Alpine Angling
Western North America is dotted with high-mountain trout lakes and streams. These 9 new patterns are your ticket to enjoying this memorable fishing.
by Glenn Zinkus

Alpine lakes and high-country streams dot the American West. Pick almost any area of this vast region, and you’ll find more beautiful waters than you could fish in a lifetime. These lakes and streams have an undeniable appeal that attracts a certain 
breed of anglers. Some fishermen take a masochistic approach, and the journey
into the mountains is part of the reward; the more grueling the trek, the
better the bragging rights. Part of my high-country experience usually involves
a sense of solitude, and this often comes through physical effort: sometimes it’s the distance, other times it’s the climb, and sometimes it is a painful combination of both. Alpine angling brings its own incredible rewards, from high-country vistas to spectacularly speckled redband and rare golden trout.

Norm Domagala, of Alpine, Oregon, developed the patterns featured in this article for fishing mountain lakes and streams. I’ve known Norm since my transplant to the West almost two decades ago. He is an innovative and talented tier who spends much of his time on the water on alpine lakes. His innovative approach to fly design comes through applying the latest materials to classic patterns to develop new flies. Norm’s trout-catching tenacity is the stuff of local legend: he’s the first one on the water in the morning, and the last into camp in the evening. He fishes his flies hard, and refines them until they produce.

Preparation Is the Key

If I am taking a day hike into a wilderness area, I follow a minimalist approach: my fly selection fits into one box that can be brought along with hardly a thought as I leave the cabin in the morning. This approach, however, is not quite so nonchalant as it appears. Preparation is the key to success, and this simple alpine box is well planned.

I always include imitations of the major alpine food groups. Mountain trout foods range from clouds of midges to larger piscatorial prey, so that is what I try to cover in my fly selection.

The most important Western stillwater mayfly is the Callibaetis. The Callibaetis has multiple broods throughout the season, so you might encounter these insects almost any time during the summer. This frequency contributes to its importance in my fly box, and unless it is very early or late in the season, I always have a stock of flies that cover the various stages of Callibaetis.
Look for Callibaetis nymphs near vegetation and shorelines. The nymphs feed on diatoms and algae, so weedy spots are the most productive areas. Prior to observing any emergence, search for trout by fishing Callibaetis nymph imitations over weed beds, where the real insects swim. I like to use a clear intermediate-sinking line when fishing nymphs, and I focus my efforts around shallow weeds. Use relatively quick, six-inch-long strips to imitate these fast agile-swimming insects.

Prior to emergence, gases build under the Callibaetis nymphs’ exoskeletons to create buoyancy and help the insects float to the surface. Trout aggressively key in on the nymphs as they move toward the surface. If you see any surface activity, try making a long, consistent strip, and lift the rod so your nymph imitation ascends toward the surface. At this stage of the hatch, fishing a fly with anything other than a steady retrieve and lift will likely result in rejection.
There is nothing more fun than intercepting a cruising trout sipping Callibaetis duns and cripples from the surface. Pick a feeding fish, and try to determine which way it is swimming. Carefully cast a cripple imitation ahead of it so that the path of the trout intersects with your fly; this method often proves much more effective than the cast-and-wait approach. Gulpers and sippers bring out the upland hunter in me, and I enjoy nothing more than hunting trout on alpine lakes.

Pay attention to size of the Callibaetis; sometimes it is very important to select a fly that matches the dimensions of the real insects. Early-season hatches typically produce the largest insects, and they get progressively smaller as the season progresses. On my local waters, Callibaetis range from size 12 early in the season to size 20 in the fall, and this pattern typifies much of the West.

Other Important Insects

Limnephilidae is one of the most important families of caddisflies in western alpine lakes and streams. Limnephiladae is the most diverse caddis in my Oregon Cascade homewaters—as it is in many other western alpine waters—and comes in a wide range of sizes and colors.
Fish a pupa imitation using various techniques from a very slow hand-twist retrieve to a smooth lift to raise the fly up to the surface. Trout can be selective during this stage of the hatch, and this motion results in more hookups.

After they emerge, the adult caddisflies often flitter and skate on the surface to dry their wings before taking flight; these skating caddis are very vulnerable and make irresistible targets to trout. Slowly drawing an adult caddis pattern across the surface imitates that behavior and encourages strikes.
Damselflies are also bread-and-butter patterns for alpine anglers. Part of my early western fly-fishing education included lessons on the importance of damselfly nymphs, so I primarily focus on fishing subsurface imitations. Trout 
get so turned on by damselfly nymphs that the strikes are rarely subtle; an angler will often be left looking at the remnants of a snapped leader and wondering what slammed into his fly.

Real damselfly nymphs are typically 1 to 1½ inches long, and range from light olive to tan. A favorite color on some of our Cascade lakes is a ghastly shade of yellowish green, but I’ve seen variations from light yellowish green to shades of brownish green.

Damselfly nymphs are always on the move, usually traveling to the shoreline or other structure, and using a slow strip-and-stop retrieve is often effective. Try varying the speed and length of the retrieve, as the nymphs react and move quickly if threatened; this might account for such hard strikes.
Damselfly adults are typically shades of blue and olive-tan. Fishing an adult imitation is effective at times, although this pales in comparison to using a nymph. When fishing an adult, using a slight skittering retrieve or other small movements imitates a damselfly trying to free itself from the surface film.

Baitfish and Other Big Meals
Everyone loves to reminisce about catching a large fish on a tiny fly, but the general rule is often as simple as this: Big fish eat big flies. Alpine anglers often ignore baitfish and other large forms of prey, and they miss out on catching some of the largest fish.

Sculpins—with their round eyes set on top of wide, flat heads, and large fins that look like they almost became legs—must be throwbacks to prehistoric times. Sculpins are usually two to four inches long, and are colored with a muted, mottled camouflage. These are enigmatic little fish that spend most of their time hiding on the bottom, so using weighted imitations is imperative.

Sculpins swim in short bursts, usually between hiding places. They move mostly in low light, so the best time to fish sculpin imitations is early morning and at dusk. If fishing moving water, use a lot of weight; when fishing still waters, use a weighted fly and an intermediate- or a full-sinking line. Keep the straightest possible connection to the fly and use a strip-and-stop retrieve. Making the fly slightly hop among the rocks will get a fish’s attention.
Most alpine lakes and ponds have populations of leeches that should not be ignored. Leeches can save the day during any early-season alpine outing. Leeches, like sculpins, are most active during low-light periods, but don’t let this stop you from using imitations anytime; these are great searching flies at all hours.

Leeches range from one to three inches long. Most leeches are black or brown, but others are mottled. Adding a little red, purple, or green to a fly can represent this mottling, and applying black or brown over red or green sometimes results in a pattern that outperforms a solid-colored imitation.
Leeches are strong swimmers and move in an up-and-down, undulating manner. Using a strip-stop retrieve is often the best fishing technique, particularly when searching for trout. There are many accepted leech imitations, and the Rubber Bugger featured here is a variation on the classic Woolly Bugger.
Experimenting with new materials often adds a fresh twist to established patterns. There have been times, for example, when our standard flies did not produce for high-country trout. In response, we tied flies using the same basic color schemes, but substituted rubber legs for the traditional hackle and marabou. Sometimes the new patterns encouraged more strikes. Maybe it is the different color, the subtle flash, or the undulating movement that comes from a material such as rubber hackle, but sometimes a new material does make a difference.

This is Glenn Zinkus’s first contribution to our magazine. Glenn lives in Oregon.

JC Callibaetis Emerger
This pattern was originated by Jim Cope, a great Cascade lakes fly tier. This fly is best fished with an intermediate-sinking line. Let it sink to the top of the weeds, and then use a slow hand-twist retrieve. The JC Callibaetis Emerger is excellent to use when searching for trout. I often keep two versions in my fly box: the bead-head variety shown here, and the original lighter emerger that does not have a bead head.
Hook: Daiichi 1560 or another 1X-long nymph hook, sizes 16 to 12.
Bead: 5/64-inch gold bead.
Thread: Size 8/0 (70 denier), color to match the body.
Tail: Fine deer hair, natural with dark tips.
Body: Mink dubbing in shades of gray, tan, brown or olive.
Rib: Narrow gold wire.
Collar: Fine deer hair.

CDC Callibaetis
This fly sits low on the surface and serves as a dun or spinner; to use it as a spinner, split the CDC into two wings with a bit of moisture. This fly works well on our western lakes.
Hook: Gamakatsu S10 or another standard dry-fly hook, sizes 16 and 14.
Thread: Gray or tan 8/0 (70 denier).
Tail: Horsehair paintbrush fibers, dyed brown.
Body: Gray or tan Wonder Wrap.
Shellback: Brown horsehair paintbrush fibers.
Thorax: Olive-brown mink dubbing.
Hackle: Dark dun cul de canard. Make the CDC hackle using the split-thread technique, or use a product called Henry’s Fork Hackle, by Montana Fly Company.

CDC Black Caddis
Oregon’s Cascade lakes have a black-caddis hatch in the early morning. This pattern sits low on the surface, and short strips of line get fish to strike. To fashion the wing, pull back the cul de canard fibers while wrapping the Henry’s Fork Hackle around the hook.
Hook: Gamakatsu S10 or another standard dry-fly hook, sizes 
    16 and 14.
Thread: Black 8/0 (70 denier).
Tail: Black deer hair.
Body: Black Wonder Wrap.
Shellback: Black Skinny Skin. (Skinny Skin is another Montana Fly Company product.)
Hackle: Black cul de canard.

Root Beer Rubber Bugger
This pattern is especially effective early season on the lakes. To tie rubber hackle, dampen your fingers to grab and wrap the material. Fold the hackles back to keep them in the correct position. Don’t wrap rubber hackle too tight; a good rule of thumb is to keep about one wire diameter space between wraps to create a well tied rubber hackled fly. 
Hook: Gamakatsu S11S-4L2H or another 4X-long streamer 
    hook, size 8.
Thread: Red 8/0 (70 denier).
Tail:  Golden olive grizzly marabou.
Tail Flash:  Root beer Krystal Flash.
Body dubbing: Olive Swisher’s Rub-A-Dub or Hare’s Wiggle Dub. (Swisher’s Rub-A-Dub is marketed by Montana Fly Company; Hare’s Wiggle Dub is a product of Hareline Dubbin.)
Hackle: Olive or brown Swisher’s Rubber Hackle. (Montana Fly Company distributes this product.)
Collar: Brown-Olive grizzly rooster saddle hackle.

Norm’s Bullet Head
The Bullet Head is an epoxy head formed on a short piece of wire. The trailing hook is threaded through a loop tied to the end of the wire.
Head: Medium gold Trina’s Sculpin Bullet Head. (Montana Fly
    Company markets this product. Adam Trina is the head honcho
    at Montana Fly.)
Hook: Gamakatsu S11S-4L2H or another 4X-long streamer 
    hook, size 8.
Thread: Olive 6/0 (140 denier).
Body: 30-pound-test Tuf-Line Plus green braided line with an
    olive variant rabbit strip on top and a brown barred rabbit strip on bottom. Bond the rabbit strips to the line with TearMender adhesive.
Hackle: Olive variant soft hackle.
Collar: Chartreuse Midge Cactus Chenille.
Editor’s note: It would take an adventuresome tier to replicate
    this pattern based solely on the recipe; someday we will get the author to write an article about how to make this fly. What 
we want you to take away here is the fact that larger baitfish imitations work great for catching larger alpine trout.

Cascades Cripple
This pattern is a twist on the usual Callibaetis cripple. Wonder Wrap, which I use to fashion the abdomen, are flat, narrow rubber strips. When wrapped on the hook, the edges look similar to a wrapped stripped quill. This fly also stands up in the water better than a quill-body pattern because of the rubber body material. The EP Trigger Point International Fibers Trigger, which I use to fashion the forward wing, are treated with Watershed, but you can substitute with your favorite brand of polypropylene wing material. The Cascades Cripple works best at the beginning and the end of a hatch.
Hook: Gamakatsu S10 or another standard dry-fly hook, sizes 16 and 14.
Thread: Tan 8/0 (70 denier).
Tail: Horsehair paintbrush fibers, dyed gray.
Body: Tan Wonder Wrap, or another brand of narrow, flat material suitable for wrapping fine dry-fly bodies. (Wonder Wrap is a product of the Montana Fly Company.)
Wing: Fine deer hair, natural with dark tips and EP Trigger Point International Fibers with a single strand of Flashabou. (You may substitute polypropylene wing material for the EP fibers.)
Thorax: Tan mink dubbing.
Hackle: Grizzly.

Micro Burgundy Leech
The Micro Burgundy Leech is an all-around good searching pattern. Tie this fly in various colors and experiment to find the right leech that catches the trout in your local waters.
Hook: Daiichi 1273 curved-shank nymph hook, sizes 12 and 10.
Thread: Red 8/0 (70 denier).
Tail: Burgundy marabou.
Body: Substitute seal fur.
Head: Red thread finished with high gloss cement.

Norm’s Sculpin
This pattern is a good baitfish imitation, and it swims with the hook pointing up. I was really surprised the first day I used this fly at Hosmer Lake in the Oregon Cascades: the brook trout absolutely attacked it. Keep your fingers moist while working with the Enrico Puglisi Sparkle Brush. Use a small comb to brush back the fibers. Use an old pair of scissors to cut the strand in the brush; the tough core will dull your best tying scissors.
Head: Small olive Trina’s Sculpin Head.
Hook: 3X-long nymph or streamer hook, sizes 8.
Thread: Brown 8/0 (70 denier).
Tail: Barred brown/tan rabbit Zonker strip.
Body: Brown Enrico Puglisi Sparkle Brush.
Hackle: Brown Swisher’s Generation X Dubbing.

Generation X Caddis Emerger
The Tear Mender adhesive used to tie this pattern is very effective for gluing together leather and natural animal-skin products. Look for Tear Mender in your local hardware or discount store.
Hook: 3X-long nymph or streamer hook, sizes 16 to 12.
Thread: Olive 8/0 (70 denier).
Underbody: Lead wire.
Body: Olive Swisher’s Generation X or Hare’e Wiggle Dubbing.
Wing case: Pheasant tail fibers.
Legs: Brown hen hackle with one rubber leg on each side 
    of the fly.
Head: Three pieces of peacock herl.

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