Colorado boasts 44 designated Wilderness areas. Quick history lesson; in 1964, Congress passed the Wilderness Act. This law recognized wilderness as, “an area where the earth and its community of life are untrammeled by man, where man himself is a visitor who does not remain.” It also defined wilderness as, “an area of undeveloped Federal land retaining its primeval character and influence without permanent improvements or human habitation, which is protected and managed so as to preserve its natural conditions.” So, in essence, wilderness areas are wild spaces on public land that have been left untouched. And guess what. Wilderness areas are great places to fish.
One of Colorado’s 44 wildernesses is Holy Cross Wilderness, named after Mount of the Holy Cross a 14,009’ tall peak in the Sawatch Range. Within this little slice of heaven lies Lake Constantine and it’s full of trout. Get directions to the trailhead HERE.
Before I get to the fishing let me illuminate the drawbacks to Lake Constantine. First, the lake is a four mile hike from the trailhead with 1,000 feet in elevation gain, with an end elevation of over 11,300 feet. So, the hike will not be easy for people who aren’t use to the altitude or in decent shape. Second, the trailhead lies at the end of an 8 mile, pothole riddled, gravel road that should only be attempted if you have a high clearance vehicle. Third, there is limited parking and the trail to Lake Constantine has the same parking area as the trail to the summit of Mt. of the Holy Cross, so the area is always crowded, no solitude here. Finally, the area around the lake is dispersed camping only, and due to the popularity of the lake and its rugged terrain, finding a suitable, secluded campsite is quite difficult.
As you can see there are some drawbacks to Lake Constantine, but the fishing is pretty darn good. I wouldn’t suggest it as a day hike destination. It takes too much effort to get there to only spend a few hours on the water. However, since it’s such a beautiful area I encourage you to make it a backpacking trip and spend a night or two to really enjoy the area and the fishing.
The lake is dominated by Brook Trout most of which fall in the 8” – 10” range. However, the lake also holds a Colorado native, the Colorado River Cutthroat trout. These native cutthroats have been outcompeted by the non-native Brook Trout, but if you’re lucky you might find one on the end of your line. I caught 31 fish during my visit but only 3 were cutthroats.
During the summer months, the trout in Lake Constantine are constantly feeding in preparation for the long cold winter. This is definitely to your benefit as the trout aren’t too picky and will go after just about anything that looks edible. A dry dropper rig will serve you quite well here, but use small flies; sizes 16 – 20. I used a Parachute Adams as my dry with a Brassie midge dropper, and this setup worked quite well.
You will see a lot of trout sitting in the shallows around the lake but these trout are easily spooked so a stealthy approach is required. When fishing the shallows make delicate casts using a long leader and whenever possible try to cast from a concealed position, be it kneeling behind a rock, or standing behind a tree. However, I found these trout very difficult to catch and not worth the hassle. Instead, I suggest casting out into the deeper sections of the lake.
About 10’ – 15’ from shore the bottom will drop off quickly to the deeper portions of the lake. These areas can be fished without the need for a perfect, stealthy approach. The fish in these deeper areas slowly cruise the lake a few feet below the water’s surface looking for food. If you cast out and simply let your flies drift with the wind, the odds are a hungry, cruising trout will pass by and take the bait. On windless days the water is so clear you can see the cruising fish approaching allowing you to prepare and increasing your chances of a successful hook set. You can even sight fish the cruising trout. Try to land your fly about 10 feet from the trout in the direction it’s cruising. Casting this way shouldn’t spook the trout and will increase the odds that it will swim past and see your fly.
In conclusion, Lake Constantine isn’t perfect. It’s pretty hard to get to and pretty popular (ie crowded). However, the lake is teaming with trout. The trout aren’t trophies and I’d be surprised if anything in the lake exceeds 12”-14”. However, they are very hungry and there are a lot of them. So, if you want to head up into the mountains and catch tons of brookies and an occasional cutthroat, give Lake Constantine a try. If you’re looking for trophies or total solitude, you need to look somewhere else. Until next time, happy fishing!
- A. Egli