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There’s gold in the Uintas!

A DWR aquatics manager shares his love for golden trout fishing

Paul Thompson is UDWR's Northern Region Aquatics Program Manager. He coordinates all aquatics-related programs and projects in Northern Utah. Paul enjoys the diversity his job offers. He works on everything from native species, to sportfish.

ONE OF MY PASSIONS is fly fishing for all western trout species. If you ask my wife Debbi, she would likely call it an obsession. Anyway, I prefer to call it a passion. Along with the native cutthroat trout in the west, I love fishing for golden trout. I have made several trips to the Wind River Mountains in Wyoming and even to the Sierra Nevada Mountains in California to catch golden trout.

A closeup of a golden trout caught at Echo Lake on July 10.

A closeup of a golden trout caught at Echo Lake on July 10.

Well, I couldn’t be more pleased (and I’m sure Debbi is as well) that now I don’t even have to leave Utah in order to catch this gorgeous trout.

Golden trout are native to the southern Sierra Nevada Mountains of California and they are California’s state fish. Because this trout is so beautiful, golden trout have been stocked into high-mountain lakes throughout most of the western states to provide anglers a variety in their catch.

The Utah Division of Wildlife Resources (Division) has been managing golden trout in Utah since the 1920s and several lakes in the Uinta Mountains boasted good populations into the 1950s. Golden trout did not evolve with other trout species, and consequently, they don’t do well with other trout.

During the 1950s in Utah, brook trout either invaded or were stocked on top of golden trout and we lost many of our populations. The Division stocked more lakes with golden trout in the 1960s and 1970s, but these populations met the same fate with the invasion of other trout.

By 2012, there were only a few locations where golden trout were able to hang on, but populations were so low that only the most fortunate anglers encountered them.

Because the road to Echo Lake is so long and bumpy, we used four-wheelers and coolers to stock the golden trout.

Because the road to Echo Lake is so long and bumpy, we used four-wheelers and coolers to stock the golden trout.

Recently, the Division has worked with the Wyoming Game and Fish Department to obtain golden trout eggs and beginning in 2012, we have been able to stock golden trout into the two Uinta Mountain locations where small populations have persisted:

1) Atwood Creek Drainage, a tributary to the Uinta River, specifically Atwood Lake (U-16), Mt. Emmons Lake (U-13), and Lake U-19 and

2) Echo Lake (Z-16) in Murdock Basin.

In 2012, about 13,000 one-inch golden trout were aerial stocked in the three lakes in the Atwood Creek Drainage and in 2013-2014, more than 11,000 five to six-inch golden trout were stocked in Echo Lake.

Echo Lake can be accessed by a rough 4-wheel-drive road (United Forest Service Road 027 and then take the left Y on road 137) from the Mirror Lake Highway about three or four miles before you get to Trial and Washington Lakes, if you are coming from the Kamas side.

For more information on the golden trout populations in the Atwood Creek Drainage, call our Northeastern Regional Office at 435-781-9453 and ask to speak with a biologist.

Recently, my nephew Ethan was visiting from Illinois and I wanted to take him into the Uinta Mountains to experience the beauty that Utah has to offer, and hopefully catch his first trout. Since I’ve lived in Utah for close to 20 years and have never caught a golden trout here, Echo Lake seemed like the place to take him.

Paul and his nephew Ethan during their latest golden trout fishing trip.

Paul and his nephew Ethan during their latest golden trout fishing trip.

Surprisingly, four of my Division coworkers had interest in trying for their first golden trout. (Alright, maybe that’s not too surprising.) Including my nephew, the six of us headed up to Echo Lake on July 10.

I had only been to Echo Lake a couple of times (prior to the recent stocking of golden trout) and the road was everything that I remembered. I would caution that this road at a minimum requires a vehicle with clearance and I would recommend 4-wheel drive (or ATVs).

We arrived at Echo Lake around 11:00 a.m. and I set my nephew up with a fly (#14 caddis) and bubble. Before I had even put my fly rod together, he had lost a brook trout. I fished from a float tube and one guy even brought a kayak. As the day progressed, it didn’t seem to matter if you were fishing from a tube/kayak or from the shore, everyone was catching several golden trout and brook trout.

As it turned out, Ethan’s first trout was a golden trout! All the fish in Echo Lake were willing and we caught them on dry flies and streamers. There was really no need to use anything but a #14-#12 caddis, but I tried a few different flies and caught fish on everything.

While the fish we caught were not large, they were a good fight on a 3-wt fly rod. Just catching golden trout was enough for all of us. I probably landed around 25 golden trout up to nine inches and 15 brook trout up to about 10.5 inches by the time we left at 3:00 p.m. Ethan landed seven or eight trout (several of them golden trout).

A beautiful brook trout taking a fly at Echo Lake.

A beautiful brook trout taking a fly at Echo Lake.

I did notice, at least that day, that I would catch more brook trout near shore and more golden trout about 20-40 feet off shore, but like I mentioned, even the shore anglers had no problem catching golden trout. The state catch-and-keep record golden trout is 14.5 inches (14 oz) from Atwood Creek in 1977 and the catch-and-release record is from Echo Lake in 2008 at 11 1/8 inches. We didn’t break any records, but give these fish a few more years and I feel that there could be some new golden trout state records!

While I can’t guarantee that you will catch golden trout if you decide to make a trip to Echo Lake, if you put some time in, your chances of landing some is very good. Don’t forget the regulations in the Uinta Mountains, including Echo Lake: statewide trout limit of four fish with the option for a bonus four brook trout.

We are trying to bolster the golden trout in this lake and while I would not discourage anyone from keeping golden trout if they so desire, the more brook trout that are kept from this water, the more it’ll help the remaining golden trout.

Watch a video of the trip and pick up some more tips for catching these beautiful trout:

13 Responses to There’s gold in the Uintas!

  1. Golden trout in the Uintas would be awesome. I know the government loves putting the native cutthroat back ‘where it used to be’, but I would be ALL for golden trout in remote lakes in the Uintas (where pressure would be light, and preferably, where horses can’t get into), where they might have a chance to get big.

  2. Rick –

    We are working on stocking golden trout in a few more lakes, including more remote lakes. Prior to any additional stockings of golden trout, we do need to make sure that there is no chance of golden trout escaping and hybridizing with native cutthroat trout. But, there are plenty of lakes in the Uintas and we hope to get them in a few more lakes. If you want to try catching a golden in a more remote area, you should try and fish the lakes up the Atwood Creek Drainage (Uinta River, South Slope of the Uintas) as these lakes are more remote than Echo Lake.

  3. Linden Greenhaglh

    I would like to receive the northern region fishing report.

  4. Is there a reason that brook trout are in the same lake as the golden trout?

    From the info I read the golden transplants were supplanted by the brook trout in the lakes of the Uintas. Won’t that happen again????

  5. Paul –

    Brook trout have always been present in Echo Lake and surprisingly, golden trout have been able to hold on in low densities. The Division of Wildlife had the opportunity to get golden trout eggs from Wyoming for a few years so we supplemented this population. Hopefully it will persist for many years to come.

  6. I love the idea of more golden trout instead of so many brook trout, especially up in the uintas. I also love the idea of more grayling where they fill the void of the lower oxygen lakes, and I hope more lakes are discovered where grayling can be the only residents of such lakes. And I hope the state keeps up its efforts to reestablish the native cutthroats to their original ranges. I would love to see the states cut back the introduction of rainbows and where the cutthroat once lived. Is there somewhere where we can get updated info about the Golden trout program?
    Thanks, Brian.

  7. Brian –

    We had an opportunity to obtain golden trout from Wyoming for a couple of years so we took advantage and stocked more into Echo Lake during that time. Since then, we have lost our golden trout source, but those stockings should have bolstered this small population – hopefully for many years to come. I haven’t received any reports recently on how the fishing is for golden trout at Echo Lake, so if you go, please drop us a line.

    We are always looking for ways to expand on our stocking, so we are going to try grayling in a few additional lakes in the next couple of years. These are lakes where we have some winter kill issues, so grayling might do better there.

    As a state, we are extremely interested in restoring our native cutthroat trout in areas where we have opportunities. You will continue to see these efforts, but rainbow trout remain very popular so we will keep those opportunities as well.


  8. Hi Paul,

    Can you confirm any populations in Jean Lake? (Hells Kitchen)

    Been wanting to try that bushwack for a year or two now

  9. Ben –

    We did get into Jean Lake last year. This lake does have periodic winterkill, so we weren’t too optimistic. We did find a few golden trout still holding on however. Unfortunately, since I wrote this blog, we have lost our source of golden trout from Wyoming. We do hope to get more golden trout from another source at some point in the future, but for now, we haven’t had fish to stock for a couple of years. There is no natural reproduction in Jean Lake, the numbers are low, and there is a question on whether the lake will come through another winter. All things to keep in mind if you decide to make the hike. If you do make it in, please drop me a line as I would be curious if you find anything.


  10. Hi! I think its awesome what youre doing! I’m planning a backpacking trip to the Uintas this next August. I’ve done the same in the wind rivers the last 2 years in a row. I’m looking for a place to catch some goldens? Where would you suggest at this time?

    Thanks! Matt

  11. Hi Paul, have you guys ever considered putting aerators like they have done on Boulder mtn at some of the Uinta lakes that are prone to winter kill? There is a few lakes where I would love to see that happen. For example, the lake where the state record grayling was caught. I was catching fish just a hair under the current record a few years ago. I went back the following year to find it had completely winter killed. The west shore was littered with large dead grayling. That lake would definitely kick out bigger fish than the current record if they could survive a harsh winter. Why you’re at it, if you ever get another source of golden trout you should put some in with the grayling. I wouldn’t have to trek in the Winds every year in search of big goldens

  12. It has been a while since the last stocking of Golden Trout in the Atwood basin. Is the golden trout population still pretty high there?

  13. Thanks for checking with us, Gardner. We last stocked golden trout in Atwood Lake in 2014 and in lakes U-19 and Mt. Emmons in 2012. These lakes were chosen as stocking sites because golden trout had persisted in them in very low numbers (due to natural reproduction) and we wanted to boost their numbers. The fish in U-19 and Mt. Emmons have likely completed their lifecycles, and only a few may remain. There may also be a few juvenile fish in the system due to some natural reproduction. Atwood may still have some adult fish from the 2014 stocking. Unfortunately, because of personnel and resource constraints, we haven’t been able to survey those lakes since the trout were last stocked.

    Amy Canning
    Communications Specialist
    Utah Division of Wildlife Resources

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