Paddle guide and author Rob Lyon has visited Ross Lake each year for more than a decade. Recently, he’s taken pedal-driven kayaks to the desolate lake in search of trout on fly.

Trolling beneath a wall of fir trees towering into crisp mountain air with the snowcapped Cascades in the background is tonic for the soul. Ross Lake, a remote 22-mile-long reservoir crossing the Canadian border, holds back the Skagit River.

The highest of three Skagit dams, Ross Lake is rugged with no access by road on the US side. Wilderness is the name of the game in Ross Lake National Recreation Area where tributaries and trailheads branch off the lake into alpine vastness.

In the distance, mountain peaks named Challenger and Desolation, Despair and Fury, Terror, Damnation and Nightmare suggest the effect the country had on early explorers.

Avid Angler for local flies and expert guides (877) 347-4874,
Ross Lake Resort, (206) 486-3751,, is the only oasis in the wilderness. A string of cabins, the remnants of a logging operation, sit on a floating log raft along the lakeside. The Park Service maintains rustic campsites on the edge of the lake. Backcountry permit and fishing licenses are required. Portage fee is $30 for each kayak.
No food is available at the lake. Pack it or forget it.

What’s biting

Rainbow and Dolly Varden trout grow to four pounds or more. The rainbows are ancestors of steelhead cut off from the ocean a century ago.


July 1 until October 31.

Rigged Up

5wt through 7wt rods. Sink-tip and full-sink line, three- to seven-pound tippet.

Popular fly patterns are Franke Shiner, AJ’s Redsided Shiner, Deceiver and Matuka style shiner. Favor red, blue and green to match the red-sided shiners, a major food source for trout.

Kayak Gear

Ross Lake is big water in the wilds of the Northwest. Pedal and motorized kayaks like the Radar 135 glide silently over the wind-ruffled surface.

Game Plan

Getting to Ross Lake is much of the charm. The lake has no direct road access. Carting the kayak down steep trails to the water is a dog-and-pony show. Best bet is launch at Colonial Creek Campground and paddle across the base of Ross Dam. On the other side, look for a phone nailed to a tree and ring up the resort. Wait for a flatbed truck to trundle gear and boats to the lake.

The trick to taking trout at Ross is finding the dudes who crashed the party. Shoals of invasive red-sided minnows cruise the lake, sometimes in the warmth of the shallows close to shore and other times holding deep over the ancient riverbed. Troll RIO sinking lines like a Deep Six or a sink tip in 20 to 40 feet of water. Alternate between trolling and casting to the shoreline. Rainbow trout are the premier fishery, but Dollys fight like pit bulls. In fall, schools of Dollys convene at the north end of the lake.

More information: Cascade Loop Scenic Highway,
Maps and information: Washington Atlas & Gazetteer by DeLorme Mapping, Ross Dam USGS topo map; www.
Skagit Environmental Endowment Commission:

Effort to reach Ross Lake pays off in absolute wild | Featured photo: Steve Thomsen


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here