Avalanche Lake is a glacial lake located within Glacier National Park in Montana. It’s cold clear waters are home to native westslope cutthroat trout. Easily accessible via a 2 mile walking trail, Avalanche Lake is visited by many hikers each year. Few anglers fish Avalanche Lake, even though it is open to fishing and home to a good number of healthy fish.
Avalanche Lake sits at 2885 feet above sea level. The Little Matterhorn to the southeast is higher still. Melt water from Sperry Glacier at the top of the mountain flows down Avalanche Creek and feeds Avalanche Lake. At the other end of the natural lake, Avalanche Creek continues to flow downhill before emptying into McDonald Creek.
A nice westslope cutthroat from Avalanche Lake
The trail to Avalanche Lake is usually one of the first to open each year. Due to it’s lower elevation than other parts of the park, snow typically melts off of the Avalanche Lake trail by the end of May. That helps make this area one of the most visited in the entire park. Still, if you hike up to the lake at day break you can have the place practically to yourself.
The natural surroundings at Avalanche Lake are absolutely stunning. It’s what you might call “pretty as a postcard.” Most people that visit simply want to take in the views. I’ve always carried a fishing pole and enjoyed the fish right along with the vistas.
Fishing in Avalanche Lake
Avalanche Lake is not fertile by any means. The cold waters remain clear because there is little in the way of nutrients in the water. You won’t find a ton of insect life in the lake either. What you can find is a good number of westslope cutthroat trout in the 9 to 12 inch range. These fish have been isolated for a very long time. You won’t find any Yellowstone Cutthroats mixed in here.
The easiest access to the lake is at the outflow. Here a large flat basin littered with submerged logs sits at the edge of the popular walking trail. If you do encounter any anglers at Avalanche Lake, this is usually where you will find them. Yet this is hardly the best place to fish. In fact, it’s probably the worst. Continue on the trail around the lake to where the headwaters feed into the lake. That’s where the majority of the fish can be found.
Another Avalanche cutthroat
Whether you are fly fishing or spin fishing, flies like the San Juan Worm and squirmy worm in sizes 10-14 work best on Avalanche Lake and the creek below. Fish wait around the top of the lake for aquatic insects to wash into the lake. They’re eager to snap up any juicy worms they come across. Other nymphs and some streamers and small spoons might work too. In my experience, none will outfish worm flies here. On a fly rod fish the flies under a strike indicator and let them drift naturally with the flow from the bank out into the lake. With a spinning rod, attach a small bobber like a Rogue River Strike Indicator a couple of feet above your fly and fish it the same way. In multiple visits over the years this has always worked for me.
The book Fishing Glacier National Park says that Avalanche Creek is not worth fishing below the lake. I don’t necessarily agree. While the lake certainly has better fishing, I have caught several cutthroat trout in the creek below. I enjoy drifting flies like pink San Juan Worms through some of the holes on the creek on the way to and from the lake. It often produces fish.
Avalanche Lake fishing regulations
No fishing license is required to fish in Glacier National Park. You do need to pay to access the park itself however. Payment for park access can be made at any of the gates stationed along park access points. In off times when no park employees are present, you can drop off a payment in the provided envelopes. Or you can get an annual pass.
Lake fishing is open all year in Glacier Park. Streams and rivers are open from the third Saturday in May until November 30. In addition, all westslope cutthroat caught in Avalanche Lake and Avalanche Creek must be released. You cannot keep or possess any westslope cutthroat caught in Avalanche Lake or Avalanche Creek.
You can only use flies and artificial lures on a single pole when fishing Avalanche Lake and Avalanche Creek. You cannot use felt soled waders or lead fishing products in Avalanche Lake or Avalanche Creek.
To the best of my knowledge, this is accurate as of the time of writing. Of course regulations are subject to change. For current regulations be sure to check the Glacier National Park website.
Avalanche Lake fishing at a glance
|Fish species present:||Cutthroat trout|
|Closest tackle shops:||Glacier Outfitters, Lary's Fly and Supply|
|Recommend line:||2-4 lb monofilament / 4-6x leader|
|Recommended bait / lures:||Thomas Cyclone|
|Recommended flies:||San Juan Worm, squirmy worm|
|Nearby lodging:||Apgar campground, West Glacier Motel, Reclusive Moose Cabins|