Fish the High Uintas Granddaddy Basin
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I have been going to the Granddaddy Basin for years and have grown to really enjoy what it has to offer. From hiking and fishing to camping and relaxing, it has something to offer everyone. I hope I can give you a little information that might help you plan your next high country adventure. I will try to break down several lakes and camping spots that might give you some sort of feeling for the area before you go. I just returned from there in late June, so this is very current information.
There are two main ways to enter the Granddaddy Basin: the first, and probably shortest, is the Grandview Trail Head located just north of Hanna, Utah and accessed most easily through Wolf Creek Pass out of Kamas.
The second is the Highline Trail Head located by Trial and Mirror Lakes, which is north of Kamas, on Highway 150. Though either is a great place to start, the Highline trail is less strenuous, but a little bit longer.
Granddaddy Lake — Called Granddaddy because it is the largest natural lake in all of the Uintas, it is also the most heavily used lake in the whole basin. The most unique thing about this lake is that it is one of the few naturally-reproducing lakes in the Uintas. Brook and cutthroat trout inhabit this lake and the size of some of these fish might surprise you. Do the lake a favor and only keep a few fish. So many people use and visit this lake that we need to be careful how we treat it. The hike in is about 3.5 miles and the trail is well marked. Firewood is hard to come by, and your best bet for water is a piped spring on the southwest side of the lake.
Betsy Lake and Mohawk Lake — These two lakes are within shouting distance of Granddaddy Lake and are less heavily visited. Campsites are plentiful and the firewood is more abundant at Mohawk but the fishing is usually faster at Betsy. Both lakes have brook and cutthroat trout in them, and be sure not to ignore the stream that connects the lakes.
Fly fishing here in the evening is as good as it gets, but sometimes it pays to just lie back on the shore and watch a red and white bobber, with a worm on it, float across the lake. I have also had some good success with a rapala.
I watched a friend bring in a 17-inch brook trout that pushed 2 pounds in late June while fishing these two lakes. You should have seen the look on his face when it came splashing out of the water. Betsy is about twice as big and deeper than Mohawk.
Palisade Lake — Deep in the heart of the Granddaddy Basin lies my favorite lake. I first visited it as a 13-year-old Boy Scout. The fishing isn't the best, the bugs are bad, there is no spring water and firewood is tough to come by, but I have a special place in my heart for this lake. It is about a 7-mile hike through a lot of swamp-filled meadows and hit and miss trails, but once you visit this lake you'll understand why it is my favorite. The camping is incredible, the view is awesome and if you want a little extra excitement, you can cliff-dive off the west side and then lie on some flat rocks warmed by the sun. As for the fishing— try a spinner at the northwest corner of the lake. There are some lily pads in a small cove that might have a few nice surprises waiting under them for you. The most important thing to remember at palisade is to just enjoy the scenery.
Pine Island Lake — Pine Island is about a 6-mile hike from the Grandview Trail head. It is a pretty popular lake, and rightfully so. It's a deep lake with brook and cutthroat trout. It has great campsites and a terrific view. I don't know of any spring water, and you have to hunt for firewood, but it is there. This is a tough lake to use a fly rod on because it is so thick with pine trees, but a worm, Powerbait, or even small spinners should produce enough fish for a good meal. When I visited this lake as a kid there was a rope swing on the east end, near the trail. If it is still there it would be a good way to relax, if you don't mind cold water. If Pine Island doesn't work out, head about 250 yards southeast of the lake and you'll find Lilypad Lake. It's a small, shallow lake loaded with brook trout that like to hit spinners. It's off the beaten path, so you might find some solitude there.
Pinto and Governor Dern Lakes — these two lakes are within a stone's-throw of one another and are comparable as far as fishing goes. I've caught both brook and cutthroat out of Governor Dern, but only brook out of pinto. Pinto is a much deeper lake and it is also more popular. Both lakes have plenty of camping spots and firewood. Governor Dern has spring water on the east and north sides. Both these lakes are a favorite spot for boy scouts. They are a moderate 9-mile hike from the Grandview Trail Head, and worth every mile.
Fern Lake — Fern is a great place to visit. It is off the beaten trail just enough that people seem not to bother with it. It's about a 6-mile hike in, and sits about one half mile from any noticeable trail. I am always amazed at the amount and quality of brook trout I catch there. Fish well over two pounds and 18 inches inhabit this lake and a small dry fly will bring them to the surface. Release these monsters so they can continue to grow. Spring water is located on the west part of this lake and firewood isn't a problem. There are a couple of nice campsites around, but don't worry about it being crowded. This is one place you might want to keep to yourself.
Fish Hatchery Lake — Sometimes this lake is a slam-dunk for fishing and other times it's not so good. It's about a 5-mile hike in, and the lake is over 20 feet deep. I never have been able to figure this one out. It has good campsites, plenty of firewood, and spring water, so it's a little more popular than other lakes. When the fishing is good you can catch brook and cutthroat on everything from spinners and flies to worms and leftover Ramen noodles, but when it's bad, you might as well take a nap and come back later.
Secret Lake — The reason I'll call this lake Secret is because of the quality of cutthroat trout I've caught here. What I will tell you is that it's a deep lake and has no inlet streams. I found it by accident one day while hiking around and it's a fisherman's dream. I don't know that there is a less-visited lake in the Granddaddy Basin. If, by some chance, you ever discover this lake, do me a favor and don't let anyone know where it is. In all my years in the Uintas, I've only taken three people to this lake, and I swore them to secrecy about it. This is truly one of the last few secrets in all the Uintas and I don't know if I'll visit there again with another person. One day, I will keep a fish from this lake and hang it on my wall, but only so I can remember the lake when I'm too old to hike there. It took me 18 years to find this lake and Secret Lake will stay secret as long as I have anything to do with it.
Well, I hope this article gives you some excitement and hunger to visit the Granddaddy Basin. It has so much to offer. There are many lakes I didn't even touch on here, and maybe you can find your own Secret Lake.
By the way, don't overlook Hades Lake or the stream on the way from Pine Island to Governor Dern. That stream is a great place to throw a fly and catch pan-sized fish all day. And when I say all day, I mean it.