Fly Fishing Fern Lake – RMNP

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By Andre Egli

Crystal and I have spent a lot of time exploring Rocky Mountain National Park, and for good reason.  The park is only an hour or so from Denver, it has abundant wildlife, and the scenery is breathtaking.  However, I have not spent much time fishing the park.  Most of our hikes occurred in the winter when the scenery is at its best but most of the park’s fishable water is frozen solid.  I am happy to report that winter is over in the high country and I have begun my fishing adventures in Rocky Mountain National Park.


Fern Lake RMNP_Eglis Outdoors-0134

Fern Lake – RMNP

My first excursion took me to Fern Lake, and it was well worth the trip.  Fern Lake lies at 9,500 feet and does require a bit of effort to get to.  The trail to the lake is about 3.8 miles one way with an elevation gain of 1,400 feet.  Suffice it to say, if you’re just looking to park somewhere and start fishing, Fern Lake isn’t for you.  However, if you want to be surrounded by scenery and nature you need to make the trek.  Click HERE for directions to the trailhead, Crystal will share all the details of the hike, which is amazing, so be sure to check that out HERE.

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The main catalyst for my trek to Fern Lake was my desire to catch a Greenback Cutthroat Trout, the state fish of Colorado.  Greenbacks are a threatened species; non-native species like rainbows, browns, and brook trout have outcompeted the native greenback and now they only occupy 1% of their historic range.  It is still legal to fish for them, but all greenbacks must be released and you can only use barbless hooks.  Intentionally killing a greenback will result in a $500 fine and up to 6 months in prison, so DON’T DO IT!  With that said, I present to you my first Greenback Cutthroat Trout!

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They don’t grow very large (they tend to max out at about 18″) but they are a beautiful fish, and Fern Lake is full of them.  In fact Fern Lake contains only one species of fish, the fore mentioned Greenback Cutthroat.  The fish were plentiful and rising just about everywhere.  However, the vast majority were sitting very close to the shore near fallen logs and submerged rocks.  The best fishing spot on the lake is where Fern Creek flows into Fern Lake.  As you reach the lake you will notice a ranger cabin and if you head around the lake to the right you’ll run into the creek.  This time of year the creek has a strong flow from all the show melt and the trout congregate in this spot and feast.  Be warned, Fern Lake is pretty popular with anglers and this spot will likely be claimed unless you arrive early.  We started our hike around 7:30am reaching the lake around 9am and this spot was claimed by others already.

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If you’re not lucky enough to get to that spot first fret not, the fishing is good all over.  I landed about 8 trout total for the day and hooked up with several more.  To give yourself the best chance at hooking up with a greenback I suggest a dry dropper rig.  With only a short window to fatten up before winter hits again the trout are actively feeding both above and below the water’s surface.  Small flies in the size 16 – 22 range were the ticket during my visit. I had success with several different patterns including Parachute Adams, Parachute BWO, Pheasant Tail Nymphs, and Midges.

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Keep your eyes peeled for wildlife while you’re fishing as well.  The area is home to deer, bighorn sheep, elk, bears, mountain lions, and moose.  In fact this beautiful lady wondered right past me while I was fishing.

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We also saw elk, deer, and even witnessed a hawk defending its nest from a pine marten.  RMNP is a wild place and if you stay vigilant you will see some amazing things.  The one drawback to Fern Lake is the mosquitoes.  The lake is home to some healthy swarms of the pests, which is good for the fish but bad for the angler, so be sure to pack some bug spray.

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In conclusion, Fern Lake is an amazing place.  My visit was one of the greatest days of my life (not an exaggeration), perfect weather, excellent fishing, and tons of wildlife.  Sadly, the lake isn’t a secret so you won’t be alone, but 3.8 mile uphill hikes tend to keep the masses at bay so you won’t feel crowded.  We went on a perfect day, 70 degrees and sunny, and despite the great weather there were only 6 other anglers on the lake.  Fern Lake can’t compete with Emerald Lake’s vistas but the relative solitude and serenity it offers more than makes up for any shortcomings.  If you’re looking to relax, experience nature first hand, and catch some of the most beautiful fish in the world, look no further than Fern Lake.  Until next time, happy fishing!

–          A. Egli


Categories: Fly Fishing, Places to GoTags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

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