Alpine fishing in Idaho is a natural high

The float-tube-spinning cutthroat trout.
The float-tube-spinning cutthroat trout. Special to the Idaho Statesman

I’ll never forget my first time fishing an alpine lake. I was a 14-year-old scout embarking on a hiking and camping expedition in the White Clouds.

As I crested a hill and laid eyes on my first high-mountain lake, I was speechless. The scene looked like something from the Discovery Channel, and I already could see trout cruising around in the shallows.

For a kid who grew up in Detroit, it was hard to believe a place like this existed.

In the years since, I’ve enjoyed exploring alpine lakes throughout Idaho. The scenery, solitude and escape from sweltering summer heat are more than worthy of a mountain trek. And the fact that these pristine waters are usually brimming with hungry trout totally seals the deal.

Recently, my wife Anna and I took our friends Nick and Heather on their first high-mountain fishing adventure. We drove into the wilderness north of McCall, set up camp, loaded up backpacks and set off into the woods. After three miles of sidewinding terrain, we began a familiar final ascent. And as we crested the hill and saw the water, I once again marveled that such a place could even exist.

I should note that while packing in and inflating a float tube requires some effort, it’s definitely worth the trouble. Most alpine lakes are small enough to cover pretty thoroughly in a few hours, and shore access can be limited. On our trip, the only angler we bumped into was attempting to fly-fish from the bank, but the shallow water along the shorelines was ruining his plan.

Luckily for him, Nick agreed to catch him some dinner.

Using my go-to Panther Martin, we managed a handful of cutthroats. Most were smallish, but all were visually stunning, sporting vibrant golden sides, deep red bellies and dramatic orange throat slashes.

After a quick lunch break, the ladies decided to relax on shore. It was time to do some serious fishing.

Nick and I kicked back out into the depths, flinging spinners in every direction. We landed several nice keepers — ensuring our shore-bound friend wouldn’t starve — and basked in the late-afternoon sun.

“This,” Nick proclaimed, “does not suck.”

I nodded in agreement, but our perfect afternoon was about to get even better.

As we began making our way back toward shore, a fish struck my spinner with such force that it nearly took the rod out of my hands. The tip of my pole remained fully submerged as the trout thrashed below us, spinning my float tube in circles.

We didn’t have a net, so Nick paddled over to help me try to land this beast. Finally, the fish tired, and we hauled 17 inches of fat, cutthroat goodness onto my tube.

With the battle won, we admired the fish and soaked it all in — the smell of pines and huckleberries, the summer breeze on our faces and cool mountain water on our feet, the distant sound of woodpeckers hammering away in the forest, and the joyful tug of a trout on the end of our line.

When you find a good day of alpine fishing, it’s hard to imagine a better place exists.

Tight lines!

Jordan Rodriguez has been fishing Idaho waters since he was a teen. Share your fish stories, adventures, tips and tricks at outdoors

Fall fishing class

This fall, Idaho Statesman fishing columnist Jordan Rodriguez is teaching a fishing class for adults through College of Idaho’s Community Learning program. The class will be held from 6 to 8 p.m. on Sept. 27 and 29 and also includes an 8 a.m.-to-noon fishing trip on Saturday, Oct. 1. The cost is $59, which includes eight hours of tips, tricks, instruction and more. Register by calling 459-5188 or visiting

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