How to catch brown trout in mountain lakes

Mountain lakes offer excellent fishing and stunning vistas
Saw no trout in this isolated tarn, but was still worth the hike in.

I love fishing mountain lakes, more remote and isolated the better. Surrounded by, fresh air, breath taking mountain peaks makes the toughest fishing days worthwhile.

Lakes can be overwhelming at first, simply so much water to fish. I personally ignore the middle of the lake. I can not cast there, so I will not fish it. I treat the shore of the lake like the banks of slow flowing river. Just one with much less angling pressure.

Where to find trout in mountain lakes?

Brown Trout live in almost any part of a lake. But they concentrate near food and cover. Best areas to target include.

-Shoreline weedbanks. Weedbanks contain numerous snails, crustacean, baitfish and insect life. Brown trout cruise the weedlines looking for an easy meal.

– Shallows and flats, I often see and catch trout cruising shallow flats. Although, I do not know what they are hunting. Maybe someone can let me know in the comments below. It is not only small fish, on one small mountain tarn I frequently catch my biggest trout there.

– Stream inlets and outlets. This one should not be surpriing. Trout like moving water and the most current is near stream mouths and the outlet. This is a good place to stalk trout from the shore, or drift a streamer down the current to intercept trout massing for spawning runs.

Spinning for trout in Mountain lakes.

Spinning is one of the most efficient methods for fishing mountain lakes. It is easier to cast a spinning rod on a windy day than it is to cast a fly rod.

The secrets to spinning in mountain lakes is to use lightweight tackle and small lures. I like to work the edges with a Rapala F05. Brown trout often work weed banks growing near the shore. Cast out, and along and swim the minnow parallel to the weed. Stop occasionally and jerk it. I prefer dark, natural patterns. I favor Rapalas, but any thin floating jerkbait style of lure should work.

I do not fish inline spinners much in lakes When I do I go small. Like with jerkbaits, work the edges where most trout feed.

When trout are holding far from the shore, or the wind is making casting difficult, it is time to use spoons. There are plenty of options. My first choice will be a long spoon such as a Abu Garcia Toby, Krocodile, or Thomas Speedy Shiner. Australians made Tasmanian Devils or Cobra’s also work well, and wary American trout are unlikely to have seen them before giving an element of surprise. When trout see a lot of pressure, I do like to use unusual lures. The internet makes buying trout lures even easier.

When the wind is extra bad an Acme Kastmaster or a hex spinner is excellent at punching into it.

Fly fishing in mountain lakes

Some of my best trout fishing memories is fishing on mountain lakes. I work the shoreline like its one side of a river. I prefer to sight fish, so I stalk the trout. My fly fishing setup of choice is to use a dry fly as an indicator, and run a small nymph underneath. This combination works for me everywhere in the world I have trout fish.

Keeping low, I climb the surrounding banks to more easily see any cruising trout. If I spot a trout, I stay as still as possible (hopefully I remembered my insect repellent). With the trout swimming away, I will sneak down and get into casting position. I wait until the trout swims past again, and then expertly place my flies about a yard in front (assuming my backcast did not tangle the vegetation behind).

The exact dry fly and nymph to use varies somewhat with location. Personally I find size is more important than the exact model.

Trolling for trout in mountain lakes

I do not troll mountain lakes as often as I should. I much prefer fishing the shallows rather than out in the middle. Even then, I have learnt a trick or two over the years.

Troll slow, and causes as little disturbance as possible. I like to slowly paddle my fishing kayak. I troll my lure very far back. Maybe over 100 yards. This prevents the chances of my paddling spooking the trout. I then paddle in a zigzag pattern. That way my lure cuts the corners and travels across parts of the lake I did not directly paddle over.

My favorite trolling lure in shallow lakes is a floating jerkbait. I typically use Rapalas because that is what I use for spinning. You know the trolling speed is good by monitoring the rod tip vibrating. Alternatively, I will use a small flatfish.

For trolling deeper water, I prefer sinking jerkbaits, or I will add some split-shot or a small weight in front of my floating rapala.

Importance of weather

I much prefer calm conditions, even if overcast and gloomy

At higher elevations it is usually colder and windier than closer to sea level. This can make fishing mountain lakes more challenging. Throughout the year often chilly breezes flow down the valleys, and across the peaks roughing up the surface the lakes.

This wind can make casting difficult, and sight fishing almost impossible. It also results in greatly reduced fishing pressure because it is simply not as enjoyable fishing when a cold wind is blowing.

Always check the forecast before heading into the mountains. I enjoy sight fishing, so I only make the effort to reach my local lakes when there is no wind in the forecast. That might only be half a dozen weekends every season, but is certainly be worth the effort.

How does wind direction affect the fishing?

Eventually, you will arrive at a mountain lake. Rather than being greeted by a pristine mirrorlike surface, you will face a foot high chop capped with little white caps.

My passion is sight fishing. Wind makes it harder to spot cruising trout. I prefer fishing on the leeward side to take advantage of calmer water and a back wind. Even on the windiest days, there are trout to catch. It is a great time to try fishing large terrestrial flies because they frequently get blown onto the lake.

Is it better fish for brown trout on the leeward or windward side of a mountain lake? I have heard many arguments supporting both sides. Many fishermen like to fish facing into the wind.

After one successful morning, I overheard a couple of elderly fly fishermen complaining it was too calm, and that they will wait for the wind to pick up before they started fishing again. Apparently the trout could see them too easily when the lake was flat. They wanted some chop on the water.

One very experience fly-fishing guide prefers to cast into the wind. His casting is much better than mine. He believes the waves disturb the bottom, washing insect life out of the weeds and mud. The trout know that, so they start to feed. He catches plenty of fish.

I also heard more far-fetched theories on how the wind blows oxygen poor water to the windward end of the lake. So the trout move away to escape it… I find that one hard to believe, firstly the Eutrophic water is normally near the bottom. Only the bottom of a very shallow lake will get mixed at all by the waves. Secondly, wave action normally increases oxygen levels so the windward side should have increased oxygen level.

I personally believe the trout do not really care. They will continue to live and feed in their normal beats. If you have the skills to cast and fish the windward or leeward sides, then go ahead. The trout can not feel the wind blow underwater.

Importance of seasons

Winter lasts longer high in the mountains and it is more severe. To gain condition, mountain lake trout feed even aggressively over the brief summer months. Come fall, at times they are grubbing at anything even slightly resembling food.


Spring in the mountains is a time of breathtaking beauty, blooming flowers and the peaks snow crowned snow. The streams are gushing with snow melt. Nights are cold, mornings frosty. The days quickly warm. The water is still cold, and the trout still sluggish. They are in poor condition; they have spent their reserves on spawning runs, made even harder because of the lean winter months.

The trout are typically in poor condition, but they are unlikely to feed until the water warms. So the best fishing often begins around midday and lasts throughout the afternoon. Food in the lake is sparse, so the trout are less fussy.


Over the summer mountain lakes are full of life, mayfly hatches are common. Dragon and damsel flies patrol the shoreline, and their nymphs hunt below. It is a time of plenty for the trout. They feed throughout the day and night. While trout in low laying lakes and streams might suffer from warm water conditions, the mountain lakes generally stay cold.

At this time of year great fishing can be had with terrestrial flies. I like to fly fish along the shoreline, using a black gnat as an indicator with a nymph suspending a couple of feet below.


Mountain lakes are cold in winter
First snow can cause temperatures to plunge

At this time of year, the trout only have food on their minds. They need to eat as much as possible, and to carry as much condition into winter as possible. The trout are often fat, and plump. They prey on energy rich insects and small fish alike. They are less fussy.

Around the time of the first frost, the mood changes. As the water temperature drops to around 44°F to 48°F mature brown trout get the urge to spawn. They swim up the feeder streams, in search of gravel beds to make their redds. Hungry trout often lay in wait to eat any eggs dislodged into the current. With spawning done, the trout drift back downstream. They are thin and weak, many will not survive.


Temperatures are barely above freezing. Ice forms around the edges. Trout slow down and become sluggish. The ice grows ever thicker, eventfully covering the entire lake surface. Trout retreat to deeper water to wait out the coldest months. Feeding continues beneath the ice but the trout continue to lose condition. Only the toughest of anglers brave the winter conditions to catch trout through the ice.

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