Guest Blog by Katie Burgert of Fish Untamed
After taking my first trip to the Sangre de Cristos for a quick backpacking trip over the 4th of July (where I unexpectedly crossed paths with Andrew Todd, as he mentioned in his post below!), I was itching to get back to the area. The relatively light hiking traffic, lakes in every drainage, and eager fish made it an angler’s paradise.
We decided to head back to the Sangres the following weekend to get our Flyathlon entries. The goal was to find a drainage with a really long day hike and the possibility of catching a decent fish. A bit of Googling led us to the Xxxxx Lakes, just south of our previous backpacking loop.
The trail was marked as 13.7 miles roundtrip, perfect for getting some Flyathlon points and for earning our post-hike beers. We set out just after 6 a.m. According to the logbook at the Wilderness entrance, we were the first group of the day, and one of only two groups currently in the Wilderness area.
Despite the length, the trail was pleasantly flat. Not flat flat. But, compared to other trails in the Sangres, it might as well have been. The gradual ascent from start to finish kept our heart rates up but still allowed us to chat about the deer, waterfalls, and wildflowers we were seeing along the way.
The first lake we hit was Xxxxx Lake, which was relatively shallow and had an amazing backdrop. A quintessential pyramid-shaped mountain stood in the background, and this mountain divided the upper two lakes, Xxxxx Lake and Yyyyy Lake. A friend of a friend who’d been to the area before gave us some intel on the fishing. According to him, the lower lake was packed with small cutthroats, while the upper lakes held larger, pickier ones. Based on his information, we came up with a fishing plan. Considering the length and altitude of the hike, getting stormed out was a real possibility. While we wanted to catch the biggest fish we could, coming home fishless would have killed our Flyathlon plans. We decided to start at the lower lake and hopefully get a fish on the board regardless of size. Then, if the weather held out, we’d continue up toward Yyyyy Lake to see if we could catch a lunker.
The fish in the lower lake were harder to catch than we anticipated. They seemed wary of everything we threw, and after 45 minutes or so, we’d only landed one fish each. That was fine by us, as we had bigger fish to fry (not literally). After getting our photo evidence, we packed up and started up one of the only steep trail sections of the day. The word “trail” is a stretch for this section. It was mostly a line of trampled grass passing by occasional cairns, clearly not a heavily used area.
Yyyyy Lake appeared to be much deeper than its lower partner, and we could immediately see massive fish cruising the shelves. The advice we were given rang true, as these fish were quite picky, often rising near the surface only to turn away at the last second. Many also swam by without giving our flies any attention at all. I gave up trying to cast to fish I could see, since they seemed to be just as aware of my presence as I was of theirs.
On a long, blind cast way off the shelf, I finally got what I came for: a slow, methodical rise from a massive fish. After a long fight and barking some netting instructions to my boyfriend, we finally landed it. It filled the net and then some. Unfortunately, as I lifted the fish for a photo, it mustered one big flop and sent itself back into the lake. While I wish I’d been able to submit it for points, I’ll settle for the memory of watching my biggest cutthroat to date (based on measurements of my net, I’m guessing between 19 and 20 inches), sip a small dry fly from a glassy lake.
Not long after, I was able to land one more fish from Yyyyy Lake, another nice cutthroat that ended up becoming my submission fish. At 16 inches, it was no monster, but its plump belly and vivid colors still made for an awesome catch and photo. A storm sent us packing after another couple casts, and we spent the long walk back trying to stay dry and keeping the dog calm while thunder cracked overhead.
We rewarded ourselves afterward with a quick stop in town for burgers and our first sampling of Rocky Mountain oysters, a great way to cap off a memorable fishing trip.