High Alpine Fishing in the Spanish Peaks

August 20th, 2009

High alpine fly fishing

My new hobby this summer is fishing. Now, I don’t mean fly fishing on the Gallatin and Madison a la Brad Pitt, although that may be where it’s headed. What I like is running around in high mountains, so that’s where my fishing hobby takes me: to our glorious, scenic, government-stocked alpine lakes! It’s perfect. All the excitement of hiking, climbing and camping in our wonderful Montana peaks, plus catching big, delicious trout! It’s hard to ask for more.

Hiking up into Bear BasinMountain goats in Bear BasinMe in Bear Basin

My friend Ben and I planned on fishing Diamond Lake, in the Spanish Peaks north of Big Sky. Diamond is a big lake, and after looking at the stocking schedule Ben thought there would be some monster Cutthroats in it. The trouble is that there is no trail to it. The usual approach up the drainage from Spanish Creek is a tough bushwack. Our thought was to drop in on it from above, via Beacon Point. It looked steep, but it was alpine tundra so the going should be easier than the other approach. Plus, it would give us a much more scenic hike up Bear Basin and by Gallatin Peak, with better camping and more lakes.

Flowers by Summit Lake

Hiking up to the Bear Basin saddleCamping by Gallatin Peak up North Fork Little Hellroaring CreekGallatin Peak, looking huge

We started in on Friday afternoon, camping on the trail in Bear Basin. The next day we climbed up out of the Basin, with the company of mountain goats. The trail drops down the other side a short ways into the South Fork of Spanish Creek before cutting over right past Summit Lake into the North Fork of Hell Roaring Creek. Summit Lake was one of the more spectacular high mountain lakes I’ve ever seen. It’s way up on a pass and wreathed by big peaks like the Blaze and Gallatin. A lake on a pass?? Amazing.

The Blaze and another peak from Summit Lake

We set up our second camp at Thompson Lake, right at the foot of Gallatin Peak, which towered above us. In the back of my mind I hoped to bag Gallatin Peak on this trip, but the Northwest face is pretty imposing and I decided just to fish. Another peak for another day. (Nice TR here of my buddy Steve skiing Gallatin Peak.) Fortunately, the fishing was awesome so my regrets at not getting up Gallatin were quickly allayed.

My trophy cutthroat

Every 5th cast it seemed we were hooking fish. They must have been hungry. Starving. A few even tried to take my strike indicator! Within a half hour Ben and I had both landed 15″+ Cuttys. The biggest might have been about 17″. This being my first summer doing much fishing, I’d never caught fish this big before so it was very exciting. It’s a lot more fun to play and land a 15″ fish than a 5″ one! We kept three big ones, and had to start releasing the rest for fear we couldn’t eat more than three of these monsters. Ben was using full fly gear, and I was using flies on my Eagle Claw backpackers spinning rod.

Big cutthroat trout - 17in?Living the lifeBen, making a big cutthroat look even bigger with perfect holding technique

That night we enjoyed whiskey and more fire-cooked trout than, frankly, I ever care to eat in one sitting again. A man does not need to eat that much fish, ever. But it was delicious!

Beautiful old cutty - look at the teeth!The fish in the fireTasty trout dinner

The next morning we felt satisfied enough with the previous day’s fishing to just scout Diamond Lake from Beacon Point, without plans to actually climb down and fish it. The hike to and view from Beacon were very nice, but I was glad left our fishing gear. The drop down to Diamond was pretty sheer. I liked being under no obligation to find a way down it.

Thompson LakeGallatin Peak from the Indian Ridge trail up Beacon PointDiamond Lake

We finished our weekend with a little more fishing at Thompson Lake, and then the hike back out to the car. Yet another great weekend in the mountains of Montana! The best map of this area is the somewhat elusive Spanish Peaks map, but another good one is the Beartooth PublishingBozeman - Big Sky - West Yellowstone” map available from Amazon and also directly from Beartooth. Oh, and the USGS has free topos online now too! store.usgs.gov

The Spanish Peaks above Diamond Lake

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9 Responses to “High Alpine Fishing in the Spanish Peaks”

  1. Great pics - looks like an awesome weekend.

  2. indeed it was. looks like the snow is here now though ( a bit early). thanks for stopping by!

  3. Very nice blog, I am an avid outdoorsman and this kind of activity is my passion! Thanks for sharing!

  4. Hi Evan:

    I am glad to hear that Diamond Lake is still hard to get to. I have been there six times, (first time in late 60’s) and have taken just about every route in. Up Indian Ridge, over the hump from Chilled Lakes, up from Spanish Creek. I hope a real trail is never blazed.

    The canyon has changed so much over the years, its good to know there are a few spots still relatively the same.


  5. Heh yes, it’s difficult access is part of it’s mystique. I hope there are always a few “less traveled” spots like this as well. Thanks for stopping by!

  6. Is this trail that you took to reach Thompson lake the “North Fork Trail” (the trail off of the North Fork Road)? Around how many miles is it to Thompson Lake and around how long does it take to hike there? Can one reach it in one day? Thinking about doing this as a 2 day backpacking trip (coming from Detroit). Thanks! Feel free to e-mail me at the above e-mail address if you don’t want to go into this much detail here.

  7. Yeah we went up the North Fork Trail. There are other routes though, like up North Fork of Hellroaring. You can definitely hike there in a day, too, although I forget how far in it is. 8 miles? Very doable. Good to start in the morning though, to get some fishing time. :)

  8. glad you had an awesome time up there. My favorite alpine lake in Spanish Peaks. Have been four times now and every time feels like the first. Although the last time was nearly 2 years ago, i still have dreams about this place. I went during hopper season, and it was almost like cheating. Next trip Planned for next summer!

  9. We fished Diamond and Beehive in the late 60s and early 70s, and are planning a Beehive trip for this summer. Diamond was loaded with 6-16 pound rainbows. I met Dave Llewellen there on one trip. He was a magician with a fly rod, catching an average of 18 fish per day in the above range. He said he was offered a lot of money from Field and Stream and Outdoor Life for a story on Diamond, but only if he gave the location. He turned them down, saying: “If I gave out the location, they would build a four-lane highway in here.”

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