You've caught your brookies, rainbows, and cutthroats, but have you ever reeled in the holy grail of backcountry fish: the golden trout? Even veteran anglers talk in hushed tones about these golden-bellies beauties. Why? Partly because they're rare. Golden trout live only in pristine, low-traffic, alpine lakes and streams. Just our kinds of places. But before you stalk this life-list quarry, know where to look.
Golden Trout in California's Sierra Range
Golden trout are native to California. Find them on their home turf at Lake Italy, 12,350 feet high in the John Muir Wilderness. Take the Pine Creek-Lake Italy Trail for 11 miles, gaining 6,000 feet, into rock-rimmed Granite Park. Dip a fly here, or continue over Italy Pass on rough trail to Lake Italy (free permits required for overnights; pick up at the White Mountain Ranger Station in Bishop). Guide Kern River Fly Fishing, kernriverflyfishing.com
Golden Trout in the Colorado Rockies
A 2.5-mile (one-way) hike past mining ruins and tundra delivers anglers to Pomeroy Lakes. Nestled in the shadow of 13,151-foot Pomeroy Mountain in central Colorado, these clear ponds deliver the goods. “Use sinking orange, tan, or olive Scud patterns early in the season, and dry flies like the Elk Hair Caddis and Royal Wulff later,” says Stuart Andrews, the high-alpine specialist for ArkAnglers Guide ArkAnglers; arkanglers.com
Golden Trout in the Wind River Range
Titcomb Basin (driving directions and hiking map), in the heart of the Winds, is already the kind of place that backpackers dream about. Head to Elbow Lake, a granite-ringed tarn at the end of an 18-mile trek from Elkhart trailhead. Then, simply explore. “I started fishing in the high-alpine here 50 years ago, and I’m still finding undiscovered spots,” says fishing guide George Hunker. Guide Sweetwater Fishing; sweetwaterfishing.com
Hall of Fame Gear: Backcountry Fishing
The Orvis Superfine Glass 3-weight 7’ Fly Rod and Battenkill 1 Reel
“This rig is my gold standard backcountry rod,” says our resident angler. The fiberglass construction is durable and the action dreamy. “It casts with beautiful accuracy,” she says, “blending the soft, slow feel of vintage rods with the precision of modern models. And the ultralight reel issues a satisfying click as fish take out line.” $578 for the whole shebang; 5 oz.; orvis.com
Backcountry Fly Fishing Skills
New to the sport? Read up on skills, equipment, and technique for stalking backcountry beauties in our comprehensive guide for beginners.