In 2012, Crystal and I visited Telluride, Colorado for the first time. It was amazing. The scenery is breathtaking, and there are ample hiking and fishing opportunities. However, that initial trip contained one glaring regret. We went on a hike to Hope Lake, which Crystal can tell you about HERE. Upon reaching the alpine lake, we noticed dozens of big brilliantly colored Colorado River Cutthroat trout swimming in the lake. Unfortunately, I didn’t know this was the case and had not brought my fishing pole on the hike. Crystal and I returned to Telluride this year for Labor Day weekend, and high on my “to do” list was rectifying the mistake I made 4 years ago.
The hike to Hope Lake is a wonderful journey in and of itself. If you hit the trail in the summer (late June – August) there will be fields of beautiful wildflowers, encounters with elk, deer, marmot, and pika are common, and the scenery is phenomenal. However, as a fisherman, it was difficult to sit next to a lake teaming with trout and not be able to cast a line. So I wasn’t about to make that mistake again.
The trail to Hope Lake isn’t too difficult. It’s about a 2.5 mile hike one way but it does get steep in sections. The lake lies well above the tree line, so if you plan on fishing look for a day with a good weather forecast to ensure ample fishing time. We had pretty good weather for our trek but we were forced down the mountain in the late afternoon by a thunder/hail storm. Weather changes quickly in the high country and let’s just say standing out in the open, at 11,900’, holding a 8-9’ metal pole, during a thunderstorm, isn’t a place you want to be.
The fishing at Hope Lake is very good. The trail is quite popular but the vast majority of people on the trail are hikers and not fishermen. We made our trek on Labor Day weekend and we only saw one other person fishing, so these trout don’t see that many flies or lures. They also live in a very harsh environment. Hope Lake is almost 12,000’ above sea level and sees very cold, long winters that start as early as September and can last into July. Subsequently, the trout only have a narrow window to fatten up before the water freezes solid for the long winter. These factors create hungry fish that are easily fooled.
A dry dropper rig is your best bet for catching these fish. The trout actively cruise the lake gobbling up anything edible, both above and below the water’s surface. Like with most high altitude lakes smaller flies work best because large insects aren’t common up there. The old standards should all work well on Hope Lake; Adams, Royal Wulff, Pheasant Tails, Hare’s Ears, Midges, Griffith Gnats, etc., but smaller sizes (18-24) will work the best.
The water in Hope Lake is crystal clear and if the wind isn’t blowing too hard it’s very easy to sight fish these trout. They are very use to humans near the shore and aren’t startled by flies landing on the water like trout in more heavily fished lakes. I actually landed flies almost on top of trout and still induced strikes. Keep your eyes peeled for cruising trout and try to cast in the direction they’re headed. If you don’t see any cruising in your area, move up and down the shore until you find them, but be ready to cast when you see them because they tend to cover quite a bit of water when they cruise.
On our first trek to the lake in 2012, we went in July and saw large schools of trout moving about close to shore. On our second trip, this time in September, we didn’t see any large schools, just large trout cruising solo. My assumption is that the closer you are to ice out (the date the frozen lake thaws) the more electric the fishing will be.
In conclusion, Hope Lake is a wonderful hike and a great trout fishery. The lake only holds Colorado River Cutthroats, but they are plentiful, big, and beautiful. They are pretty easy to fool with smaller flies and you can sight fish them as they cruise the lake, so don’t forget your polarized glasses! If you’re in the Telluride area and are up for a moderate hike I strongly suggest you check out Hope Lake. Don’t forget your fishing rod or your camera because you’ll definitely want to take photos of the mountains, the lake, and the beautiful fish that call this area home. Until next time, happy fishing!
- A. Egli