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Glacier Park's trout are scrappy, diverse, free

8/7/2006
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    WEST GLACIER, Mont. — Alpine scenery takes top billing at Montana's Glacier National Park, but the tourists who gaze over glacial basins or photograph freestone streams aren't experiencing the best of the park.

    All that coldwater habitat is the perfect backdrop for some of the most diverse and productive trout fishing in the West. And the kicker is that it's free.

    All you need to fish for a variety of trout in Glacier Park is basic spinning or fly gear, a backpack, a good set of legs and lungs and some maps. No fishing license is required inside the park.

    Diverse fisheries

    Don't come here expecting lunkers. Because the growing season is so short in this northern latitude, and because the alpine habitat is relatively sterile, even mature trout in Glacier tend to be small.

    But there are few places where you can catch diverse species. Rainbow, brown, brook and cutthroat trout are all widely dispersed around the park. Throw in mountain whitefish, northern pikeminnow and a few sucker species, not to mention bull and lake trout in the large, deep lakes of the park and a smattering of northern pike on the east flanks, and you never know what will slap your hook.

    Because lakes are scattered through the park, you're never far from a fishing opportunity in Glacier. But it's wise to ask at park concessions or to quiz fellow campers about fishing success.

    Several lakes have no fish, either because they're too high and remote or because they are too small and shallow.

    Here's an overview of the 10 best fishing lakes in Glacier National Park — some for their fish, some for their diversity, some just for their views — plus a few runners-up worth a visit if you have the time.

    Hidden Lake

    This lake at the very top of the Continental Divide offers some of the most abundant and large trout in the park. These cutthroats get that way because they don't find their way to campers' frying pans. All fish here must be released, and fishing is closed during the late-spring spawn.

    Get to Hidden Lake from the Logan Pass Visitors Center at the apex of the famed Going to the Sun Road and hike the 3-mile trail to the lake. Hidden Lake gets more fishing pressure than most lakes in the park, thanks to its quality regulations and proximity to the road, so bring match-the-hatch flies, light line and small hardware.

    Snyder Lake

    This small alpine lake is on the west side of the Continental Divide up a steep 4-mile trail from Lake McDonald. It's at the other end of the spectrum of cutthroat fishing from Hidden Lake.

    Snyder's cutt's are abundant, ravenous and easy to catch on just about any gear you bring. But they're small; an 8-inch fish is a whopper at both upper and lower Snyder Lakes.

    Small hopper, ant and attractor patterns and flashy 1Ú16-ounce spoons and spinners will catch fish for supper.

    Saint Mary Lake

    Probably the most photographed piece of water in the West, this is the large lake on your left as you ascend Going to the Sun Road from the east. It's also one of the most underfished lakes in the West.

    Boasting trophy lake trout, some larger cutts and rainbows and even bull trout, Saint Mary is most productive trolling hardware from a large boat. However, strafing winds and very deep water make this tough, coupled with the fact that there's no decent boat ramp.

    Best light-tackle opportunities are casting to mountain whitefish and rainbows from shore during early mornings and late evenings.

    Oldman Lake

    This is one of Glacier's quintessential cutthroat lakes. It's at the end of a long looping hike from Two Medicine that takes you through and over some breathtaking scenery.

    Its fish run the gamut from 6-inch smacklings to some 12- and 14-inch bruisers. And both dry flies and deep spoons will take fish.

    You'll spend some sweat equity getting here — and bears are a constant preoccupation in this part of the park — but if you're looking for a classic backcountry fishing trip, both upper and lower Oldman are worth the trek.

    Trout Lake

    Speaking of grizzlies, you'll have to remain vigilant hiking to Trout Lake above Lake McDonald on the west side of the park. This is where the bear attacks detailed in the book and movie "Night of the Grizzlies" occurred, and there is plenty of bear activity here. There's also good fishing for 10-inch cutts in the lower end of Trout Lake.

    Work your way out on the beaver dam log jam and cast a small Humpy or Stimulator to pockets in the timber. For bigger fish, but more complicated casting, walk to the upper end of the lake.

    Lake Josephine

    One of the most accessible lakes in the park, Lake Jo is located just a mile off the Many Glacier Road in the Swiftcurrent Lake drainage.

    In fact, one of the ways to get here is to take the twice-daily boat across Swiftcurrent Lake and walk a few minutes to Josephine. Your reward is brook trout, lots of them in the 10-inch class, plus a chance at kokanee salmon on small spoons and spinners.

    Two Medicine Lake

    Once home to magnum brook trout, this east-side lake has a big, full-service campground, access to some great backcountry fishing, and a good population of 10-inch brookies perfect for the pan.

    Grasshopper patterns and red-and-yellow Panther Martin spinners will produce.

    Bowman Lake

    Generally speaking, lakes in the North Fork Flathead River drainage are among the least productive in the park. Most of the runoff comes direct from snowfields, and there's not much nutrition in these crystal-clear waters.

    Don't expect big fish in Bowman, located north of Polebridge in the northwestern corner of Glacier, but you can have fun with smallish cutthroats and whitefish and may see a larger bull trout.

    Lake Sherburne

    This reservoir — its level fluctuates with irrigation use downstream — is on your left as you drive into the Swiftcurrent and Many Glacier valleys.

    It isn't the best big lake in the park, but because you can drive to it, and because catching a small brook trout or two is relatively easy to do, it's worth a cast. Try a larger spoon for northern pike that lurk in the deeper water just off shore.

    Bullhead Lakes

    Both lower and upper Bullhead Lakes offer decent fishing for brookies in the 8- to 11-inch range, but the real payoff is the view up the Swiftcurrent Valley. This lake is located out of Many Glacier and sits at the foot of some really stunning mountains.

    Little spinners, dry flies and even small streamers will work, and it's a good float-tubing lake for those who want to pack gear up the 4-mile trail. If the lake doesn't produce, try fishing Swiftcurrent Creek below Lower Bullhead.

    Other destinations

    Red Rock Lake: Smallish brook trout and cutthroats.
    Fishercap Lake: Tiny brook trout.
    Lake McDonald: Big lake trout, smallish rainbows, whitefish.
    Swiftcurrent Lake: Mid-sized brookies.
    Kintla Lake: Whitefish and rainbow trout


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