A Float Plane Fly Fishing Trip

Last updated on January 9th, 2024.

Dave Westburg

The lake is more than a mile long at 2,842 feet of elevation tucked along the edges of the Wild Sky Wilderness in Washington State’s Cascade Mountains.

It has healthy wild populations of brook trout, rainbow trout and very large Mackinaw trout which feed on the abundant brook trout. There’s an impossible path into one end of the lake and cliffs plunge vertically into the water around much of the lake which means it’s hard to get around by foot.

Float Plane Fly Fishing TripThe float plane that got us to the lake takes off

A skillful float plane pilot can hop a ridge at the one end of the lake and manage a landing. I’ve been told that three pilots haven’t made it over the years but our pilot did just fine. The float plane deposited four of us – two dads and two sons for two days of fishing. We made camp on the lake’s only sand beach and inflated float tubes to search for wild trout.  

We found the brook trout near deadfalls and off this shelf at the end of the lake where an inlet spilled in. My son Steven did well fishing a size 12 Brown Hackle Peacock wet fly. This pattern consists of a gold tinsel tip, a bronze peacock herl body and a natural red hen hackle. In her 1892 classic Favorite Flies and Their Histories, Mary Orvis Marbury said this fly pattern was popular in the State of Washington. The Brown hackle Peacock fishes as well today as it did 126 years ago.

High mountain lakeThe shore of the small mountain lake

I caught most of my fish on a #14 Golden Olive Bumble. The bumbles were developed 60 years ago by Kingsmill Moore, whose A Man May Fish is one of my favorite books. Here’s the pattern for the golden olive bumble.

Hook: Size 10-14 Wet fly

Thread: Olive

Tail: Golden pheasant topping

Body: Golden olive seals fur ribbed with oval gold tinsel.

Body Hackle: Coc dyed golden olive and medium natural red coc. Tie the hackles in at the front of the fly and then wind five turns down the body to the end. Then use the oval golden tinsel to secure the hackles by counter-ribbing.

Shoulder Hackle: Blue jay. 1-2 turns.

Kingsmill Moore designed the bumbles to be translucent and show well against the sky. “Held up to the light there is a fusing of color, the hackle points gleam here and there in sparkles of their individual color, giving a vivid suggestion of life and movement.” Look at how the fly sparkles when held to the light.

Float Plane Fly Fishing Trip#14 Golden Olive Bumble

A Wright and McGill Granger 8642 Victory bamboo fly rod, a Hardy Uniqua reel and brook trout to be cooked in foil with lemon and salt and pepper and olive oil over the campfire coals for dinner. Life is good.

Trout caught with a fly rodWild brook trout for dinner

I used to have a quote on the wall saying “The charm of fishing is that it is the pursuit of what is elusive but attainable, a perpetual series of occasions for hope.” One day my son and I tried a cross country hike from out camp to a high lake at the head of the inlet. The trip started out with easy wading up the inlet. We saw several brook trout in the inlet. The clear cold water and gravel beds allow the lake’s brook trout to naturally reproduce.

Float Plane Fly Fishing Trip Exploring a small stream

Then the stream narrowed. And finally the stream vanished for short stretches under impossible tangles of alders, fallen trees, boulders and thorns. In this picture the stream is completely hidden by giant boulders and deadfalls.

Float Plane Fly Fishing TripThe stream has disappeared

After an hour’s slog and a couple nasty tumbles we turned back to our camp. Fishing is the pursuit of what is elusive but attainable, a perpetual series of occasions for hope. Maybe next year we’ll make it to the lake at the head of the inlet by traversing the rock slide on the hill instead of following the inlet.

I brought a stout Phillipson bamboo fly rod, a fast sinking line and some streamers to try to catch one of the lake’s large Mackinaw trout at dusk. I never got around to it. It was too much fun sitting around the campfire after dinner sipping whiskey, comparing notes about the day and joking and reading aloud the story of an ill-fated amazon expedition. There’s always next year…