5 Spots for Hikeable Fast and Light Fly Fishing in the High Uintas

By Tele Tony Jul 6, 2021
Find true solitude in the High Uinta Wilderness for some fast and light fly fishing backpacking trips.
5 Spots for Hikeable Fast and Light Fly Fishing in the High Uintas

If we liked doing things the easy way, we wouldn’t be fly fishing in the first place. We’d be lounging in a bass boat next to a cooler while dragging a couple lines or trolling around some freshly stocked manmade reservoir. Not to disparage that activity if it’s your particular cup of tea, but anglers out there with a fly rod clearly embrace the challenge of what Izaak Walton once called “The Contemplative Man’s Recreation.” Why not add another element of character-building burden and exploration by taking fly fishing to the remote wilderness of the Uinta Mountains on a backpacking trip? 

The Uinta Mountains are a little different themselves—being the highest east-to-west running range in the lower 48—which is fitting for this pursuit. The Uintas are home to more than 600 lakes and ponds along with endless miles of streams and creeks featuring some of the best fly fishing in the country. Plenty of them are accessible a short jaunt from the car on Mirror Lake Highway, but get up into the higher elevations and you’ll find incredible fishing in high alpine solitude. The further you get from the trailhead, the less pressure there is from other anglers.

It’s a lot like chasing backcountry powder; walk a little further to get the goods, and the rewards will be well worth it. Even if you don’t hook a trophy-worthy fish for the grip and grin iPhone shot, the entire experience is the reward. There's no getting skunked with views this good. Load up the backpacking gear, get ahold of some ultralight fly-fishing equipment, and hit the trails in search of fish. Here are five of our favorite spots for fly fishing in the high Uinta Mountains.

Before Your Trip

Lighten Up With Some New Gear

The best fly-fishing gear for your backpacking trip is the gear you already have, but if you’re in the market for some new stuff there’s excellent ultralight options available to help lighten your pack. The Douglas Upstream series of rods, for example, is outstanding, and mega-retailer Orvis has a whole line of ultralight clothing, boots and waders.

Fly fishing while backpacking in the high mountains is about doing more with less, so ditch the gadget-covered vest for a box of flies in your shirt pocket. A few dry flies, nymphs and small streamers along with some scuds and wooly buggers for when the fish dive deeper should have you covered. It never hurts to acquire some local knowledge, so visit the experts at a local shop like Trout Bum 2 in Park City or Fishwest Fly Shop in Kamas for beta and last-minute gear additions prior to heading out.

Don’t Forget Your License

Even way out in the high alpine wilderness you need a Utah fishing license. Conveniently, you can purchase on online prior to your trip here.  

Where Are We Fishing?

Dead Horse Lake

Trailhead GPS Location HERE

Fishing the headwaters of the Blacks Fork River at Dead Horse Lake is incredible. The 22-mile out and back in the West Fork Blacks Fork Drainage seems imposing, but there’s only around 1,600 feet of elevation gain over the length of the trail. It’s a long walk for a single overnight with time to fish, so it’s best to take your time on the hike in to enjoy the scenery and wildlife in the forests and meadows beneath the looming peaks 12,000-plus-foot peaks like Mount Beulah and Red Knob. There’s also some great fishing along the way if you’re looking to give your feet a break. Set up camp near Dead Horse Lake, stay as long as you have provisions and enjoy fishing beneath towering rock spires. 

Round, Sand, and Fish Lake

Trailhead GPS Location HERE

Fishing this daisy chain of lakes from the Dry Fork Trailhead requires some sweat equity, but it’s well worth the effort, especially if you enjoy catching arctic grayling. The hike up isn’t overly long—the out-and-back is a shade under 10 miles—but it’s steep and rugged with a robust 2,400 vertical feet of elevation gain. The first lake you’ll reach is Round Lake. Sand Lake is about a half-mile further and has more challenging fishing owing to steep shores. Fish Lake is the last one you’ll reach, another half mile further, and features the best camping in the area. It’s worth spending a full day trying your luck at all three lakes before heading back to the trailhead on day three.  

Red Castle Lake

Trailhead GPS Location HERE

Red Castle Lake is famous for a reason. The enormous red rock formation of the 12,297 foot Red Castle rises out of the water and is worth the trip on its own. Thankfully the fishing ain’t half bad either. Lower Red Castle Lake is 10 miles and 1,400 vertical feet from the China Meadows Trailhead, while Upper Red Castle Lake is 13 miles up the trail. It’s shocking how few people tackle those last three miles, so whichever lake you choose to camp near, it’s worth heading to Upper Red Castle Lake for the solitude. The fishing is ideal from late June through early September and offers a truly one-of-a-kind setting.

Four-Lakes Basin

Trailhead GPS Location HERE

Dean, Jean, Dale and Jane Lakes make up the Four-Lakes Basin. As the name would imply, there are four fishable lakes easily accessed in a single basin, which are reached from the famed Highline Trail running along the crest of the Uinta Mountains. It’s about seven miles to the basin, and you can add on quite a bit more mileage as you traverse the area searching for the best fishing—the full out-and-back is about 17 miles with 2,500 vertical feet of elevation change. As always, the further you are from the trailhead the less pressure there will be from other anglers, but there’s excellent fishing for cutthroat throughout the basin. Dean Lake has ideal camping on its shores, and there are wonderful spots all over the basin to throw up your tent and settle in for the night offering peaceful seclusion.

Naturalist Basin

Trailhead GPS Location HERE

Accessed from the same trailhead as the Four-Lakes Basin, Naturalist Basin has incredible fishing a little closer to the car. It’s only about five miles to Naturalist Basin, so it’s perfect for a leisurely backpacking trip where you’d rather focus on fishing instead of hiking or as a stout day trip for the endurance-minded angler. Jordan, Blue, LeConte, Morat, Faxon and Shaler Lakes all offer great fishing depending on the day and outstanding scenery regardless of whether the fish are biting or not. Remember that while it’s only five miles to the basin, the extra miles add up quickly if you’re popping between lakes, so come prepared to walk further if you're chasing bites. 

Do you have any favorite high-mountain fisheries we failed to mention? Let us know!