Backpacking into remote High Uinta Lakes with float tube

LandoLando

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A few friends and I hiked into a remote basin of the Uintas this weekend, and not without trials and certainly not without reward.

First we hiked 8 miles into a small lake in the first basin, not devoid of people, but not quite Disneyland.





With several onlooking fisherman who were not catching anything, we took the ultralite float tube on it’s maiden journey and caught some nice brooks and tigers, including my personal best tiger:



This one wasn’t as big but had some great colors:



The sunset was beautiful and resulted in some great dry fly fishing. Most of the fish going for dries were quite a bit smaller.



Next we bagged the nearest peak and pressed on towards the destination. The first photo below is from the peak looking over the basin we had just crossed, and the second is of the basin that is our destination.



Unfortunately, a member of our group got some type of stomach flu and we were unable to cross the basin into the next. So we slept under the stars, where we were at, in a windy, lakeless, streamless, swampy mess. Fortunately the stars were amazing for the hour or so that the sun was down and the moon hadn’t yet risen.

Upon waking the next morning the member of our party who was feeling quite ill, decided he would rather split from the group and another member of our party joined him and headed back to another lake half way between our current location and the trail head.

Wishing our friend well and feeling helpless to improve his situation we set on with our plan, now short two people and 12 hours of time. We unpacked and stashed every item we didn’t need to fish and made the trek across the rest of the basin and over the pass for the day. There were a few brief reprieves from the barren basin that were worth capturing a photo. Here is one such occasion:



The pass to our destination, while not as strenuous as I would have expected made me feel like I was on the film Highlander. It was a rocky, prairie, plateau on which we were also granted the luxury of throwing snowballs at each other in late summer. I was very surprised to see an unmelted snow drift so late in the summer that wasn’t on steep slope that no one could reach.

We bounded down the woods on the north side of the objective lake and immediately discovered an opportune feature on the lake: a point which upon further exploration, showed a drop off on either side.



We fished this shelf by wet wading and in the float tube and caught a fish per cast for an hour or more. In fact, my first cast hooked two fish. I was unable to Net both, because the fish on the point fly came off when I netted the larger and easier to net fish on the chironomid:

After exhausting that feature, we moved just south west and found a new lake less than half the size but hosting even larger fish. It was here that I caught my personal best three times over. I kicked across the lake with my float tube until I found a feature where all the fish were holed up. We continued to fish this spot with the float tube and from shore and catch similar sized fish for the next hour and a half with no relent.



We hiked back to the original basin the next day and headed back to the trail head. Here’s the view in our way out of the basin:



This was one of the toughest but also the most rewarding fishing trips I’ve endeavored.

Total distance:
46mi

Starting elevation:
9325ft

Destination elevation:
11040ft

Max elevation:
13527ft

Total Climb:
6335ft
 
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myt1

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Wow.

So, it appears from the photos that you not only carried a float tube, but also waders and fins.

Very impressive.
 

LandoLando

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Buddy you are living right!

I am unofficially awarding you the best trip report for stillwater for 2020!

View attachment 25834
Thanks! What an honor!

The colors on those fish are unbelievable! I so wish I had the time to do a trip like that! Thanks for posting this!
I’m glad I made the time, it is the highlight of my year. I took Friday off and already had Labor Day off, so we were able to pull it off over a long weekend. I’d love to spend more time there so I’ll probably revisit the basin next year for a week if I can get approval from the wife.

Wow.

So, it appears from the photos that you not only carried a float tube, but also waders and fins.

Very impressive.
Yes, I did pack waders and fins as well. They are all the lightest weight available, so combined (tube, waders and fins) was only 5.5lb. Total pack weight was 38lb, 10.5lb of that was fishing gear. I’m going to get some different fly boxes and probably only bring 1 rod and reel next time to drop another 2lb.
 

Ard

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The colors on those fish are unbelievable! I so wish I had the time to do a trip like that! Thanks for posting this!
Or the knees to do it, I've seen a lot, been a lot of places but in general have only ventured 5 to 6 miles into the wild. Last time was an 11 mile round trip here in Alaska and I didn't carry a camp on my back.

I won't wish to be 30 again because that would mean I'd still be around after 2050 ........... But I would urge those with the youth and health combined with desire to take a good look at this thread and then go do something.
 

robtmitchell

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Thanks for the report and pictures and gear review.
I recently hiked into a lake here in Idaho with special regulations (keep 2 and have to be over 20”). It was a great experience despite the blisters and sore muscles (cycling ain’t hiking with a pack). I am going to target more of these lakes next year for sure. I have been looking for a smaller tube and may opt for that next year to lighten the load and possibly stay overnight. The quality of fish and less people is worth it and I want to do more before I am too old. Some of these lakes would be much easier with a motor bike or 4 wheeler but I don’t envision that yet. I did replace my 15 year old boots and 30 year old pack already!
Tomorrow I head over near West Yellowstone for the annual Fall trip and non stop fishing kookiness.

Rob
 

mcnerney

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Wow, what an awesome trip, thanks for sharing those great photos and details of the trip, congrats!
 

jwbowen

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Thank you for sharing!!! Did the pack weight include water or were you able
to access water on the trip?
 

LandoLando

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Thanks for the report and pictures and gear review.
I recently hiked into a lake here in Idaho with special regulations (keep 2 and have to be over 20”). It was a great experience despite the blisters and sore muscles (cycling ain’t hiking with a pack). I am going to target more of these lakes next year for sure. I have been looking for a smaller tube and may opt for that next year to lighten the load and possibly stay overnight. The quality of fish and less people is worth it and I want to do more before I am too old. Some of these lakes would be much easier with a motor bike or 4 wheeler but I don’t envision that yet. I did replace my 15 year old boots and 30 year old pack already!
Tomorrow I head over near West Yellowstone for the annual Fall trip and non stop fishing kookiness.

Rob
Hiking to remote lakes is definitely worth it and camping at remote lakes changes the game. It allows you an opportunity to fish at first light and past dusk, which is often the best time to fish.

Wow, what an awesome trip, thanks for sharing those great photos and details of the trip, congrats!
Thanks! I might be headed up your way in the next couple of weeks, any interest in hitting the river?

Thank you for sharing!!! Did the pack weight include water or were you able
to access water on the trip?
Longest we went without a source of water was probably 5 miles, so I didn’t carry more than 1L at a time. My packweight did include that.
 

Tirade

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Man this was amazing! Ive fished a few Uintas lakes but nothing over a mile hike...
 

LandoLando

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Drove up a jeep trail to the trailhead, this was the view looking back:


Hiked through the forest and across this highland meadow, this photo does really do the size of this meadow justice. It's probably over 300 acres of dense wild grass that is very well manicured by the species that graze on it.


This is the sun falling behind the storm that we just happened to miss.


Climbed down this rim, into the box canyon below. The trail down the rim is very challenging, with loose dirt, talus, and scree covering a nearly 45 degree descent into the basin 600ft below.


The lake against the far rim of the canyon was our destination for the first night.


We made it to a nice grassy spot in a lodgepole grove, right on a point that jutted out into the center of the lake. I ditched the pack and put on the waders and rigged up my rod as quickly as possible. I caught half a dozen cutthroat in the 12-16" range in less than 20 minutes. We kept three of them for dinner.

The next morning, I caught several more most in a similar size range as the night before.




Then, in search of larger fish, we hiked on to a lake that is reported to produce fewer but larger fish. We setup camp here in a small meadow adjacent to the wash that feeds the lake.


This report turned out to be accurate (mostly on the fewer part). Out of three of us, we only caught two fish, but they were both pretty decent size at about 18-20".


Around 6pm, we hiked for another lake about half mile away that was also rumored to have larger fish and but is less prone to winter kill than the last lake. I was beautiful and fish were rising, but they weren't very interested in what we were throwing. I got a good strike, but was not able to set the hook.


We hiked back to the lake we were camped at and came upon this view:


Sunset intensifies!


The following morning, we got up early and hiked to a smaller lake much higher in the basin. From 50 ft away, this appeared to be a sterile lake. It was quite small and seemingly shallow, no real structure, and the tell-tale slight turqoise hue. But as soon as we walked up, we started spotting fish. We kicked around on our float tubes casting dries, streamers, nymphs, and only got follows with stiff denials.


I switched to a leech and caught these two guys.




The cooling rain on the hike out was welcome given the difficulty of the climb up onto the rim of the canyon.


I particularly appreciated this view at the top of the rim looking down the meadow that was between us and the trailhead.
 

jwbowen

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You mentioned only taking one rod your next trip. I do a much shorter
5.5 mile trip several times a year. Several years ago, in order to save
weight, I ditched a rod and brought an extra spool with different line.
I got in late so my first cast was the next morning. First fish, I broke
the rod tip because I didnt set the ferrules tight. I always have a second
lighter rod now:). I didn't even have a spare in my vehicle. I hiked out
and a local fly shop loaned me a rod for the remainder of the trip.
 

COTater

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Absolutely beautiful scenery and fish.

I haven't done a backcountry fishing trip in quite some time, its definitely worth it.

Thanks for sharing!!!
 

stenacron

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Wow, wow, WOW! I've been hiking/backpacking/fly-fishing the Uintas for about 7-8 years now and I can count the +15-inch fish on one hand! This is amazing to see and your pictures are fantastic.

Kudos to you for packing in a float tube and waders too. My pack weighed almost 43 lbs for a simple over-nighter last weekend! :oops:

Can't tell if I am more inspired or jealous... maybe both!
 

desmobob

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A lot of folks aren't familiar with that Wilderness Lite Backpacker Pro float tube in the photos. It weighs 3.4 pounds and packs up the size of a small loaf of bread. That weight includes the pump that is supplied with the tube. I'm 6'2", 255 lbs. and mine floats me nicely. Contrast this with a typical tube like an Outcast FatCat at 20+ lbs..

Owning one will inspire you to put it in your pack and go fish somewhere far off...

Thanks for sharing those wonderful photos, Lando!
 

LandoLando

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You mentioned only taking one rod your next trip. I do a much shorter
5.5 mile trip several times a year. Several years ago, in order to save
weight, I ditched a rod and brought an extra spool with different line.
I got in late so my first cast was the next morning. First fish, I broke
the rod tip because I didnt set the ferrules tight. I always have a second
lighter rod now:). I didn't even have a spare in my vehicle. I hiked out
and a local fly shop loaned me a rod for the remainder of the trip.
That sounds like awful luck! I’ve only ever broke one rod in the field, and it was totally my fault (hooked a tree and reefed on the rod a little too hard trying to get it free until the tip broke). I also broke one in a car door, but that’s not likely to happen in the back country. Your story does make me want to see if the manufacturer can send me a spare rod tip to bring along, because that wont weigh a whole lot.


Wow, wow, WOW! I've been hiking/backpacking/fly-fishing the Uintas for about 7-8 years now and I can count the +15-inch fish on one hand! This is amazing to see and your pictures are fantastic.

Kudos to you for packing in a float tube and waders too. My pack weighed almost 43 lbs for a simple over-nighter last weekend! :oops:

Can't tell if I am more inspired or jealous... maybe both!
After seeing your many reports from strawberry and other stillwater, I’m very flattered to read this. My pack was 41 lb for a two night, three day trip. 11lb of that was fishing gear.

A lot of folks aren't familiar with that Wilderness Lite Backpacker Pro float tube in the photos. It weighs 3.4 pounds and packs up the size of a small loaf of bread. That weight includes the pump that is supplied with the tube. I'm 6'2", 255 lbs. and mine floats me nicely. Contrast this with a typical tube like an Outcast FatCat at 20+ lbs..

Owning one will inspire you to put it in your pack and go fish somewhere far off...

Thanks for sharing those wonderful photos, Lando!
^All of this! It is unbelievable how much of an advantage it is to have a float tube on back country lakes. You can present flies to fish that may have never seen a fly in their life. I can access certain structure in a lake you could never access from the shore. Even in a tiny 3 acre lake, it is an advantage. Let alone the fact that you can pretty much forget about getting your line stuck in a tree on the back cast.

I will take exception to one thing in your post, I got the treeline 2.x which is less than 3lb. ;)Fewer bells and whistles, but who has room in their pack for bells or whistles?

Shout out to Wilderness Lite for their unparalleled product line. No I don’t work for them or represent them in any way, I’m just a very satisfied customer.
 
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