Heading out the door? Read this article on the new Outside+ app available now on iOS devices for members! Download the app.
You cross a threshold, both mental and physical, when fishing the backcountry. First, the fish are usually wild, not the docile, pellet-fed offspring of a hatchery. Also, the farther and higher you hike, the better the fishing. And remember: Nothing tastes more like wilderness than pan-fried trout for breakfast. These three classic hike-in spots hook you up.
Lake Louise, WY
Chase wild trout through the Winds
The Wind River Range is famous for fly-fishing and climbing, but ropes and carabiners won’t get you dinner. Ever since state senator and climber Finis Mitchell-the Johnny Appleseed of trout in these parts-planted fish in 300 area lakes in the 1930s, the Winds have been a trout-chaser’s mecca. But you won’t find crowds on the 2.3-mile Glacier Trail (stay right and follow West Torrey Creek). The hike gains more than 1,000 feet before reaching a granite-rimmed, blue-green lake that resembles its famous Canadian namesake, minus the tour buses. Cast dry flies or nymphs at the West Torrey Creek outlet, then work your way left around the south shore. Fishing is also good at the inlet on the lake’s west side.
Got all night? Scramble up West Torrey Creek another 900 feet to Hidden Lake, just southwest of Louise, for solitary camping.
Four miles south of Dubois on US 26/287, turn right onto Trail Lake Road and drive 9.6 miles, following the signs to Trail Lake Ranch.
Chattooga River, SC
Match wits with Appalachian browns
The Chattooga may be best known as the whitewater backwoods of Deliverance. But before it starts roiling, the river rolls gently through Appalachian woods, offering miles of classic trout water. The Chattooga River Trail starts in Georgia, but you should head 20 miles north, to the Ellicott Rock Wilderness, where browns and rainbows mix with the odd eastern brook trout. Above Burrells Ford Campground, hemlocks and wild rhododendron crowd the shoreline where three states meet, making the casting nearly as challenging as the catching. From the Burrells Ford trailhead, follow the river trail up the east bank for 3.1 miles to Ellicott Rock. The water here is often clear, so try light leaders and a delicate upstream presentation.
Order up the smoked ham at Oinkers BBQ in nearby Clayton, GA, where “swine dining” means everything is slow-cooked and fresh.
Head east 14 miles from Clayton to New Burrells Ford Road (FR 708); turn right (west) for the trailhead near the river.
Wenaha River, OR
Cast for huge salmon and steelhead
One of the few drawbacks to high-country wilderness: The fish are often small, having spent months beneath ice. But the Wenaha is a tributary of the Grande Ronde, which is a tributary of the Snake, which feeds into the Columbia, which means the steelhead and salmon average 8 to 12 pounds. The Troy Trail accesses the Wenaha at the Grande Ronde confluence. Walk upstream through ponderosa and lodgepole pine in the 177,465-acre Wenaha-Tucannon Wilderness and choose from many enticing spots along a 20-mile stretch. Drop flies below the surface for steelhead, swinging them downstream. You can often spot fish from basalt outcroppings overlooking the river. Just beware of a healthy rattler population.
No luck? No worries. Head to Terminal Gravity Brewing in nearby Enterprise for pecan-encrusted salmon and an Extra Special Golden.
From Elgin, several Forest Service roads lead to the town of Troy (watch for signs spray-painted on trees).