Snow has finally arrived in the Greater Yellowstone ecosystem, but that doesn’t mean that any of its famed backcountry is closed for the season.
Mosquitos have disappeared with the changing of seasons, which means there is no better time to fit in some late-season fishing. For myself, the Beartooths are a perfect late-season fishing destination. Pristine streams and no crowds, this rugged and remote range offers some of the best wilderness in the greater Yellowstone ecosystem.
The Beartooths are some of the least explored and most difficult country to access in the lower 48. The region has seen various attempts to mine the mineral-rich range, but the region’s isolation and conditions presented most of these claims with insurmountable challenges. Attempts to mine the range finally ceased in 1975 when it finally received federal protection as the Absaroka-Beartooth Wilderness and now the range serves as a benchmark for the northern Rockies for clean water and an undisturbed ecosystem.
Several pristine lakes lie along the Beartooth Highway, and many more are only a few miles from a number of trailheads. Lost Lake was the obvious choice, considering its name. The trail climbed its way to the beginning of one of the innumerable and rarely visited basins in the range. Bear tracks pocked the trail, especially along the numerous creek beds. Thimbleberries are still abundant, but clearly show signs that their best days are behind them.
Lost Lake is nestled between two bare mesas, with ample tree cover along its shores and a scree field as its eastern boundary. The lake is deep and immediately drops to unknown depths at the shore of the scree field and this is where we decided to try our luck. Before we were able to throw our flies in, a crash from down the trail drew our attention. A large and healthy bull moose decided that it was time for his afternoon swim and joined us at the lake. With the moose content in the middle of the lake we were finally able to throw our flies in.
The lake hosts an abundance of brook trout with the occasional cutthroat. The midday sun had pushed the fish to greater depths and we allowed our sparrow nymphs to fall to depths greater than 10 meters, which proved extremely fruitful. Within the first few casts, we had a few among the three of us. Our moose at this point had safely made it to the other side of the lake without paying any mind to us.
Late summer storms echoed in the distance. Each system was no bigger than a basin and by luck the storms that day missed us. We spent the afternoon at Lost Lake. The fish were plentiful and the company enjoyable, especially the thriving pika colony that occupied the scree field above the lake. Even if it wasn’t our day, the hike itself and the wilderness before us would have been more than sufficient to satisfy our appetite for rugged beauty.
The hike itself is roughly a five-mile out and back trip. For anyone looking for a more accessible or easier fishing destination, I would recommend Island and Night lakes, which not only offer great fishing but some of the best views into the Beartooth high country from the highway.
As for any trip into the Beartooths, a day of fishing and trekking through the backcountry often calls for a hearty dinner. Cooke City and Red Lodge are the two closest options. Both offer some of the best dining opportunities in the Yellowstone region. My recommendation is a Philly cheesesteak from Foster and Logans Pub and Grill in Red Lodge. Paired with one of the pub’s dozens of microbrews, what could be better?