Colorado July 2022: High Mountain Lakes

Indian Peaks Wilderness – Mitchell Lake and Blue Lake

Distance hiked: 5.5 miles, Elevation gained: 815 feet

The first outing of our trip was up to the Brainard Lake Recreation Area in the Indian Peaks Wilderness area, with the ultimate goal being to catch a cutthroat trout from Blue Lake. Of the four main lakes in the area, Blue Lake was the only one I had not fished in previous years. In 2021 I hiked up to Mitchell Lake, which is below Blue Lake, and fished the creek running out of it and caught plenty of brook trout, but found no cutthroat. I also hiked up to Lake Isabelle the day after and caught no fish at all in the lake, and only brook trout in the stream below. This year I was hopeful I would find some cutthroat in Blue Lake after striking out last year.

The hike up wasn’t too bad, especially considering I had secured parking in the Mitchel Lake Trailhead parking lot, which saves about a mile of hiking from the main Brainard Lake parking lot. This area is currently using a similar timed entry permit system to Rocky Mountain National Park, which can be a pain, but also makes it possible to guarantee a good parking spot if you plan in advance.

Mitchell Lake

After passing Mitchell Lake and noting some good pocket water in Mitchell Creek above the lake, we continued up towards Blue Lake. There are a few large ponds between the two lakes that are said to hold fish, and I did notice a few rises, but the land around them was quite marshy and/or boulder lined, which would require some scrambling in waders to access, so we kept moving.

Mitchell Creek, flowing out of Blue Lake.
Blue Lake

We were greeted by a stunning view of Blue Lake, which sits around 11,300 feet in elevation, and also by thick swarms of mosquitoes. I was fully covered with long pants, long sleeves, a hat, and a buff around my face and neck, and armed with bug spray, but was still pestered by them. The water looked great, and there was surprisingly little wind, which probably contributed to the mosquito problem more than it helped the fishing. I didn’t see any fish cruising the rocky shallows, so I tied on a hot head damsel and decided to do some quick prospecting of the transition area between the deep and shallow water. Doing a strange dance consisting of: casting, swatting mosquitoes, a few quick strips of the fly line, and them more swatting, I failed to elicit any strikes. After about 30 minutes of this we decided the conditions were just too uncomfortable and got to hiking back down the mountain and out of the bugs. I hope to return one day under better circumstances and see what fish Blue Lake holds.

Typical pocket water stream

As we headed back down the trail and away from the swarms of mosquitos, I fished the creek above Mitchell Lake and landed a nice brookie in the tail out of a small pool. I missed a few other strikes, but most looked like brook trout, no signs of any cutthroat. I enjoy the Brainard Lake Recreation Area for its ease of access compared to Rocky Mountain National Park, and will always plan a visit up there when I am in the area.

Rocky Mountain National Park – Dream Lake, Lake Haiyaha, and The Loch

Distance hiked: 6.9 miles, Elevation gained: 1,080 feet

A few days after our hike in the Indian Peaks, we headed to Rocky Mountain National Park to do a much longer hike, one of the longest I have attempted, but nothing that required any special training or preparation. We started by taking the park shuttle to the Bear Lake trailhead, then hiked to Dream Lake, Lake Haiyaha, the Loch, and the back down to the Glacier Gorge trailhead where we hopped back on the shuttle. The loop took us just under 6 hours, which included some brief fishing at each lake. We were pretty wiped out afterwards, but it wasn’t all that difficult, and it gave me the confidence to start planning some slightly longer hikes in the future. We saw some amazing sights along the trail, including a surprise encounter with a large bull Elk that was grazing right next to the trail to Dream Lake! I also caught fish at each lake, including a new species for me, the Yellowstone Cutthroat, which inhabit Lake Haiyaha. Check out the photos and captions below!

Nymph Lake
Elk on the trail to Dream Lake
As we rounded a corner we noticed a crowd gathered, and then watched as the Elk crossed the trail 20 feet in front of us
Dream Lake
Greenback Cutthroat in Dream Lake, the fish here will cruise right up to your feet
After some refusals on dry flies, the hot head damsel produced!
Columbine Flowers
Bear Lake
Chaos Creek below Lake Haiyaha. The water has been taking on this color after runoff in the last few years. I believe it is from sediment in the melting glaciers, and there have been some rock slides in the upper canyon this year which may also contribute to it.
Large Rocks in Lake Haiyaha
Unable to see much due to the water clarity I covered some water blind casting with the hot head damsel. It didn’t take too long to figure out the pattern, the fish would be pretty close to the edges of the rocks. I caught a few trout here before we moved on.
Yellowstone Cutthroat from Lake Haiyaha
Some sort of small pond, perhaps beaver related, below Lake Haiyaha
Icy Brook below The Loch
The Loch
Greenback Cutthroat from The Loch. There were numerous quality fish like this one cruising the shallows. This one was caught on a small Orange Asher, and I hooked another on a Yellow Chubby Chernobyl, but it shook free after a few seconds.

Indian Peaks Wilderness – Long Lake

We took one more trip up to Long Lake in the Brainard Lake area to show our loyal pup, Luna, the mountains. Not much to speak of fishing wise, but a great memory.

2 thoughts on “Colorado July 2022: High Mountain Lakes

  1. Looks like a couple of nice hikes and some quality fish.

    Still surprised by the lack of Cutts in Mitchell Creek. While I could only catch them on nymphs during a 2018 visit, they were the predominant fish in the last mile or so of stream below Mitchell Lake. Wonder if the brook trout are pushing their way up in elevation.

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