American Fly Fishing

As Rugged as It Gets
By Spencer Durrant

Atwood Basin, UT (arctic grayling)

Allen Lake, less than a mile due south of Lake Atwood, offers arctic grayling, like this gorgeous specimen, along with brook trout, and has also been stocked with golden trout in years past. PHOTOS WALTER VANDERHEIDE

A few years ago, I was camped out above the Cook Lakes in Wyoming’s Wind River Mountains, battling a bout of altitude sickness while my buddies fished. I didn’t have much to do except soak up the landscape, and by the time I felt good enough to move, it was time to start the two-day walk out of the mountains. We were about 30 miles back in some of the nation’s most remote country, and I remember thinking I’d be hard-pressed to find anywhere else as pristine as that corner of the Wind River Mountains.

Enter the Atwood Basin in the High Uintas Wilderness of Utah. Framed by Utah’s highest peak, 13,528-foot Kings Peak, and 13,448-foot Mount Emmons, Atwood Basin offers way off-the-beaten-path fishing for anglers who enjoy backpacking. The lakes and streams of Atwood Basin hold cutthroat trout, brook trout, arctic grayling, and even golden trout. However, the peaks are a bigger draw than the fishing in this backcountry region, with some hikers making the trek to bag the state’s highest pinnacle and others to enjoy the spectacular alpine scenery.

But for fly anglers, the fishing is outstanding. Some of the biggest trout in the Uintas live in the waters of Atwood Basin. But the price is steep, literally and figuratively. You must be fit enough to endure long miles on the trail burdened with a backpack. The primary trailhead sits at nearly 7,600 feet above sea level. Mountain passes between various basins en route to Atwood Basin rise to 11,300 feet, and it’s 18 miles from the trailhead to Lake Atwood, which is the usual base camp for most expeditions in the Atwood Basin.