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Where to go backcountry fishing in alpine lakes near Big Sky

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By Derek Lennon EBS Contributor

Backcountry fishing in alpine lakes is truly a unique experience. Grabbing your gear and hoofing it down the trail deep into the wild mountains that surround Big Sky is an adventure everyone will enjoy.

Picture having a pristine, crystal clear alpine lake all to yourself. It’s just you and Mother Nature. Cutthroats, grayling and rainbows regularly rise to the surface creating ripples on the lake’s perfect, glasslike surface. The towering peaks and stunning alpine cirques make for a setting straight out of National Geographic. Before you drop your line in the water you might have to pinch yourself to remind yourself this is real. This is Big Sky Country.

Grab a map of the Big Sky area—Beartooth Publishing puts out a great one—or check out Joshua Bergan’s book “Flyfisher’s Guide to Southwest Montana’s Mountain Lakes.” Scanning the map, you’ll notice countless named and unnamed lakes dotting the mountain landscape in Big Sky’s backyard. Some of them contain fish and others don’t. How does one even know where to begin?

Did you know that a good number of the alpine lakes in Big Sky Country are actually stocked by the government? You can obtain detailed information from Montana Fish, Wildlife, & Parks about fishing in alpine lakes near Big Sky. FWP’s thorough Montana Fishing Guide provides information about fishing and boating regulations, stocking, fishing pressure and an interactive map.

We grabbed some of the data from the Montana Fishing Guide to help you quickly locate stocked alpine lakes near Big Sky in the Madison and Gallatin ranges.


Madison Range

Avalanche Lake – Yellowstone cutthroat trout

Beehive Lake – westslope cutthroat trout

Blue Danube Lake – golden trout

Blue Paradise Lake – rainbow trout

Cedar Lake – westslope cutthroat trout

Cherry Lake – westslope cutthroat trout

Chilled Lakes – westslope cutthroat trout

Diamond Lake – westslope cutthroat trout

Expedition Lake – westslope cutthroat trout

Gnome Lake – Yellowstone cutthroat trout

Grayling Lake – Arctic grayling

High Hope Lake – westslope cutthroat trout

Hilgard Lake – westslope cutthroat trout

Lake Cameron – westslope cutthroat trout, Yellowstone cutthroat trout

Lake Ha Hand – westslope cutthroat trout

Lava Lake – rainbow trout

Lillian Lake – westslope cutthroat trout

Lizard Lake, Lower – westslope cutthroat trout

Margo Lake – westslope cutthroat trout

North Spanish Lake – westslope cutthroat trout, Yellowstone cutthroat trout

Painted Lake – Yellowstone cutthroat trout

Ramona Lake – westslope cutthroat trout

Spanish Lakes – westslope cutthroat trout

Sunset Lake – westslope cutthroat trout

Ulery’s Lakes – rainbow trout


Gallatin Range

Big Bear Lake – westslope cutthroat trout

Heather Lake – record incomplete

Hyalite Reservoir – Arctic grayling, brook trout, Yellowstone cutthroat trout

Lake Elsie – Yellowstone cutthroat trout

Upper Bear Lake – westslope cutthroat trout


As you explore Big Sky’s vast backyard, you’ll discover that additional lakes not listed here also contain fish. Don’t think of this as a complete list of alpine lakes with fish, instead consider it a starting point for your backcountry fishing adventures.

Everyone should give backcountry fishing in alpine lakes near Big Sky a try. Make it a day hike or turn it into a backpacking trip. This outdoor adventure is well worth the effort—and every real fisherman needs to experience it.

Remember that all fishing activities require a Montana or Yellowstone National Park fishing license.

Derek Lennon is a skier and writer who lives, works, and plays in the mountains of the world. He is based in Big Sky, Montana, where he lives with his wife Mia and two dogs.

A version of this story was originally published on the Visit Big Sky blog at Read more interesting content about the area on Visit Big Sky’s blog at





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