If you’re unfamiliar with Idaho’s backcountry, it might make you nervous to travel to the wilder places in the state, but the backcountry and its alpine lakes offer excellent fishing. and incredible experiences in some of the most scenic locations in the state.
You may have heard that even a day trip requires a bunch of specialized equipment and hard-to-master navigation skills, but that’s not the case.
Yes, the backcountry poses different challenges than if you were driving a paved highway to a state park or other developed fishing spot with a nearby town. But it’s nothing you can’t handle, especially if you keep it simple and don’t go overboard on your first outing.
Of course, this assumes you’ve done some basic homework and your vehicle is capable of getting you there and back, and you bring the essentials to make sure you cover the basics. Remember that there are no convenience stores in the backcountry, so you have to be self-sufficient.
The key is to start with a fun, relaxed outing where the chances of success are high, then build on what you’ve learned for your next outing.
Here are 10 tips to get you started:
- Keep it simple: For your first outing, don’t stray too far off the beaten track. Maybe head to a place that’s just a little beyond a place you already know. If you’re new to Idaho, consider well-known Idaho destinations that have mountain lakes, such as McCall’s, Stanley, Ketchum, the Panhandle, etc. live.
- Check current conditions before you go: Check forecast weather, road conditions, trail conditions and the fire situation before you go. Ask about rough roads, washouts, downed trees, wildfire closures, snowy trails, or roads closed for repairs during the summer to address these hazards. Some high altitude mountain roads can be blocked by snow until July. On the other hand, forest fires are common in the summer, and even a fire tens of miles away (or even hundreds of miles away) can make your idyllic mountain lake foggy and smoky. You can check current conditions by calling a Forest Service or Bureau of Land Management office near your destination, and check their websites and Facebook pages for alerts and closures.
- Don’t be a backcountry snob: What does that mean? This means you don’t have to trek for hours to a secluded mountain lake to experience alpine lake fishing. There are many productive and fun lakes you can drive and camp to and enjoy all the fun of mountain lake fishing from a comfortable, well-stocked camp (or sometimes even an RV). Don’t expect to be alone, but that’s often the only compromise with a lake you can access by car. The fishing can still be good, the scenery spectacular, and you’ll be comfortable. Whichever way you get there, remember to put away your rubbish and keep the scenery beautiful for everyone.
- When hiking, stay light: We are all guilty of this. We head for the mountains, so we prepare for the worst and take enough gear to sustain a military campaign. This is where a little restraint and common sense go a long way. If you’re only a mile or two from your vehicle, you’re probably 30 minutes to an hour away, depending on the trail, terrain, and how fast you’re walking. You probably don’t need heavy hiking boots and a giant backpack. If your lake is about a mile away and there is a trail to it, a pair of light hiking boots and a backpack should suffice. A pair of shorts, a t-shirt, sneakers or light hikers, a fishing rod, a water bottle, a light rain jacket and some snacks may be all you need for a one day hike. day in a lake if the weather looks good and you are back before evening when the temperature cools. Bring your smartphone to help you navigate the trail (get a mapping app) and take photos.
- Explore, experiment, repeat: Learn from your first trip and after a few more rides you’ll understand what works, what gear you need and where you like to go. Maybe your next trip is to a nearby lake on the first ridge, or a distant lake miles away where there is no trail. If you are new to mountain lake fishing, go with an open mind and see what kind of fishing you like. Choose your favorite rod and a few essential lures or flies, then leave the rest behind.
- put on‘so as not to think too much about your fishing equipment: I’m not saying trout in mountain lakes are stupid (unless they’re brook trout, which can be prolific and always hungry), but you probably won’t need more than basic equipment for catching fish in a mountain lake. The odds, relatively speaking, tend to be in your favor for several reasons. First, the growing season tends to be short and the fish don’t experience much fishing pressure, so they’re not really wary. They must feed aggressively enough to fatten up enough to survive the long winter. Second, there’s usually competition for food, so if one fish doesn’t grab your offerings, another may. Third, mountain lakes are generally quite barren, so food can be scarce. All of this works in your favor as an angler.
- Load the cooler: Even on day trips, think of your vehicle as a base camp. It can take a while to get to a trailhead, so when you get there, eat and drink so you don’t start your hike hungry or thirsty. When you return, have more cold drinks waiting on the ice and more food in the cooler. Maybe even bring a camp stove or grill and have a picnic at the trailhead before heading home. It takes time and effort to get into the backcountry, so make the most of your day.
- Plan your first backcountry camping trip: Unless you are an experienced hiker and backcountry navigator, on your first outing, avoid a long, multi-day loop hike. It may be best to go back to an area you already know and take a fairly short hike to a lake and spend the night there to build your confidence. Again, this will give you a chance to relax, learn the basics, and work out what you really need for a longer stay, or before embarking on a longer hike to more remote and unknown places. .
- Be creative: Use your imagination and ingenuity to overcome the challenges of the backcountry. You can use your mobile phone as a combination camera, GPS, compass, flashlight, map, weather, field guide, etc. Did you know that yarrow and mint can repel mosquitoes? Need bait? Catch grasshoppers on your hike or search in a creek or along the shoreline of the lake for natural bait. Use a small fire to cook a fish for lunch. Choose blueberries for dessert. A creative fisherman used a self-inflating inflatable mattress as a makeshift floating tube for fishing. You probably wouldn’t want to take it to the middle of a large lake, but it might get you closer to a hard-to-reach fishing spot close to shore.
- Mountain lakes are not limited to fishing: If you spend a day or night by a mountain lake and come back complaining that you didn’t catch any fish, enough fish, or big enough, you’ve somehow missed the point. Yes we are going fishing so we hope to catch some fish but consider catching fish as the icing on the cake of the whole backcountry experience.
If you never go beyond driving to a mountain lake for a day of fishing, there’s nothing wrong with that. But your first trip will likely create a bigger appetite for the backcountry, and you might want to explore a little further, stay a little longer, and see more places. This will likely mean adding to your fishing and camping gear, upgrading certain items, and buying specialized gear (plastic poop scoop, anyone?)
Most importantly, spending your time wisely in the backcountry will build your confidence, increase your comfort level, and improve your skills and knowledge to extend your future outing in time and distance. It will also hone your skills so that what was once intimidating becomes second nature and the mountains become as comfortable as your own backyard.