When we step into our mountains and no longer see our roads and vehicles, we are elevated to a vital world, one that sharpens survival skills, intensifies the senses, relaxes the mind and restores the soul.

High lakes for our purposes are at an elevation of 2500 feet or more west of the Cascade Mountain crest and 3500 feet or more east of the crest. Most, but not all, of our numerous high lakes are below the tree line. Successful fishing at these elevations is usually accomplished from May to October, though regulations allow year round fishing in most mountain lakes. Climate in the high country is most friendly from mid June into September.

Preparation and Safety

We plan for safe and comfortable trips. Preparation for those trips away from roads and vehicles includes careful checking and packing the ten survival essentials. Information on the characteristics and condition of specific trails and discussions of the ten essentials can be found at Washington Trails Association. Weather forecasts for the various mountain areas are available at National Weather Service and other locations. Be sure to check if permits or licenses, including parking permits, are required for the area you intend to visit.

Equipment and Techniques

With rare exceptions, the fish in high lakes are trout (mostly rainbow and cutthroat; golden trout in a few lakes) and char (eastern brook trout). Fishing for these high lake species is similar to fishing for them in low elevation lakes. Bait, flies and small spoons and spinners can all be successful. Be sure to check the regulations for special rules. Many high lake fisher folk take both a spinning rod and a fly rod or a combination rod to maximize success. Some take a float tube on short carries to high lakes and a backpacking raft on long carries. Without this flotation there is usually not adequate back casting space for fly rod fishing. Which wet or dry flies should you try? One high lake expert, when he sees trout rising, starts fly-fishing with elk hair caddis and gold-ribbed hare’s ear flies. These are versatile flies that mimic several food items. Bait can also be effective. However, we recommend that you not use bait or barbed hooks if you plan to release the fish.

High lakes tend to be clearer than low lakes. Many are small and shallow. Wary fish inhabit these lakes. Experienced anglers use lighter leader and use great care to avoid spooking the fish and are careful to avoid exposing fish to human scent.

Our mountain backcountry is a special resource that will entice and energize you. Please remember to leave no trace of your human presence on this fragile treasure.


By Bob Heirman

Let us seek that special quiet place
Far from the busy throng
Where in solitude, our souls embrace,
The beauty of nature’s song.