The Best Places to Catch Golden Trout in the U.S.

Fishing for Golden in the Sierra Nevada and Beyond

A man fly fishing in the woods
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The golden trout is one of the most beautiful types of trout you’ll ever fly fish for. It’s also one of the toughest types of trout to find in the U.S., let alone catch.

Where to Find Golden Trout

That said, here are some of the more popular destinations for catching the elusive golden trout, which are known for their golden bellies and crimson bands along their sides. 

Cottonwood Lakes, California

One of the more accessible destinations for catching golden trout is at Cottonwood Lakes out of Lone Pine, California.

Unfortunately for gold-hungry anglers, the waters are only open after July 1 because of the snow.

But once July rolls around, every day (at least from July 1 to Oct. 31) feels like Christmas in the Golden Trout Wilderness -- where heavy concentrations of radiant golden trout race about the depths of the crystal-clear backcountry waters of the Eastern Sierra Nevada.

Reaching the home of the majestic fish can be a challenge as nearly all the alpine lakes that hold them require anglers to backpack or horseback in. On average, the quest for gold is going to take unknowing anglers on a trek of more than five or six miles through the oxygen-thin Sierra air. That's why the Cottonwood Lakes trailhead is such a special destination, offering some of the most convenient access to golden trout.

The trailhead is perched higher than 10,000 feet and about 25 miles above downtown Lone Pine, located midway between Reno and Los Angeles along Highway 395. The first Cottonwood Lake can be reached via a 4.5-mile hike that can take anywhere between two and four hours depending on your hiking ability. Once you reach the first lake of the basin you're 11,008 feet above sea level, so be sure to pack your hiking boots.

South Fork Kern River, California

Like Cottonwood Lakes, the portion of the Kern River where golden trout can be found is extremely tricky to get to. In fact, much of the South Fork of the Kern River is only accessible to the dedicated outdoorsmen who are willing to ride in by horseback. But for those who make the trip, catching a golden trout, the state fish, is worth the effort.

The Golden Trout Wilderness is opened to fishing from the last Saturday in April through November 15. Only artificial lures and barbless hooks may be used for all species.

Other Rivers

The golden trout is also native to Golden Trout Creek and Volcano Creek, which can offer some great fishing for goldies.

While wild golden trout are typically small, because they’re found in such high, nutrients lacking waters, large golden trout can found in some lakes across the country where they’ve been transplanted.

For example, the world record was caught on Cook Lake in the Wind River Range by Charles Reed (Aug. 5, 1948), measuring 28 inches and 11.25 pounds.

Keep in mind, golden trout are rarely found at elevations below 10,000 feet, so you’re going to have to hike to find them, wherever your travels take you.

Even with the fish being contained at higher elevations, their populations are dwindling in California, where the golden trout was made a state fish in 1947.

Because of this, the California Department of Fish and Game is working with federal agencies to repair habitat. Conservationists have also attempted to introduce golden trout to waters like Lake Mohave in Nevada and Arizona, so continue to look out for new populations of golden trout in a state near you.

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