High Lake Fly Fishing in the Cascades

July 16, 2018

rotter family backpacking to high lake (3x)I was lucky enough to have a dad that took me high lake fishing as a kid. Many of my fondest memories were hiking steep mountains through alpine forests to the clear untainted waters of the wilderness.  My dad and I fished classic spoons most of the time, but this is when I began to dabble with fly fishing and acknowledge it's advantages.  I specifically remember the first time we saw lots of fish feeding that wouldn't so much as look at our spoons. The next trip we bought a few nymphs at the local gas station, (pre packaged in plastic and cardboard of course).  We hiked to a high lake near Mt. Rainier National Park, and tied those suckers behind a clear bobber and winged 'em out there in the middle of the lake. We caught some Rainbows to the likes of which I couldn't believe!  I was hooked. Pretty soon the spinning rod gave way to a Shakespeare Fly Rod and the rest is history. Without pitching some tackle I wouldn't have fallen in love with fly rod.
rotter family backpacking to high lake (11)
Each person gets their own spork.
rotter family backpacking to high lake (1x)Dehydrating your own backpacking meals is easy, and much healthier than processed foods.
Last year I took the family to Yellowstone on the annual "Griswold Family Fly Fishing Trip".  Many of you may remember the humorous blog of the Podcast Kelly and I posted. This year, like many families, we get sucked into many obligations and time together as an entire family becomes rare and precious.  We had to say "no" to a lot of other stuff to make this happen, but we did a 3 day/2 night backpacking loop in the wilderness of the Cascades. No wi-fi and the only device was a camera and a GPS. It's pretty incredible what happens when you unplug for 3 days.  It reminded me just how much great wild places are for families.
rotter family backpacking to high lake (6)
My kids are 14, 11, and the little guy is 9 years old.  We did 25 miles in 3 days and the kids were amazing!  We fished a small stream on the way up to a high lake, of which we had never been, and Kelly caught 2 trout in 2 casts!  
After a break at the stream, we finally reached a high elevation lake in the late afternoon. I wasn't sure if there were even any fish in this lake, but as I glanced through the trees I began to see a few fish rise.  At first, they appeared small but then my boys who were about 150 yards ahead of me started freaking out and hollering.  I finally caught up and saw what the commotion was about.  There were a couple of 18" Cutthroat feeding in the pristine waters sipping dry flies! 
rotter family backpacking to high lake (4)My wife Kelly delivering a rusty, but effective cast.  Funny we don't get to fish much anymore #lifewithkids
rotter family backpacking to high lake (5)Nice Cutt for the lady.
It as the best site you could possibly see after a long hike!  We had just hiked for 7 hours but the packs came off, rods were assembled and Kelly caught a slabby Cutt on her first cast!  My 11 year old followed up with another niced fish as well. Since we only brought one fly rod, a 7' 3 Weight Redington Butterstick, the family was forced to share.  Talk about family bonding.  Hot fishing and one fly rod? Seriously dad?  
rotter family giant cutt backpacking trip lakeMonster Cutt for my little 9 year old guy. The boys absolutely love fishing spoons. The right place to start for young anglers.
rotter family backpacking to high lake (7)My 11 year old, Jensen, figured out it was easiest to wade in his underwear. Makes sense.
My 9 year old, along with my 14 year old daughter, fly fishes a little bit, but my youngest boy especially prefers casting spinners when the time is right. My little feller caught this Jurassic Cutthroat on a Kastmaster, fishing totally solo stalking the shoreline barefoot. Man it was awesome.  Proud dad. This is where I think a lot of parents screw up. In attempt to get their kids to love fly fishing, they try to make them fly fish.  To that I say good luck.  I personally fell in love with fly fishing once I was ready for the challenge, but to a kid casting an ultralight spinning rod is challenging enough. Especially on big lakes where a 20' fly cast is nearly futile. 
rotter family backpacking to high lake (2)
My boys working together to handle a rough customer.
On a small creek its all different, fly fishing becomes an advantage. On a lake however, kids will get frustrated and lose interest in casting flies really fast.  Don't let this happen to yours.  Keep them engaged and let them be independant.  What would you prefer?  Snagging up your backcast, being nagged by dad, and catching few fish.  ORRR....  wading the shore in your underwear bagging a dozen big Cutty's on a spinner BY YOURSELF with no help.  For me, the spinning rod has allowed my boys to gain confidence and become indpendent young sportsman.  Can they fly fish?  Oh you betcha. Because the understand fishing and are familiar with catching fish. It's the norm.  My 11 year old is a darn killer.
rotter family backpackCamo and a couple of rods.  These kids double up their hunting packs for overnight fishing trips.
rotter family backpacking to high lake (1)On the fly rod, we caught all of our fish on dry flies which was spectacular!  In fact, I didn't even bring a nymph. I don't hike for hours to fish nymphs ;).  The fish fed really well on flying ants and I have always found this pattern to be successful on high lakes and it's my "go to".  I like to stalk the shoreline chasing rises and twitching this flying ant pattern.  Make sure to get a dozen or so.  You'll be glad! 

The Family Fly Rod

We have had more fun fishing our Redington Butterstick than any other rod. Its easy to cast, fun to wiggle, casts great, and since its bright yellow I can fish it out of the lake when one of my kids drops it in deep water. It's happened.  These rods are tough and cast very well.  If you are looking for a good little rod that is useful on the way in, think creeks coming in/out of a lake, and will get the job done on the lake. We love the 7' 3 Weight.

Flies for High Lake Fishing:

CFO Black Ant (MONEY!)

Where to Find a Productive High Mountain Lake

Each state will be different, but maybe for those of you that live out side of Washington there will be a similar resource in your state. In Washington, our department of fish and wildlife does a really great job of helping you find high lakes that have trout in them. You can use Fish Washington to filter High Lakes by county. They have a complete history of stocking these lakes. Plan for 2 years minimum to be catchable, an old fish is going to be 6 years old.  It might require some trial and error but you'll have a great time trying!

Fish Washington

  1. Joe you are a lucky man although I'm sure luck had very little to do with it. This is the stuff Dad dreams are made of!
  2. Very cool, Joe. Nice pictures and it looks like the whole family had a blast! Cheers, John
  3. Great story! Is this a secret lake or are you open to sharing the name?