2020 Wind Rivers; Stough Creek Lakes

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Wandering Daisy
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2020 Wind Rivers; Stough Creek Lakes

Post by Wandering Daisy » Thu Sep 17, 2020 6:52 pm

2020 Wind Rivers; Stough Creek Fishing
9/1-9/3




I squeezed a 3-day fishing trip between two late season storms. The day after I came out Torrey Creek TH, a quick storm dropped snow in the mountains and temperatures dropped to freezing in Lander. Weather forecasts showed good weather for a few days before another storm over Labor Day weekend. With the smoke in Sacramento, I wanted to delay a few days. Stough Creek Lakes is easy to reach with the trailhead close to Lander. I threw leftover backpack food in my Ursack, switched to my smaller pack and put on some new hiking clothes. I did not take wading shoes, so I now had a wonderfully light 22 pound pack.

Stough Cr loop.jpg

Day 1: Roaring Fork TH (Worthen Meadows) to Upper Toadstool Lake. 10.2 miles, 2605 gain, 8 hours, including fishing.

After a short drive up Sinks Canyon, the road switchbacks up and ends at Worthen Reservoir. The trailhead is at the far end of a continuing dirt road that was in better shape than the last time I drove it. Graded recently, it still had “car-killer” rocks sticking up that had to be avoided.

I walked up the trail/4wd road to Roaring Fork Lake and crossed a creek on rocks. After a 200 foot rise, a boardwalk crosses a meadow before the ascent to Roaring Fork Pass begins in earnest. I made good time and took a break at the pass. The trail then drops and skirts around a buttress following flat full of small ponds before reaching the Stough Creek trail junction and bridge. The trail looked like it had been recently worked on with most of the dead trees felled and moved off the trail. I crossed the bridge and ascended gradually through a thick forest to Big Stough Lake. Just short of Shoal Lake, I left the trail and cut over to a use-trail that headed towards Dipper Lake, my first target for fishing.
1773_Grayling_edited-1.jpg

The final drop to the lake was a bit tricky but I arrived in plenty of time to fish. It really did not take much time to catch three Grayling. In fact, I put a few back who were too small. I then hiked up to the lake above Dipper, which actually looked like a better lake for fish, but did not get a bite. This is the first time I ever caught Grayling and it took me a while to realize this. They were fat little things about 9 inches long, silvery and scaly, somewhat like salmon. I cleaned them and wrapped them in a wet kerchief and put them in the Ursack.

1774_Toadstool Lk Brookies_edited-1.jpg

I returned southward to a saddle and then traversed up a lake-filled drainage unofficially called “Toadstool Lakes”. Shores of these lakes are choked with Krumholtz (wind stunted evergreens) between talus shores, with a few cliffs. At a few points I had to crawl under the vegetation. The drainage ends in a tight little cirque with little flat ground for camping. I mentally kept track of small lumpy sites as I worked my way to the upper lake where there was a nice grassy meadow at the far end. Unfortunately due to the steep canyon walls, it was in shadows at 4PM and would be just as dark in the morning.
1777-81_Upper Toadstool_edited-3.jpg

I then went back to the lower lake to fish; I had seen some small fish here. I could not get a single fish to bite! As shadows were engulfing me, I returned to the outlet of the upper lake and it must have been the magic time, because I quickly caught two 10-inch brook trout, one healthy and one big-headed. Later in the evening I observed many fish rising for about half an hour, then all was still. I cooked my catch of the day and hiked over to a bit of sunshine for some warmth. Soon all was in shadows and I retreated inside the tent. It was quite chilly.



Day 2: Fishing loop from Upper Toadstool Lake to Shoal Lake. 7.5 miles, 1075 gain, 8.5 hours.



As the crow flies, at the end of the day, I ended up half a mile from my start! Instead, I walked and fished along a loop visiting many lakes, walked back and forth several times to Cutthroat Lake and walked completely around Shoal Lake.

1784-86_Toadstool Lakes_edited-2.jpg

There would be no sunshine in the morning at my camp at Upper Toadstool Lake. I bundled up and ate breakfast and climbed up to sunshine on the saddle to the north. Traversing to Eyrie Lake was slow given detours around thick brush. No fish in this lake that sits in a rocky bowl.

1791-92_Eyrie Lake_edited-4.jpg

My attempt to traverse on ledges to Lightning Lake failed. I ended up dropping and getting stuck in difficult steep talus above Footprint Lake. But I eventually reached Lightning Lake. I did not try to fish. Next I dropped down a bit and then up to Canyon Lake, another high lake that I did not fish. I do not know if either of the last two lakes even had fish.
1794-95_Footprint Lake_edited-2.jpg
1798-1800_Lightning Lake_edited-3.jpg
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Wandering Daisy
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Re: 2020 Wind Rivers; Stough Creek Lakes

Post by Wandering Daisy » Thu Sep 17, 2020 7:00 pm

Day 2 continued

1801_Canyon Lake_edited-1.jpg
1801-03_Canyon Lake_resize_edited-1.jpg
1804_Blackrock Lake_B&W_edited-1.jpg
1810_near Blackrock Lake_edited-1.jpg


I stopped to fish Blackrock Lake where I saw fish at the outlet, but they were not interested in my fly. I then carried my rod down the drainage past Zig and Zag Lake, fishing both, getting bites but failing to land the fish. I crossed the inlet to Shoal Lake and then fished the west shores of Shoal Lake. I had caught nice fish here before; this time I only saw small fish. I crossed the outlet and set up camp at an established site. Then I dropped to Cutthroat Lake and fished. No luck.
1812_Cutthroat Lake_edited-2.jpg
23_Cutthroat Lake_Merged_edited-2.jpg

Back at camp I took a break and bathed. About 3:30 I circled Shoal Lake and caught four fish, accepting that I would have to do with 8-9 inchers. Then I dropped to Cutthroat Lake again, and caught a nice 11-ihcn brook trout. By now I was beat. I cleaned the fish and had a feast. I could hear that another group came in and were camped on the other side of Shoal Lake. I saw two fellows at Cutthroat Lake. Stough Creek is a popular fishing area for locals but was pretty empty now, probably because it was just before Labor Day weekend.
1813_Shoal Lake_edited-1.jpg
1814_Shoal Lake camp_edited-1.jpg


Day 3: Walk Out. 7.2 miles, 520 gain, 3.5 hours.


1816_moonset_edited-1.jpg
1826_Shoal Lake outlet_edited-2.jpg



It was an uneventful quick walk out; the crowds were walking in. The trailhead now had twice as many cars as when I started. I got back to Lander for lunch and then packed up my car for my 3 day drive home. First night I visited friends in SLC, second night I stayed at Soda Springs with my daughter and family and Sunday I had to drop down into the smoke and heat; back to the reality of smoke, COVID19, a shut-down Sierra and trailer trip up the Oregon Coast on hold. Sigh.
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Re: 2020 Wind Rivers; Stough Creek Lakes

Post by windknot » Thu Sep 17, 2020 7:04 pm

Thanks for the report! Cool to see grayling -- how did they taste?

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Re: 2020 Wind Rivers; Stough Creek Lakes

Post by Wandering Daisy » Fri Sep 18, 2020 7:42 am

I cooked all the fish together and then mixed the meat, so I do not know how the grayling tasted alone. They were pretty easy to catch and did not fight as much as the brook trout; not sure if that is typical or that they were sluggish due to warm water. The lake was shallow and at a fairly low elevation and it was an unusually warm summer this year. I gather from questions about taste, that grayling are not desirable trout.

A lot of the lakes in Stough Creek Basin need to be fished more; many are over-populated and the size of the fish are decreasing. Over the years, I think a lot more people are doing catch-and-release. Some fishermen also do not fish for brook trout, so skip these lakes. I was not sure that Upper Toadstool Lake even had fish until I found some broken lures where I camped.

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Re: 2020 Wind Rivers; Stough Creek Lakes

Post by Harlen » Fri Sep 18, 2020 10:09 am

WD, Haven't read through this trip closely yet, but I wanted compliment you on the set of photos. We really love the 2 of Toadstool Lake, even though the first has strange white borders. It's still my favorite; any chance you can re-post it full size? Looks like there is a great reflection there. Amazing landscape, and you've captured it really well. Thanks for taking us there.

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Re: 2020 Wind Rivers; Stough Creek Lakes

Post by balzaccom » Fri Sep 18, 2020 9:52 pm

Daisy, these are beautiful trip reports. Thanks for sharing them with us!
Balzaccom

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