Off-the-grid angling: Beautiful backcountry lakes for fishing near Lake Tahoe

There’s something to be said about strapping everything you need to your back, trekking through the mountains to a secluded lake, and fishing for your next meal. It’s a way of connecting to nature on a deeper level.

In the mountains surrounding Lake Tahoe there are hundreds of lakes, big and small, waiting to be explored. In the 63,960 acres of Desolation Wilderness alone there are nearly 100 lakes dotting the landscape.

But not all alpine lakes are created equal when it comes to backcountry fishing, and in some cases, it’s just not allowed. Historically, a majority of the high-elevation lakes in the Sierra were fish-less. The introduction of non-native trout started with Euro-American colonists in the 1860s, but escalated in 1950 with the advent of aerial fish stocking. (The only trout native to the region is the Lahontan cutthroat trout.)

However, concerns over the population of the endangered mountain yellow-legged frog has pushed agencies to stop restocking in certain lakes or physically remove fish from them with nets.

Despite these recent changes in wildlife management, there are still many backcountry lakes rife with fish, says Victor Babbit, owner of Tahoe Fly Fishing Outfitters in South Lake Tahoe.

“It’s a special experience,” says Babbit, who has been guiding in the Sierra Nevada since 1994. “I’m not just getting a hike in, I’m getting to fish when I get there and sometimes I’m getting a few brook trout for a meal.”

Brown trout are one of several varieties of trout found in Tahoe’s alpine lakes. Photo: Alyssa Evart

Know-before-you-go is the name of the game, so prior to hitting the trail, Babbit suggests calling a local fly shop to check on fishing regulations for the lakes as they are constantly changing and fall under multiple jurisdictions.

From brown and rainbow to cutthroat and golden, here are the lakes Babbit recommends to get your trout on in the Sierra Nevada backcountry.

Round Lake

Located in the El Dorado National Forest near South Lake Tahoe, Round Lake is best accessed from the Big Meadow trailhead located off of Highway 89 near Luther Pass. The 3-mile, moderate trek to the lake takes you through a scenic meadow before getting into more wooded trails accented with wildflowers during peak season. Round Lake is a great spot to snag native Lahontan cutthroat, among other varieties of trout.

The Lahontan cutthroat is the only native trout to the Sierra. Photo: Alyssa Evart

Showers Lake

Showers Lake is another great backcountry fishing hole accessible from several different routes, depending on how adventurous you’re feeling. The most popular route starts at the Carson Pass Trailhead and takes you 5 miles along the Pacific Crest Trail to the lake, which offers beautiful views of South Lake Tahoe and Christmas Valley. With plenty of camping spots, turn your backcountry fishing trip into an overnight stay after reeling in the fish.

Crag Lake

Crag Lake in Desolation Wilderness is a popular backcountry destination for rainbow, brook, and brown trout. From the Meeks Bay Trailhead in Tahoma, trek roughly 5 miles to the scenic lake dotted with small islands and Crag Peak looming overhead.

Gilmore Lake

Another Desolation Wilderness lake favored by anglers is Gilmore Lake, which is a roughly 4-mile moderate hike, one way, from the trailhead near Fallen Leaf Lake on the South Shore. The lake is known for sizable rainbow and lake trout and is a good option for fishing from a float tube.

Though not native to the region, there is an established population of rainbow trout in the high Sierra. Photo: Victor Babbit

Marlette Lake

Hike, mountain bike or horseback ride to Marlette Lake, which can be accessed from a mostly uphill 3-mile, one-way hike starting at Chimney Beach or a 5-mile trek from Spooner Lake. The lake is a brood for Lahontan cutthroat and rainbow trout for stocking other lakes around Nevada, but brook trout also call Marlette home.

Whether you fish from the shore or hike in a float tube, backcountry fishing is an exciting way to spend a summer day. Photo: Alyssa Evart
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