Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Lost Twin Lakes- Part 2

The Cloudpeak Wilderness rewards anglers who push just a little bit farther.  For my first backcountry trip of the year I decided to hit a trailhead I knew well- the West Tensleep trailhead in Wyoming's Bighorn National Forest.  Instead of following the familiar path to Mirror Lake or the inviting meadow oxbows that parallel the trail's ascent, I pushed to the trails terminus at the Lost Twin Lakes.

Trail into the Lost Twin Lakes.  The lakes are located
below the cliffs in the distance.
 I decided to spend two nights in two separate valleys in order to sample the fishing along both tributaries to Middle Tensleep Creek.  The first evening, after backpacking in, I camped just shy of the last stream ford on the way to the Lost Twin Lakes.   I found the small, but incredibly deep, meandering stream filled with mountain brook trout.

Tributary to the Middle Tensleep Creek.
Brook trout filled pool.  Notice how full the stream is and
how much cover is available on the stream bottom.
The next morning I broke camp and pushed into the next drainage that's home to the lakes that were my ultimate goal for this trip.  After setting up camp in the valley (there is no camping around the Lost Twin Lakes themselves), I spent the remainder of the day exploring both the upper and lower lakes.
The upper Lost Twin Lake.
The fishing produced a Yellowstone cutthroat trout bonanza.  While dry fly fishing was slow to produce results, stripping a small streamer was a sure bet, particularly just at the edge of the shallow-water shelf that transitioned into the lake's unseen depths. There was also plenty of opportunity to sight fish for large cutthroat trout cruising just feet offshore.

Sub-alpine fir and Engelmann spruce clung tenaciously to the thin soils above 10,000 feet on the lake's northern shore.  After fishing my way to the outlet stream, stopping to take pictures of the alpine waterfall just below, I decided to boulder-hop my way to the south end of the lower lake in order to climb to the upper Twin.  Pole in hand, I spent 45-minutes jumping from boulder-to-boulder, moving up and down slope to avoid the remaining snow fields and their hidden dangers, before reaching the upper lake near its outlet.

A native Yellowstone cutthroat trout in spawning colors.
This beauty came from the peninsula on the upper Lost Twin lake
Ice was plentiful on the upper Twin, and the views were just as dramatic as from below.  The roar of the high altitude snowmelt spilling off the highest slopes increased the feeling of intense wilderness solitude.  The wind tearing across the ridge a thousand feet overhead sounded like a freight train crossing the talus and scree slopes adding an eerie sensation to the lonesome lakes.

 I spent most of my time on the upper lake fishing from a massive granite peninsula that extended well into the waters below the cliffs on the east side of the lake. Stripping a small streamer off the barren stone promontory proved effective, but the big trout waited until I tied on a size 12 Copper John and suspended it about six feet below a strike indicator.  After a few hours spent working all sides of the peninsula and with the sun indicating it was time to descend, I again boulder-hopped my way back down from the upper lake and around the lower Lost Twin back to flat ground.
A beauty of a wilderness Yellowstone cutthroat trout.

Cloaked in cliff shadows all day I'd failed to realize just how warm the day had become above 10,000 feet.  Making my way back to camp I found every crevasse and ephemeral drainage running full with snowmelt.  The trail I followed in to the lakes was impassible, having become a foot-deep melt-water conveyance.

After dinner I spent my last evening in the wilderness casting to Yellowstone cutthroat trout in the valley below the lakes.  With all the late afternoon runoff the stream was nearly bank-full and what were once wet meadows were now impassible quagmires.  Nevertheless, I was able to land a handful of colorful native trout on dry flies drawing the day to the perfect close.

My forthcoming book, Wyoming Mountains & Home-waters: Family, Fly Fishing, and Conservation describes the challenges and rewards found fishing Rocky Mountain wilderness.  You can find information here- want updates and news on it and other books coming from Sage Creek Press?  You can signup for our newsletter on the website.

You can find me at:
Twitter- @ConserveTrout

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