I have been to quite a few places in the Sawtooths and every time I go I fall even more in love with them. The rugged beauty of the mountains and the abundance of lakes as well as the absence of people depending on where you go.
Arctic Grayling Honey Hole
This was one of those last minute trips that seemed to work out pretty well. I have been wanting to check out the Alpine Creek Lakes drainage since I saw a picture of them in Backpacker Magazine a few years ago. What I have read on them was that not many people go to them since they don't have a well-maintained trail to them, unlike the rest of the Sawtooths.
Alpine Creek Lakes drainage is split into two different drainages, left and right. We decided on the right drainage for the time being. Looking at the right drainage from a distance there are 4 prominent lakes; Alpine Creek Lake #14, #15, #13 and #11. But as you look closer the whole drainage is peppered with smaller lakes/ponds making the lake count up into the 20s. Idaho Fish and Game have stocked many of these lakes in the past 10-15 years with Golden, Rainbow, Cutthroat and Arctic Grayling. However, we only came across Arctic Grayling and a few Rainbow/Cutthroat Hybrids.
Left Drainage of Alpine Creek Lakes
We just did an overnight trip since we had to work the following day but we were able to hit 15 lakes, catch numerous Grayling ranging from 10 to 14 inches from the lakes as well as the streams and eventually peaking out to some amazing views of Sawtooths with lakes scattered everywhere. Even with a handful of backpacking and overnight trips into the Sawtooths, I feel like I have only scratched the surface.
I do a lot of crazy things in life and this is one of those crazy things. When I told my friend that I wanted to hit Airplane and Arrowhead in one day she asked me why would I want to kill myself. In this case, it wasn't anything near that but it just seemed like that on paper.
Old Hyndman Peak
Getting to Airplane is one of the hardest and most remote places to get to. Many people get lost trying to find it and the same thing with Arrowhead. Both are very hard lakes to navigate because of the steep area, rugged terrain and only about two miles of trail that really only helps you get up the valley. Airplane and Arrowhead lakes probably receive at the most ten people a year. The lake is not really well known and the risks do not outweigh the rewards at this point because the fishing at Airplane is really not that great, you are lucky if you might see any fish. However I'm very determined to catch a really nice Golden Trout, I caught a 16-17 inch fish last year just as the ice was coming off. On this trip, I was probably two weeks too early. When I got to Airplane it was too frozen and there weren't many places to fish. But the place that I did fish I was able to see a couple of Goldens around 12 inches.
Instead of waiting at Airplane to catch a fish I headed over the ridge above Airplane to see if Arrowhead was frozen and if that was the case I was going to climb Hyndman Peak (12,009ft). When I got to the ridge I saw that Arrowhead lake was not frozen so the fishing was on. When I got to Arrowhead there were fish everywhere, so I threw on a black ant and slayed the fish. This was a really fun trip and it wasn't as hard as many seem to be so I would definitely do it again hoping to catch fish out of both lakes. Oh, on the way out I finally saw a mountain goat in Wildhorse after many years of looking for them.
Mountain Goat in Wildhorse Creek, Good Luck Finding Him
As soon as I completed all the lakes in the Lost River Ranger District I focused my attention on completing all the lakes in the White Clouds. I have a ways to go but I have a really good head start since I have done a few of the major ones such as the Big Boulder Chain, Little Boulder Chain, and Chamberlain Basin. After looking over the map there are quite a few lakes that sit in certain drainages alone so it's not easy to lump them in a loop or with other lakes, Champion Lakes are one of those drainages.
Champion Lake #3
Lots of Redside Shiners
Champion Creek holds about 6 different lakes but three of the lakes are much bigger than the others and of those lakes two of them have been stocked with fish. Champion Lake #3 is said to have Bull trout (108 stocked in 1993) and IDFG have found Brook and Rainbow trout but I never saw any fish. As I worked my way down the drainage I came across Champion which has not been stocked but IDFG has found Brook trout in the lake system however I did not observe any.
Champion Lake #1
I was pretty disappointed in the lack of fish at this point and was wondering if I should even continue to the last lake. Champion Lake #1 has no stocking records and no fish have been observed but when I got to the lake, there was tons of minnows swimming around the lake and a handful of Brook trout. I literally thought that they just stocked the lake just a few day before I got there because there was so many fish. I tried to identify what they were but couldn't until I caught one of the bigger ones. It turned out to be a Redside Shiner which is really uncommon to find in a high mountain lake. I believe if IDFG would manage this lake better some huge fish could come out of this lake because Redside Shiners only get to about 4 to 6 inches and trout can feed on these fish easily. Just food for thought, your move IDFG.