I've been actively hunting large goldens in the Rockies for four summers now and I've never hit the jackpot. I've fished about 15-20 remote, high-country lakes in the Winds and Beartooths specifically targeting goldens and all I've ever come across were small fish and/or lakes that appeared to be barren due to the golden trout's elusive nature and their propensity to hide in the depths. And through the years, I've also run into bad luck with horrific weather and an injury that made me walk away from a promising string of lakes I had just reached after hiking in 25 miles. I was starting to think I'd never strike gold(en)!!!
Finally a golden trout lake shined on me! Just got back from a six night exploratory trip in the Popo Agie Wilderness in the Winds. My intial plans were to scout and hunt for goldens in about 5-6 lakes. Well on the fourth day and as many lakes, I finally hit pay dirt. I arrived to the lake during the afternoon and the typical afternoon winds were blowing hard so spotting conditions were almost nil. So I prospected as I usually do with a scud and a wooly worm pattern. Within ten minutes I caught a dandy little 6-7" golden and was relieved to know there were goldens here but disappointed to see my typical small fish. On the very next cast I hooked into something nice that was evidently cruising close to shore. It porpoised immediately, bolted for the depths and I was into my backing in an instant. It bucked the hook and I cursed myself for losing what I knew was a real pig!
Within minutes I reeled in an obese sixteen incher that was built so much like a bus it knocked my socks off! My first solid golden trout ever!!! After taking pics and releasing it, I literally jumped for joy. I've caught much bigger trout, but this was my proudest moment ever as an angler and a backpacker. For the next three days and nights, I caught about 20 goldens a day with the average fish being about twelve inches. But at least a third of the fish were fourteen inches++. My best was an eighteen incher that had to be at least 3 pounds.
What was also so neat about this lake is that there was such a wide variety of shapes and sizes represented in the population. There were small, medium, and large fish. Some were skinny while others were built super thick. During the day, the winds were screaming so I mostly just prospected around the lake with a size 12 soft-hackle wooly worm. Sometimes the afternoon winds would slacken off a little and I actually had good luck skating an adult caddis pattern on the surface as well as a large shine beetle. As with other high lakes the evening fishing was the most productive with calm conditions and epic hatches. The griffiths gnat and a caddis pattern were all I needed to get a take on every other cast. During the evening hatches I was spending more time with a fish on my hook rather than not.
What so impressed me about the large goldens was not so much their unsurpassed beauty, but their fighting ability. They seem to go to the air even more than rainbow trout, and their ability to peel off line as they make dive after dive into the depths blew my mind. I've never harvested a golden but hear thier flesh can be the same fiery red of salmon. But I knew this lake was fairly special and even the smaller fish have a chance to grow to become brutes. So I decided against eating one and every golden I caught was released unharmed. It was very hard to peel myself away from the lake as the weather was holding up and I was having a riot fighting these goldens all day long. But my food and supplies ran out so I had to make the long, sad trek back to trailhead. A trip like this one will stick with me forever. The sight of those pigs porpoising in the warm Wyoming sun is one I'll take to the grave.
My first large golden trout. Sixteen inches and built like a 747 Jumbo with its huge humped back and whale tail.
My best fish of the trip, a fat eighteen incher.
A nice fourteen incher
Another fourteen incher but with a medium build
A little fella but very handsome!
Even some of the little ones were built thick. This fat little lady is destined to grow huge with that small head and huge back. In 2-3 years when I return she'll hopefully be the large matriarch of the lake!
Fourteen inches but rather skinny
The scenery was almost as nice as the fishing