A Walk in the Woods – Mountain Lake Fishing

Last updated on January 9th, 2024.

Dave Westburg

One of my favorite books is Northwest Angling published in 1950 by Enos Bradner. He was a Seattle bookstore-owner-fly-fisherman-newspaper columnist.

He spent lots of time tramping the hills fly-fishing. In a chapter on mountain lake fishing Bradner says this about a visit to one lake: “We managed to stick to the almost obliterated path and topping the 4,200 contour we dropped into the narrow valley that holds  the very small lake. (…) By the time we had blown up the rubber boat is was 10 o’clock. In slightly over an hour we were through fishing as there were two limits of brook trout resting in the creels. (…) None of the fish were large – they ran uniformly between 10 and 12 inches – but they were fast as lightning.”

TWL_DW_A_Walk_in_the_Woods_Mountain_Lake_FishingEnos Bradner – Northwest Angling

A friend and I walked into that valley last week seeking brook trout.  Brook trout are not native to the lakes of the pacific northwest but they often find a way to naturally reproduce in high lakes with clean water. The lake we fished has not been stocked in 50 years. There were patches of snow when we crossed the creek and came in sight of the lake. The day was cool and the water was cold and there were very few rises. We carried float tubes instead of rubber rafts. I rigged up a 9′ Granger bamboo fly rod, a slow sinking line and a 9′ 3X leader with a couple of Enos Bradner fly patterns:  a size 10 Dandy Green Nymph on the tail and a size 12 Carrot Nymph on the dropper.

TWL_DW_A_Walk_in_the_Woods_Mountain_Lake_FishingMountain lake fishing

Sometimes the good old days are now. The lake fished as well for us as it did for Bradner. We had continuous action. A long cast to the cottonwoods lining the shore and a slow hand-twist retrieve resulted in a brook trout struggling and boring deep in the lake. The fish were gorgeous, green backs with yellow, red, purple and blue spots, orange bellies and orange fins tipped with black and white. We quickly lost track of the number of fish we caught. I had four doubles, playing two fish at the same time on the tail fly and dropper fly. I had to change my carrot nymph after it had been shredded by brook trout teeth. The top fly is what my carrot nymph looked like when I started fishing. The bottom fly is what the carrot nymph looked like after a couple dozen fish.

TWL_DW_A_Walk_in_the_Woods_Mountain_Lake_FishingA mountain lake brook trout

The brook trout showed a preference for the bright Carrot Nymph, although we also caught fish on Bibios, Golden Olive Bumbles and Brown Hackle Peacocks flies. Enos Bradner wrote about a couple brook trout patterns which still have a place in my fly box. The first is the Carrot Nymph, which worked so well for us last week.

mountain lake fishingCarrot Nymphs before and after a number of trout

Carrot Nymphs

Hook: Size 8 to 12

Tag: Gold tinsel

Body: Orange wool. I like to use orange or rusty orange dubbing.

Hackle: Hungarian partridge breast feather in either grey or brown, tied spider.

The Carrot nymph is a northwest variation of the orange partridge soft hackle. Bradner used the Carrot Nymph for cutthroat trout and brook trout in small lakes and beaver ponds. In larger sizes the Carrot Nymph makes a good imitation of the pupa of the large fall caddis Dicosmoecus. The fly’s bright orange body which glows in dark amber water and the lively partridge breast feathers which breath as the fly is retrieved. Bradner used the fly down to size 12. I find it effective down to a size 14.

TWL_DW_A_Walk_in_the_Woods_Mountain_Lake_FishingCarrot Nymphs in a fly box

The second Enos Bradner fly I use for brook trout is the Dandy Green Nymph:

Hook: 8 to 10

Tag: None

Tail: Wisps of grey-green Chinese Pheasant hackle.

Body: A tapered body of spun mixed grass green and yellow polar bear fur or any similar colored dubbing.

Ribbing: Oval Gold Tinsel

Hackle: Grey-green hackle form the back of a Chinese Pheasant cok, tied spider fashion.

TWL_DW_A_Walk_in_the_Woods_Mountain_Lake_FishingDandy-Green Nymphs in a fly box

Bradner invented the Dandy-Green Nymph to imitate a nymph which brook trout were selectively taking one spring day at Prices lake, a fly-fishing only lake on the Olympic Peninsula. The fly shares a Chinese Pheasant hackle and tail with the better known Carey Special but the body color is unique. The Dandy Green nymph is a good pattern early in the year when the brook trout are nymphing in the weeds in lowland lakes.