Just got back from a 3 night jaunt into the James Peak and Indian Peaks Wilderness just east of Denver. It is an annual backpacking trip with friends to fish two lakes right at timberline (about 11.3K at this latitude). The first lake is over 100 feet deep, has no true inlet, and is full of small mackinaw and evidently a few browns. The lake is terrific for spitting out all-u-can eat lake trout. My friends have fished the lake for years and although they had seen some browns, they had never landed one. I got skunked my first day but then on the first morning, I landed a beautiful brown that was very well built and I estimated him at 13"+.
It turned out to be the best fish of the trip and very special for one reason: you just almost never see browns close to timberline anywhere in the Rockies. Browns are obviously a very common item at lower altitudes but they are definitely a rare breed in waters that touch the clouds. I have fished many high lakes in CO, WY, and MT, and I have run into browns only one other time. Maes Lake (10,300') in the Winds spits out fat brown trout. I'm sure there are other high-altitude brown fisheries but they're far and few between. The brownie I caught also had a beautiful red stripe on its tail, something I have rarely seen on browns at any altitude. My pics don't show the tail too well...but you can see it a little.
The second lake is only a 1/4 mile away and one hundred feet higher than the mackinaw & brown trout lake. Thankfully the two lakes are not connected because the upper lake is free from mackinaw intrusion and is a classic Colorado Cutthroat alpine lake. The lake is usually quite generous, but this year it was a little stingy. My friend did catch the longest fish of the trip, a very yellow 14" cutty. My best cutthroat was a well built eleven incher. The lake was dead and we blamed the hottest June on record in Colorado. There is a nice stream system laced with ponds below the big lake and we had a riot fishing this headwater stream and caught small cutts. Usually this time of year the cuttys are holding in the lake, but beause the upper lake is shallow this year they had dropped down into the stream system below the lake to keep chilled. It was are only guess.
Caddis were coming off pretty regularly during the day, so adult caddis patterns worked on top. I had lots of luck with griffith's gnats when the caddis weren't around. On the deep lake, I killed it with wooly worms and wooly buggers.
Now I have a question.......I caught one small cutt in the stream that had a dark color to the back half of its body (see picture). It almost looks like the little fish was somehow stained. I have never seen this on any trout. Is is some type of sickness? Is it whirling disease?
And FWIW, all cuttys and browns were returned to the water unharmed, but we harvested dozens of 12" lakers
a nice brown trout at timberline........something you don't see everyday
the red tail was a nice touch
the stream system below the high lake was headwater paradise, with waterfalls, plunge pools, and three nice unnamed ponds that were all full of little cutts
my best cutt of the trip
the super deep, mackinaw lake is stacked with all-u-can eat 12" lakers
We caught many of these little fellas in the stream below the high lake
A very nice high lake Colo River Cutt
Is this trout sick? The back half of the body looks to be stained. My camera drapes a shadow over the front of the body.....but the back discoloration is not a shadow