepest sections of the lake. Our best luck has been with the following colored jigs: white, a red body with white legs and a yellow curl tailed jig. A good rule of thumb when choosing which color jig to use is to look to the sky. If the sky is overcast or it is early in the morning use lighter colored jigs. As the sky brightens move towards darker colored jigs. Sometimes certain colors will quickly turn hot then cold, so be willing to switch off to something different. When jig fishing, it is important to have a light weight flexible rod. Ultra light glass and graphite rods work well. It is also important to present the jig properly. Let the jig sink for a few seconds before beginning your retrieve. Hold your rod at a 45 degree angle out in front of you and twitch up and down while at the same time taking up the slack created by the twitching. This will draw the jig constantly towards you. Vary the twitching, depth and retrieve speed until you connect. Many times the fish will strike on the downward motion of the jig.
Jig fishing is fun and exciting but nothing compares to catching one of these feisty Brook trout on a fly Rod. Fly fishing on these lakes can be rewarding. During the season hatches of May flies and midges occur and terrestrials such as grasshoppers, beetles and ants end up in the lake and on the trout’s menu. Attractor patterns such as Royal Wulffs and Renegades will produce fish when no hatch is present. If you have strong legs and a strong back then consider packing a float tube to this lake.
Spin casting with lures is another successful technique on these lakes. Any spinner or lure that is effective on other high mountain lakes will work on these waters. Over the years our most productive lures have been rainbow and gold colored crocodiles and Lil-Jakes in gold, silver and white. A Mepps spinner in bright colors in 0 or 1 will also help fill your limit.
These lakes are close enough to Salt Lake and the hike short enough not to require a overnight stay. If you wish to camp near these lakes remember that you are in a watershed and a wilderness area. You must camp at least 200 feet from the water and no open fires are allowed in a wilderness area. The best place to camp is on the North side of Lake Blanche. This area is mostly smooth rock with several flat areas that have been used for camping in the past. It also provides an excellent view of the Salt Lake valley. If you want to cook a fresh trout for dinner it will be necessary to pack in a small cook stove.
These lakes play an important role in the supply of water to nearly a million people. Swimming, washing, and cleaning dishes in the water is prohibited. Don’t put anything in the water you don’t want coming out of your tap. Speaking of water, bring plenty of it, especially in the summer. The Wasatch, like every other mountain range in Utah, is full of giardia. Giardia is not the name of a chocolate bar and it is certainly not your friend. If you are going to drink water out of a lake or stream make sure you boil it, filter it or chemically treat it to kill this bug.
These lakes are close to home and provide excellent fishing. The hike is easy and the scenery is breathtaking. Make it a point to fish these lakes this season and discover great fishing, hiking and scenery close to home!
If you do not live near Salt Lake City or even in Utah, you can still take advantage of a day on the water and a fresh fish dinner. Many large cities have urban fisheries that are stocked on a regular basis with either trout or warm water fish species. I would recommend you contact your local city parks and recreation agency or your states wildlife agency for more information on a urban fisheries program in your area.
I will be posting an article in this blog on Urban fishing in March 2014. Make sure to read this article as it will help you fill your freezer with local, fresh fish.
Brook Trout Recipes- Visit these wonderful websites for delicious trout recipes.
For more information on fishing the lakes of the Wasatch Mountains please check out my book “Fishing The Wasatch” on Amazon! https://www.createspace.com/4647294