Searching for Gold in Colorado

Written by: Jonathan Hill

Golden Trout in CO 1

Jonathan Hill with a Colorado golden trout, a fish that many thought had gone extinct.

photo courtesy Jonathan Hill

For the past eight years, I have been hiking in to some of the most remote high mountain lakes in Colorado. I am not saying that I’m a snob and I thumb my nose at the beautiful rivers we have here, but it is nice to get a little bit of exercise along with your fishing. It is also nice to get away from the crowds that frequent the Gold Medal fisheries that we are lucky enough to have across the state. This year, one trip in particular captured what I find magical about the high country.

Golden Trout in CO 2

Hiking off-trail made for some arduous climbs through difficult terrain.

photo courtesy Jonathan Hill

I planned the trip for earlier this summer, and three of my buddies—Rick, Mike, and Ryan—were dumb enough to come along. This adventure was different than any of us could ever imagine, and harder than we could possibly make up. We were going in search of golden trout. Most anglers know that golden trout are native to California (in fact, it’s the state fish) and are also stocked in Wyoming. What you may not know is that the golden trout was also stocked in Colorado back in the 70s and 80s. However, most biologists believe that the golden was unable to reproduce in the high mountain lakes and therefore became extinct decades ago. We didn’t believe them.

Golden Trout in CO 3

The high-country lakes that Hill and his buddies bushwhacked to turned out to be a bust,
as far as golden trout were concerned. Luckily, they struck gold elsewhere.

photo courtesy Jonathan Hill

Going on a tip from a biologist friend and a hunch that we might be lucky enough to stumble upon these fish, we set out for a five-day, 30-mile trek into the wilderness. Since portions of the hike were off trail, we had to bushwhack over deadfall and boulder fields to reach our destination. The first day took us nine hours and totaled fourteen miles. Needless to say, I was happy to get my 52-pound pack off my back and set up camp.

Golden Trout in CO 4

The only thing willing to strike a fly was this 8-inch salamander.

photo courtesy Jonathan Hill

The following day, we set out to fish a couple of lakes that we hoped were not barren. After putting on waders and hiking through the brush and boulders, we waded into and fished two lakes for a solid five hours. The only bite I got was from an eight-inch salamander. Chalk that up as a first! Anyone else ever catch a salamander on an Orvis rod before?

Golden Trout in CO 5

After a day of fruitless fish, Rick finally stumbled on a creek that
turned out to be the mother lode of golden trout.

photo courtesy Jonathan Hill

After we headed back to camp for lunch, a little dejected, Rick decided to take a walk downstream and follow a creek that isn’t on any maps. Halfway into my sandwich, I heard Rick stumbling and bumbling back up to camp. The only thing he could get out was “I FOUND THEM!” At this point everything gets a little blurry, but we all grabbed our rods and ran downstream. I probably should have been a bit more careful but I hurled myself over trees, branches and sharp objects that should have pierced the sides of my legs.

Golden Trout in CO 5

These gorgeous trout made the arduous hike into the wilderness all worthwhile.

photo courtesy Jonathan Hill

So as they say, we struck gold. It was quite unbelievable and so surreal that I feel like it was all a dream. But we made it there and back, 30 total miles and 6,000 vertical feet. It was a trip that we will never forget, and it just may be a trip that goes down in the record books.

Jonathan Hill is a digital graphics manager who lives in Littleton,Colorado.

17 thoughts on “Searching for Gold in Colorado”

  1. Nice to see that they’re still there in 2011… I first caught goldens at these two lakes (and the stream below) back in the 1980’s. As the author did, I won’t give clues to their location, but, suffice it to say, he’s correct in saying they’re hard to get to. For the record, I also saw what had GOT to be a Boone and Crockett record elk just 100 yards from the lower lake on my first trip there…

  2. A request of Jonathon Hill, would you be willing to share a photo of a Golden Trout from your trip? I would like to use it in my upcoming book and intend to pay a fair fee for a copyright license. I would also be willing to keep your locations confidential. I caught My only golden in Wyoming but the resolution of my photo is inadequate.

    30 years ago I caught a Golden here in Colorado and have been back to that lake several times since with no sightings of Goldens.

  3. Pingback: Photos: More Gold in the Colorado High Country | Orvis News
  4. i would love to get my husband the golden trout experience. He’s in great shape. And would be veryvsurprisedbufvi could tell him where and how to find them. Please help

    1. Christe not sure if your seeing this but in Black Lake, at the summit of Vail pass. It is fishing great right now. I recommend using a fly if you have some because that is what I am most successful with at Black Lake

  5. From the late 80’s and into 2002 myself and others caught these magnificent trout. unlike the other here I will tell you where they are. Stop just about anywhere along I 25, look west, and there you have them!

  6. I caught some golden trout last August in an easily accessed stream. I was so surprised I had to have someone verify I was not hallucinating.
    They must have been illegally put there.

    1. Jim,
      Would this be the inlet to Turquoise? I have a buddy who landed a couple there. If not, I can “trade” a known place that has very few but rather large Goldens for your easily accessed place.
      Email me if you would and I can initiate my lake for your stream.

      1. ive caught many goldens in sierra nevadas many trophy of life time size goldens ive been living in colorado and wuld love to catch another in the state i call my own reply to im atrout bum and have many secrets of my own here and across west wuld love a tip to find those fish and whats told to me stays with me we must protect rare populations of trout and other salmonids fishing is my life and trout are my passion thanks Nate!

  7. I heard a hatchery close to Leadville flooded in the 70’s and released a population of Goldens into the headwaters of the Arkansas river. I was a kid then and tried my best to catch one but it never happened.

  8. These kind of articles destroy special spots like this. I have been going to this spot for 20 years, now there are no fish left. 3 articles online will do that.
    Why the need to blog?
    Fishing shouldn’t be used for internet/social media clout.
    Just enjoy it for yourself.

    1. While I understand your concern about Internet hotspotting, not one lake or stream in the post is named, and reaching them requires 30 miles of hiking, while climbing 6,000 feet of elevation.

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