Justin Gloudeman with 26-inch rainbow trout
2015 Kingfish Award winner Justin Gloudeman with a 26-inch rainbow

This post contains excerpts from a 2003 HL Forum discussion about big fish in the high lakes, edited to emphasize tips for catching them. We are mining past threads for interesting content and I hope you enjoy. Alas, the photo links from the orignal thread no longer work. But you can imagine those healthy fish putting a big bend in the rod! To see the original thread >>> https://forum.hilakers.org/tbhl/forums/topic/big-alpine-trout/

What advice would you be willing to give for seeking out the few large fish amongst their smaller neighbors? How much of it do you think is finding the right lake at the right time in the cycle? Do most people use spinning gear… spoons, spinners, bait? I use a flyrod about 99% of the time and do pretty well but I’d prefer quality over quantity if faced with an either/or dilemma.

I can’t complain, just hiking up to a beautiful alpine lake and catching a mess of trout with nobody else around is always fantastic. I’d keep doing it if nothing changed but I’d love to add to the experience! I guess time of day, specific lures/flies, types of water to look for, perhaps recommended reading?


There is no easy, and no short answer to your questions. If you are catching a bunch of small fish it is possible, even likely, that there are no big fish in the lake. If a lake has fish that are naturally reproducing too efficiently they will become skinny and large headed when they sexually mature at age 3 or 4. There are too many fish for the food supply and they stop growing longer and put all their energy into producing gametes. In lakes with stunted populations you will catch small ones one after another and there will be no large ones in the lake.

Sometimes, you will be in a situation where there is a large population of recently planted fish, and a few large hold overs. Or, perhaps, more frequent stocking or limited natural reproduction such that there are fish of a range of sizes. Every lake is different and I can think of a myriad of contradictory examples to any generalization I make, but here goes anyway.

Often the big ones will be down deep. I’ve been to lakes where fish were rising around the shore and fishing was decent. The easy thing to do would be to fish to the rising fish all around the shore. In one particularly good example of this situation I abandoned the 12-13″ fish along the shore and went deep off a rock slide. I worked one spot I liked for 45 minutes with no luck until I figured out the proper depth and technique. I had a strike or fish on 8 of the following 10 casts with the smallest fish going 17″.

The technique is to go deep with a reasonably heavy spoon like a 1/4 oz Krocodile and retrieve very, very slowly. Find the bottom by counting how long it takes to sink and time the start of your retrieve on subsequent casts to start just barely off the bottom. Rock slides are particularly productive locations for this technique.

Often large rainbow will cruise the middle of the lake. A flatfish, f5 or f7, trolled in the middle can be very effective. I’ve seen situations were shore anglers might catch an occasional small fish while we couldn’t keep large fish off out in the boats.

I prefer catching fish on flies. There is no good way to keep small fish off if you are using flies. I can remember one partially frustrating day at a lake in Wyoming where the goldens were cruising the shore in schools. One large fish surrounded by a bunch of small fish. I would sneak up on the shore, spot the fish, and catch one of the little ones every time. Most of the time it is a matter of persistence and luck.

Last summer I was at a lake with my daughter and we were catching lots of 8-10 inchers from the previous plant. Finally at the far end of the lake I told my daughter to cast her fly over along the shore and she caught a beautiful 16″ CT. It was a matter of putting the fly in a good spot and getting lucky that the big one hit it that time instead of a little one.

Sometimes you just have to get lucky and get to a lake that for whatever reason wasn’t fished much in the previous few years and there are some fish left over from an old plant that haven’t been caught. It might be another 10 or 15 years before fish like that can be found in the lake again.

As an aside, I always fish with a fly rod (5 wt). When I’m spin fishing I just put my spinning reel on the normal fly reel seat and use it as a spinning rod.

I never really care if I catch fish at all. The setting is good enough, fish are just a bonus. Big fish are an extra special bonus.

Brian Curtis

Brian, when you use spoons – or any other hardware, do you replace the treble hooks with single siwash hooks? I always end up releasing a lot of fish and the singles make it a heck of a lot easier to do that. I’ve been doing this with my Kastmasters for years, using Gamakatsu singles. I haven’t noticed if I lose more fish than if I was using trebles. Ditto with the Flatifsh. Just curious how you do it.

Cliff Church

My monicker, ltlcleo, is my favorite fishing spoon. Get rid of the trebles. Trebles are great for catching anything but fish. Like weeds, sticks etc. They are likely to pin the fishes mouth shut causing the fight to diminish. At most they make catch and release unrealistic. With bigger fish you are more likely to hook a piece of the soft flesh in the mouth instead of getting a good corner set. I have lost a lot of big fish because of trebles.


I’ll second that comment about the Kastmasters. I think you may have a little better chance of landing the fish with a treble [on the smaller fish; I agree with ltlcleo about the bigger fish], but its definitely not worth it with all the time you spend getting the fish off, possible injury to the fish, increased likelihood of hanging up on the bottom, and in my opinion, a lesser chance of attracting a strike. Just my two cents worth. I’m sure Brian has a better answer than I do.


I think your answer is excellent. I tend to have some lures with treble hooks and some with single in my tackle box. The ones with trebles are there, more often then not, because I was throwing the lure in at the last minute and hadn’t remembered to change the hook, not because I wanted the treble hook on. I always regret having it on when it mangles a fish.

I have found, however, that single, barbless hooks are far less effective at hooking fish when trolling from a raft, where I have to hold the rod between my legs, for rainbows. They hit the lure, come out of the water and immediately throw the hook.

Brian Curtis

I could see where without a hookset that a treble would be more likely to set itself. Another reason I got tired of trebles were my two dogs. It is also easier to C&R a dog with a single barbless than it is a treble! Lol


Big trout are where you find them, and mostly it takes a lot of searching to find them. Lakes that usually grow pretty nice fish are ones that are off the well beaten path, but not necessarily so. One of the biggest trout I ever saw was in Evan Lake, less than 1/4 mile from the trailhead up near Boardman lake. Another 6 pounder I saw was at Ilswoot Lake in Necklace Valley, no sh#t!

Ken McLeod