Backcountry Fishing in Desolation Wilderness

Lake Tahoe Basin Ca- Hikers, backpackers, seasonal skiers delight at the variety of access and wide open spaces of Desolation Wilderness. Mesmerized by the granite bowls of crystal clear waters and the rising granite peaks beaconing to be climbed. well over 100,000 visitors a year makes Desolation Wilderness one of the most visited wilderness areas in the world. But what about fishing? Are there fish in Desolations Wilderness? Is Desolation Wilderness a thriving and growing fish habitat? What type of Fish are in Desolation Wilderness and what are the regulations? Discover the answer to these questions and more in our Desolation Fishing guide. Here is a quick link to Trail Miles in Desolation

crag lake
crag lake

Are There Fish in Desolation Wilderness?

Yes – Fish, mostly Trout plants fish from the 1800’s are present in many of the Desolation Lakes. Unfortunately for angling hikers, fishing is on the decline in Desolation Wilderness since the introduction of the Sierra Nevada Yellow-Legged Frog Habitat Restoration Project, which began in 2008.  The project intends to restore Desolation’s lakes to a fishless state in order to bolster the native population of frogs that suffered as a direct result of fish.

As part of the Sierra Nevada Yellow-Legged Frog Habitat Restoration Project, biologists with the Lake Tahoe Basin Management Unit, along with the California Department of Fish and Game, used gill nets to remove the various trout species from selected lakes.

In 2013, , biologists with the Lake Tahoe Basin Management Unit, along with the California Department of Fish and Game used gillnetting and electrofishing in the same lakes that were previously treated—Tamarack, Ralston, Cagwin, Lake Margery and Lake Lucille, plus Le Conte and Jabu, according to U.S. Forest Service reports.

Nevertheless, fish still populate most of Desolation’s lakes, including rainbow, brown, brook—the most common catch—and golden trout, and even mackinaw in a few waters.

Where to Fish in Desolation Wilderness

All fish have been removed from Lucille, Margery, Tamarack, Ralston, Cagwin, LeConte, and Jabu lakes as well as from connecting streams and a pond west of Lake Lucille. Most of the other lakes in Desolation are fishable for Variety of Trout Species. Stone ridge Lake off the Meeks Bay trail may have Mackinaw as well.

Popular Backcountry Fishing Lakes in Desolation Wilderness By Trailhead

Echo Lake Trail

  • Upper Echo Lake – The two Echo Lakes are a great fishing destination. At an elevation of 7,415 feet they often don’t clear of snow and ice until sometime in May. Fishing is good for Kokanee salmon, Lahontan cutthroat trout, brook, and rainbows. Upper Echo is a little quiter adn
  • Lake Aloha – Ready for the crowds? Lake Aloha and the surrounding area is a very popular area in the summer season making fishing not as peaceful.
  • Desolation & Ropi Lakes – Ready for a nice quite afternoon in desolation wilderness. Climb over the ridge behind Woods lake to Desolation lake and enjoy the day catching trout or drop down below to Ropi lake for fly fishing or spin casting in the deep blue waters below Pyramid creek.
  • Lake of the Woods – Although it is a popular destination, it has a good supply of big fish thanks to an abundance of food. Fishing is very good for brook trout. Westshore inlet area is typically good fishing.

Eagle Lake and Bayview trails

  • Eagle Lake – a 1 mile hike up our of Emerald Bay, Parking here is miserable so best change to to get their early in morning on a weekday. Shoreline fishing all the way around the lake. Lots of swimmers and backpackers here as well, it will not be a quiet place to go fish on most days.
  • The Velma Lakes – A little shorter hike with a bit less elevation the Velma Lakes provide a great base camp the area for backcountry fishing. A float tube would be great here if you are willing to trek the weight.
  • Dicks Lake – This 7.5 mile trek on the Bayview trail is a stunning climb into the Desolation backcountry. This deep lake sits on the North Side of Dicks Pass and is a great combination trip to include Fontanillis and the Velma’s in a Lasso Loop hike or backpack trip. Brook Trout are a popular flyfishing specialty up here.
susie lake desolation
susie lake desolation
Lily Lake Trailhead
  • Susie Lake – One of the Eastern Desolation Gems, A 4 mile hike Located off the Fallen Leaf Lake Trail South of Dicks Lake. Susie Lake is a beautiful spot to spend the day, or backpack into and use as a base camp to half a dozen other lakes in the area.
  • Gilmore lake- known for sizable rainbow and lake trout and is a good option for fishing from a float tube. The water is so clear that you can see the fish swimming out in front of you from the shore line.
  • Halfmoon Lake – Another great fishing hole. we here that simple night crawlers here can pull in 15-18″ trout. this lake is also less visited that Susie and Gilmore lakes.
  • Heather Lake – Possibly a little over fished. Deep shorelines and fish tend to stick near islands. 12″ trout typical.

The Meeks Bay Trail

  • Stoney Ridge Lake – Stoney Ridge lake is part of a five lake chain on the Meeks Bay trailhead up over Phipps Pass. Another set of lakes that a float tube would be awesome.
  • Enjoy Lake Genevieve, Crag lake, Hidden Lake and Rubicon Lake and Phipps Lake all on this trail. These lakes contain Rainbows, Brookies, and Brown trout. The majority of the fish you will see will be Brookies in the 12-13 inch range.

Wrights Lake Trails

There is very good fishing to be had as you move up with altitude and away from Wright’s Lake itself.

  • Lyons Lake – Take the Lyons trail to Lyons Lake for Large Brook trout.
  • Lake Sylvia – Travel further in on the Lyons trail towards Pyramid Peak for a little more desolation and Brooke trout fishing. also have access to Pyramid Peak.
  • Smith Lake- Smith Lake has a self-sustaining fishery of Brook Trout. But the hike in is Strenuous at best
  • Island lake just past twin lakes is Island Lake. Again a place were many less fisherman are visiting so isolation and quality fishing is still available. Plenty of fish around the outlet of the lake.

The Rockbound Valley Trail

  • Secret Lake – Take the Grouse Lake trail from Wrights Lake, but turn and make a cross-country jaunt to rarely visited Secret Lake and fish for brook trout.
  • Rockbound Lake Backpack 6 miles from Loon Lake to Rockbound Lake and fish for brown, brook, and rainbow trout. Try the nearby smaller lakes too.
  • Clyde Lake – Looking for Goldens? Might want to make a weekend out of it and climb up to Clyde Lake or fish along the Rubicon Creek area.

Will more Lakes Become Fishless As Frog Habitat is Returned?

Yes, it would seem that this is a moving target a bit. According to research done by Jerry Yesavage in his report at

Frog populations are expanding exponentially in the Desolation Valley, Highland Lake, Zitella Lake and Clyde Lakes after the netting, which is good news since they now have a sanctuary.  Other notable lakes with fish removed include:  Lake of the Woods and the surrounding lakes on the west side of the Sierra Crest.  The lakes to the east are pretty much untouched and still produce good fishing.  Middle Velma is no longer stocked.  Cup Lake is still producing good reports and is Clyde Lake and Heather Lake. 

According to research done by Jerry Yesavage in his report at

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