North Fork of the White River – 09/17/2019

Time: 10:00AM – 4:00PM

Location: Between North Fork Campground and Trappers Lake

North Fork of the White River 09/17/2019 Photo Album

After three amazing days of fly fishing in the Flattops area, I was eager to spend one more day on the North Fork, before I returned to Denver on Tuesday, September 17. The section I planned to fish was the scene of many fine outings during previous trips to the Flattops, and I was anxious to continue the trend. Was I setting my expectations too high? Read on.

I camped at the North Fork Campground on Monday night, and in order to avoid setting up and taking down my tent, I stashed all the bins in the bear locker and slept in the back of the Santa Fe. This was the first time I attempted this with the new Santa Fe, and it suited my needs perfectly, as the additional length allowed me to fully stretch out in my sleeping bag.

Prime Small Stream Location

On Tuesday morning I packed the car with all my camping gear and headed to my chosen fishing destination, where I assembled my Orvis Access four weight and hiked a short distance to the stream. The short jaunt was a welcome change from the long hikes endured on Sunday and Monday, and my feet and legs embraced the break. The stream was flowing high compared to most of my previous September visits, but the water was crystal clear and cold and hopefully brimming with hungry fish. Unlike the previous three days, the weather was very unsettled, and this condition prevailed throughout my six hours on the creek. Thick gray clouds masked the warming rays of the sun 75% of the time, and strong gusts of annoying wind made casting very challenging. The air temperature peaked at sixty degrees, and the absence of the sun created the first significant chill since spring of the 2019 season.

Brook Trout Brilliance

My search for wild trout was initiated with a tan pool toy hopper, ultra zug bug and salvation nymph; but the first hour was very slow, as three trout were guided into my net. The starting section tumbled down a high gradient, and this provided limited choice holding spots; however, I felt that several prime spots failed to produce. Two of the three fish, that I landed were gorgeous and colorful brook trout with bright orange bellies contrasted against a mottled luminescent body. The third catch was a cutbow, and it featured vivid spots and stripes against a buttery gold body.

More Cutthroat Than Rainbow

My inability to tempt trout in several quality spots caused me to modify my offerings. I lengthened the leader between the hopper and the top nymph, and I replaced the salvation nymph with a hares ear. This change improved my success rate, and the fish count leaped from three to eight before I settled on a large rock to consume my lunch. The five fish included the fish of the day, a spectacular fifteen inch cutbow that nabbed one of the nymphs in a magnificent pool on the small mountain stream. Some cutbows lean towards rainbows in appearance, but this version had the deep yellow-gold body color, speckles and slash of a cutthroat, yet also displayed the distinctive pink stripe of a rainbow trout. It was the highlight of a day that grew increasingly frustrating.

Prize of the Day

After lunch the weather conditions worsened, as large gray clouds accumulated in the western sky and swirling blasts of wind raged up the canyon. At one point the threatening skies caused me to consider an exit strategy, but neither returning to the start or advancing to the end point were particularly attractive options. Instead I extracted my raincoat from my backpack and braced for the worst.

Let Me At It

During my afternoon on the North Fork I experienced nearly every conceivable form of fly fishing adversity. Foremost on my list of hurdles to success was tangles. Quite a few patience-taxing snarls resulted from the gusts of wind, but another self imposed factor was my choice of a three fly dry/dropper arrangement. Quite a few trout crushed the pool toy, and their efforts to escape created tight balls of monofilament, which took extended minutes to unravel. I estimate that my cumulative untangling time was 1.5 hours out of the six spent on the stream.

Those Colors

The wind also had a negative impact on my casting, and another slug of time was allocated to wading across or upstream to unhook my flies from branches and dry scratchy vegetation. In addition the dropper flies inevitably found all the protruding sticks that were wedged between the rocks. Rock climbing and log rolling added to my woes. The area experienced a wildfire many years ago, and an abundance of dead and charred logs span the creek. These obstacles created an obstacle course for the wading fly fisherman.

Typical Water

In spite of these hurdles to success, I managed to increment the fish count from eight at lunch time to eighteen by 3:00PM. Ten fish in three hours was not a torrid pace, but given the conditions, was acceptable to this fly fisherman. The quality of the fish was outstanding; and brightly colored brook trout, cutbows and rainbows were more than adequate rewards for my troubles. During this period many of the landed fish slurped the pool toy hopper, but the action was accompanied by numerous looks and refusals, so at three o’clock I swapped the pool toy hopper for a yellow fat Albert. I was hoping that the larger foam attractor would either result in more takes or would be ignored and thus allow the fish to focus on the trailing nymphs.

Silvery Brook Trout

The ploy paid off to some extent, as I boosted the fish count to twenty-three by the time I quit at 4PM, when I neared my designated exit point. These five trout were mostly very nice cutbows in the chunky thirteen inch range, but I probably experienced twice as many long distance releases as catches. In fact over the course of my day I suffered nearly as many lost fish, as I guided into my net.

Afternoon Success

In summary I spent Tuesday practicing casting in the wind and untangling knots among the scenic environment of the Flattops. In spite of these unforeseen lessons, I managed to land twenty-three dazzling wild trout including a fifteen inch small stream monster and quite a few muscular and hard fighting twelve and thirteen inch cutbows. Toss in some elegant brook trout in brilliant spawning colors, and you have a picture of my day on September 17. My end result was acceptable, but the hardship was not welcome.

Fish Landed: 23

Leaves Beginning to Change

Marvine Creek – 09/16/2019

Time: 10:30AM – 4:00PM

Location: Upstream from the Marvine Creek Trailhead

Marvine Creek 09/16/2019 Photo Album

I elected to fly fish Marvine Creek on the third day of my Flattops adventure. After two successful visits in previous years, Marvine became a Flattops mainstay on my agenda.The weather on Monday was once again ideal with the high temperature in the upper sixties and decent cloud cover much of the day, although rain was never a serious threat.

Near the Start

Workhorse Salvation Nymph

I began my day in an open area with a peacock hippie stomper, ultra zug bug, and salvation nymph. I quickly discovered that the two fly dropper was too long for the small stream and eventually halved the length of the leader and fished a hares ear as the top nymph and the salvation as the bottom fly. The hippie stomper became irrelevant after an initial burst of success, so I replaced it with a tan pool toy hopper. This dry/dropper configuration was the most successful, although when the action slowed in the afternoon, I eliminated the salvation and fished a hares ear as a solo dropper. After a bit the trout lost interest in the hares ear, and I returned to the salvation, but it failed to improve the success rate in the late afternoon.

Teeth Marks and Missing Legs after a Day of Fishing

Brilliant Color

The pool toy hopper was easily the top producer, as brook trout could not resist the size ten foam terrestrial with dangling legs. The reason was obvious, as hoppers launched into the air with every stride on my hike to and from the creek. At least twenty of my landed trout rose to and crushed the imitation grasshopper.

Dazzling Beauty

Likely Home of Trout

During the noon to 3PM period the fish count rose from eight to thirty-one, and this segment of the day coincided with my deployment of the short leader, three fly configuration. Quite often a brook trout would reveal its location via a refusal to the hopper and then grab the hares ear, as it trailed near the surface on the short leader.

Could Not Resist This Mouthful

Belly Check

All except three of my catches were brook trout, and the char parade included quite a few ten inch jewels with striking orange underbellies. The three fish that were not brook trout were cutbows, and these fish were the highlight of the day. The three outliers measured sixteen, fifteen and fourteen inches; and they were very pleasant surprises among the steady stream of brookies. All three emerged from prime lies on the high gradient stream that offered limited sanctuaries from the rushing current. The first one, the sixteen incher, snatched the trailing salvation. The fifteen and fourteen inch giants, by small stream standards, slurped the pool toy. Landing these fighters in close quarters was quite a thrill.

Big Surprise

Net Filler

More Cutthroat Coloration on This One

The greatest challenge on the thirty-eight fish day was covering water. I prospected 1.1 mile of tumbling whitewater and skipped large segments of fast riffles and churning chutes and cascades. Finding locales where trout could feed without expending excess energy was the key to success, and this approach entailed skipping significant quantities of water. Wading against the stiff current or bashing through rough streamside vegetation were the toughest hurdles on Monday, September 16.

Love the Left Side

The fly fishing was spectacular, but the golden glow of the grasses and low shrubs against the blue sky and dark green evergreens was equally splendid. Marvine Creek requires a lot of effort, but the results make it worthwhile.

Fish Landed: 38

Head of the Beaver Pond

South Fork of the White River – 09/15/2019

Time: 10:00AM – 4:00PM

Location: Upstream from the South Fork Campground

South Fork of the White River 09/15/2019 Photo Album

Day one in the Flattops exceeded my expectations, and after a night of camping at the South Fork Campground, I was poised to explore another piece of the White River system on Sunday. Historically the South Fork has proven to be more challenging than the North Fork, and I was unsure which face it would show me in 2019. The more remote and slightly larger South Fork is normally more temperamental and requires adherence to a defined strategy in order to achieve consistent success. Could I attain above average results during my one day visit to the South Fork in 2019? Read on.

Remote South Fork

Since my retirement four years ago, I usually confine my fishing and camping adventures to weekdays, but I violated my policy with this Flattops trip over the weekend. I had a commitment for the end of the next week, and desired to fit in four days of fishing before then, thus I began on Saturday. That choice backfired somewhat when a couple of campers in a RV played loud country and western music into the early hours of the morning, and I woke up three or four times to the sound of deep throbbing bass. I considered accosting them on the matter, but sadly in this day and age I feared a violent reaction and sacrificed sleep for personal safety. I remain appalled by how inconsiderate people can be.

Do Bears Eat These?

Sunday was a gorgeous day, although it was quite chilly, when I woke up at 7:15AM. The air temperature was around forty, until the sun rose above the hill to the east. The high for the day was in the mid-seventies. As a result of camping near my destination I was in the stream and prepared to fish by 10AM.

Trough Below the Exposed Rock Equals Fish

I used my Sage four weight in case of wind and big fish, and I began with the alignment that produced excellent results on Saturday; a tan pool toy hopper, ultra zug bug, and salvation nymph. I landed eight rainbow trout by the time I stopped for lunch, and I only managed three in the first hour, and all were relatively small fish in the eight inch range. One of the five between eleven and twelve o’clock was a feisty specimen that measured twelve inches.

I Love the Orange Fins

After lunch I began to experiment with different flies in the upper nymph position. Flies positioned above the salvation were a dark Cahill wet fly, a pheasant tail nymph, an iron sally, and a prince nymph. The dark Cahill produced a nine inch rainbow and the prince nymph accounted for a pair of thirteen inch ‘bows. Over the course of the day the ultra zug bug delivered two trout to the net, and the pool toy hopper generated two, and this left the salvation responsible for seventeen trout. It was without a doubt the most popular fly on the South Fork.

The Most Productive Fly on Sunday, a Salvation Nymph

Top Fly All Day, Pool Toy Hopper

The South Fork stayed true to form, as I covered a ton of water in my pursuit of twenty-four fish. Wide shallow riffles were obvious time wasters, and I waded around several long sections that met this definition. I sought stretches, where the stream bed narrowed; and this created deep troughs, long pockets, and riffles of moderate depth. These were the places that fish preferred, and success hinged on disciplining oneself to focus on spots, that matched these descriptions. I landed my best fish in narrow deep slots near the bank, and the rainbows attacked the salvation as it began to swing or lift.

Another Rainbow Lair

No End to Rainbows

The disciplined approach did not always yield success, as I cast to numerous attractive areas that met the definition of productive with no results, and I never totally solved the puzzle of where to concentrate my efforts.

Deep Along the Edge

Hand for Perspective

At 2:30PM I noticed a fairly marginal slot along the north bank. I lobbed a cast into some fairly fast water, and as the pool toy bobbed along the narrow and deep channel, it came to an abrupt stop. I was certain that one of the nymphs snagged a branch, but I lifted just in case and felt some movement through my fly rod. Was it a fish, or was I moving the stick in the current? After a few seconds it was clear that the object on my line was alive, as my rod tip was tugged upstream at a slow rate. Unlike most rainbows, this fish was moving slowly and staying deep, and I was convinced that a massive whitefish inhaled one of my nymphs. After a ten foot upstream move at a relatively slow pace, I managed to turn the fish, and I caught a glimpse of my largest fish of the day. With extra side pressure applied, the fish accelerated its pace and initiated escape tactics. First, it swam downstream to the edge of some faster water. I applied steady and strong pressure and prohibited it from reaching the spill over below me. Next the wide body executed a series of rolls on the line, but I countered this by lifting the head out of the water, and I gradually guided the striped prize into my net. There before me rested a sixteen inch wild rainbow, but the width and girth were the most impressive aspect of the fish. The muscular rainbow was easily the largest fish of the trip so far, and fighting it was a strenuous test of my rehabilitated elbow.

Perfect Pose

Sunday was a fun day on the South Fork of the White River. Twenty-four trout in six hours of fishing is respectable, but I continued to struggle with my ability to identify productive water on the large backcountry enigma.

Grip Gap

In addition to the sixteen inch battler that I described above, I landed a pair of thirteen inch beauties and quite a few spunky twelve inchers. The remainder were wild ‘bows in the seven to eleven inch range. A double digit day on the South Fork requires on abundant amount of wading and casting, but nice fish are there, if you are willing to work.

Fish Landed: 24

Berries Next to Campsite

North Fork of the White River – 09/14/2019

Time: 1:00PM – 4:30PM

Location: Between North Fork Campground and Trappers Lake

North Fork of the White River 09/14/2019 Photo Album

After making a four hour drive on Saturday morning, I needed a Flattops destination relatively close to the road, and the North Fork became my choice. I parked at the end of my anticipated exit point and then hiked downstream .6 mile to an easier access path. I needed to make steady progress over roughly four hours to reach my exit point, so I skipped the braided section where I normally begin.

Fast Water

I rigged a dry/dropper that featured a tan pool toy hopper, ultra zug bug, and salvation nymph. I maintained these offerings throughout my 3.5 hours, although I exchanged the ultra zug bug for a hares ear, when I lost my entire leader, but more on that later. I moved in a fairly steady pace and focused on deep runs, pockets, and riffles. The strategy paid off as I boosted the fish counter to thirty-one before I quit at 4:30.

Lovely Rainbow or Cutbow

The pool toy hopper attracted the larger rainbows and included a fifteen inch rainbow, a pair of bows in the 13-14 inch range, and a decent number of feisty twelve inch trout. The ultra zug bug produced a couple during its tenure on the line, and the hares ear accounted for a couple late in the afternoon. The remainder of the landed rainbows latched on to the salvation, and a lift or swing at the end of the drift was consistently effective. Three landed trout were of the brook variety, and the remainder were spunky rainbows and cutbows.

Target for My Flies

Long One

In the very first run of moderate depth along the left bank I connected with a very hot fish, but after a torrid downstream streak, it broke off the salvation. The most notable event occurred in a left channel around a small island. The river tumbled over some rocks and carved out a deep hole, that was twenty feet long and twelve feet wide. A dead tree branch extended downstream along the left side of the small pool. I landed an eleven inch rainbow, as I lifted the salvation at the tail of the pool, and I decided to lob a cast toward a seam left of the center current. As the pool toy tumbled toward the middle of the pool, a large rainbow appeared and swirled around and then down on the foam terrestrial. I reacted with a swift hook set, and the aggressive eater immediately headed toward the branch. I applied steady side pressure to avert a line wrap, and just as I appeared to gain the upper hand, the line popped, and the combatant was free. I cursed my bad luck and expected to learn that the hopper and both nymphs were missing in action. This assumption proved correct, but the news was even worse. The entire tapered leader was absent, and I faced the task of rebuilding my entire leader below the end of the fly line! What happened? I can only conclude that the monofilament loop that was part of the loop to loop connection was cut or abraded, and the weak spot severed from the pressure of the trout. I was rather disappointed, but eventually accepted the separation as part of the game.

Another Wide Body

A Brook Trout Joins the Mix

Thirty-one fish landed in 3.5 hours served as salve for my bruised ego, and I was euphoric over my splendid day one. Even more impressive than the fish count was the size of the trout landed, with many trout in the robust twelve to fourteen inch range. My four days in the Flattops was off to an auspicious start, and I continued on to a campsite at the South Fork Campground. Would my good fortune continue on Sunday? Stay tuned.

Fish Landed: 31

Korkers and Bear Locker in This View

 

Trappers Lake – 07/02/2019

Time: 4:30PM – 5:00PM

Location: Eastern shore.

Trappers Lake 07/02/2019 Photo Album

Jane and I returned to the North Fork Campground after an excellent cycling trip from Buford to South Fork Campground and back. The gravel road rose relatively gradually on our outbound leg, but rolling hills required 1,300 feet of elevation gain over the course of the total ride. After lunch we decided to make the drive to Trappers Lake, and ultimately quaff a couple brews at the Trappers Lake Lodge and Resort.

Grass and Aspens at a Resting Place

Trappers Lake

When we arrived at the parking lot below the outlet from Trappers Lake, I decided to do some fly fishing in the fabled body of water below the striking cliffs of the Amphitheater. I elected to forego waders and wading boots, and instead utilized my Oboz hiking boots. I assembled my Sage four weight, and wore only my front pack and backpack, and Jane and I hiked over the ridge and then along the eastern shoreline of Trappers Lake. The lake was quite high as a result of the recent snow melt, and the water lapped against the dense border of shrubs that covered the shoreline. When I noticed this situation, I realized that not wearing wading gear was a mistake.

A Weak Attempt to Catch a Fish

 

It was mostly windy with a mild chop on the surface, so I sought protected coves. I began my fly fishing effort with a size 12 olive stimulator that trailed a salad spinner midge larva. Multiple swarms of large midges were visible, as we hiked from the parking lot to our position along the lake. A short period of casting the stimulator failed to provide positive results, so I moved along in search of another protected area.

Jane hiked ahead and found a nice cove, where a creek entered Trappers Lake from the east, and it was situated below a rustic cabin. This description fit my vision of an ideal location, and she led me there, as my enthusiasm spiked. I surveyed the surroundings and found a gap between some clumps of willows, and I shot some nice casts near the current seam created by the incoming creek. Fifteen minutes of searching without tangible results caused my confidence to ebb; however, I remained certain that the inlet was a prime fish holding area. The lake residents could hold in the lake and expend minimal energy, while the creek delivered food to their hungry stomachs.

Zoomed on the Bugger

Prince Nymph

I switched to a streamer method and knotted a Cathy’s Super Bugger to my line and trailed a size 12 prince nymph. What respectable cutthroat or brook trout could resist this delicious combination meal? I cast and stripped these flies to all the reachable positions in the sheltered inlet, but I was unable to generate a response.

I Fished Along the Current Seam Where the Creek Entered

At 5PM I surrendered in my quest to land a trout from Trappers Lake, and I joined Jane on top of a hill overlooking the lake. We hiked back to the car and then stopped at the Trappers Lake Lodge for a brew.

A Dirty Hippy and Fat Tire at Trappers Lake Lodge

I retrospect I should have worn my waders. This preparedness would have enabled me to attain a better casting position away from the shoreline obstacles, and at the cabin cove area it would have allowed me to probe the deeper areas, where the current fanned out into the lake. Although I experienced yet another stint on a lake with no fish, I cannot complain about the beauty of my surroundings. The Amphitheater and various rock wall formations provided a breathtaking 360 degree panorama, and I cannot complain.

Fish Landed: 0

Avery Lake – 07/01/2019

Time: 4:30PM – 5:00PM

Location: Dock at the north end of the lake.

Avery Lake 07/01/2019 Photo Album

After our hike to Skinny Fish Lake Jane and I returned to the North Fork Campground to rest and change out of our hiking clothes. Before we departed from Denver, I noticed that Avery Lake was stocked by the CO DOW, and I mentioned this to Jane. Being the considerate wife that she is and knowing that I failed to land a fish at Skinny Fish Lake, she suggested that we drive west to Avery Lake. I drove by the sign to Avery on many previous trips, but never made the turn to explore the area, so I agree to the late afternoon side trip.

Jane packed her chair and book, and we made the twelve mile drive to Buford and then slightly beyond, where we turned on to a gravel road and crested a ridge. After maneuvering around a sharp turn, we reached a wide open meadow populated with a number of RV’s. The closest RV was surrounded by a dense flock of sheep, and we were baffled over what this human and sheep rendezvous was all about. A sign identified the area as a campground, but the campsites lacked picnic tables or fire pits, and a solitary pit toilet was available for the campers. We removed the Avery Lake Campground from future camping consideration.

How Do These Sheep Afford a RV?

We continued down a gradual hill that skirted the eastern shoreline of the lake, until we arrived at a turnaround, and we parallel parked next to some large bushes. Jane jumped out of the car and got comfortable in her chair, while I geared up with my Sage four weight. A RV was parked southeast of the Santa Fe, and the owners were running a generator. The constant din detracted from the ambiance of the setting. When I was ready, I strolled down the dirt road to a wooden dock that extended into the lake. Quite a few preteens were swimming and paddle boarding near the dock, so I strolled south along the shoreline and found a small indentation, where I knotted the black woolly bugger and wiggle damsel to my line.

Avery Lake

For the first twenty minutes I moved southward along the edge of the lake and sprayed forty foot casts at regular intervals, but I was unable to move a single fish. A couple families continued to splash and play in the vicinity of the dock, but I spotted a few rises in the calm cove on the north side, so I wandered through the group and fished to the sporadic feeders. Initially I tried the streamers, but those offerings were ignored. I switched to a parachute Adams and cast it for ten minutes, and again the fish showed no interest.

In a last ditch effort I swapped the Adams for a size 18 parachute black ant, and I managed to generate a swirl, as I picked up the terrestrial to make another cast. That was the extent of my action on Avery Lake. By 5PM I was burned out on fruitless casting and dismayed by the Avery Lake atmosphere, so I returned to the car, and we hastened back to the campground for happy hour. While I was fishing, a pair of dirt bike riders arrived, and the smell of their gasoline/oil mix fuel combined with the constantly humming generator was making me nauseous.

I allocated another thirty minutes to lake fishing on Monday afternoon, and unlike Skinny Fish Lake, I did manage to spot feeding fish. But the inability to catch fish, the distraction of the swimmers, and the noise pollution of the generator and dirt bikes encouraged Jane and I to seek the calm and quiet atmosphere that existed at our campsite.

Fish Landed: 0

Skinny Fish Lake – 07/01/2019

Time: 12:30PM – 1:00PM

Location: Natural dam next to the outlet.

Skinny Fish Lake 07/01/2019 Photo Album

On July 3, 2018 Jane and I trekked to Skinny Fish Lake in the Flattops Wilderness, and I fished for a short amount of time with no success. We held our experience in such high regard, that we decided to once again travel to the Flattops and repeat the hike in 2019. In advance of the trip I contacted the White River National Forest ranger station in Meeker, CO, and I discovered that Ripple Creek Pass was closed as a result of a surprise late snowstorm and a generous number of fallen trees. This news forced us to revise our route, and we traveled west on Interstate 70 to Rifle, CO and then journeyed north to Meeker, CO and finally made an eastern swing on CO 8 to the North Fork Campground. I reserved campsite number 27 in advance for Sunday through Tuesday nights.

Monday was forecast to be a gorgeous day from a weather standpoint, so Jane and I elected the repeat hike to Skinny Fish Lake as our destination. The report that Ripple Creek Pass was closed prompted us to pack snowshoes, and these were a backup plan in the event that we encountered deep snow on our hike. On Sunday evening after we arrived, the campground host stopped by to introduce himself, and when queried on the Skinny Lake Trail he was fairly certain that snow would not be an impediment to our hike. Based on this information we lightened our loads and left the snowshoes behind.

As we traveled along the White River and the North Fork of the White River on Sunday, it was evident that fly fishing in rivers and streams in the Flattops would not be an option on this July 2019 trip. I was thwarted in my attempt to land a fish from Skinny Fish in 2018; so I packed my wading socks, wading boots, fly rod and fishing packs for the trip. I conjectured that our timing was more appropriate than the previous year given the late snow pack and ice-off on the lake. A twin lake to Skinny Fish Lake named McGinnis Lake is located a half mile to the east, and it can be reached via a trail that branches off from Skinny Fish. My goal was to reach McGinnis and thus experience some new terrain and sample a different high elevation lake.

The Amphitheater Left of Center

We departed from the Skinny Fish Lake Trailhead at 10:30, and we arrived at Skinny Fish Lake by noon. Wait, you might ask, what happened to McGinnis Lake? We took the right turn at a Y in the trail and advanced .2 mile, until we reached a stream crossing to continue to McGinnis Lake. The stream was bloated with run off, but it split into three braids, and we evaluated several crossing schemes, but eventually our better judgment prevailed, and we reversed to the Y and continued to Skinny Fish.

Water Gushes from Aspen Trees

The hike was as breathtaking as we remembered. The meadows and grasses were in a lush green state and wildflowers abounded. We were surrounded by spectacular views of the Chinese Wall, West Wall and Amphitheater; and the wild fire of fifteen years ago opened the vistas in every direction. The path was quite muddy in spots, but we both wore our hiking boots. Several stream crossings presented a challenge due to the melting snow in the headwaters, but we managed to overcome these early season obstacles.

Making Progress

Skinny Fish Lake

When we arrived at Skinny Fish Lake, we immediately extracted our sandwiches and snacks to refuel for the return trip. As I ate, I scanned the surface of the lake, but I was unable to identify a single rising fish. This circumstance reinforced my experience of the previous summer. I had my wading socks, wading boots and quick dry pants for wet wading; but I decided to cast from the natural earthen dam on the south side of the lake and forego changing into the wet wading gear.

I rigged my Sage four weight and walked along the lake to the outlet, and I decided to attempt a crossing on several wide logs that angled across the moving creek. This was a significant error in judgment. I placed my left foot on a log next to the bank, and as I leaned to disengage from land and placed my right foot on another log, I discovered that the first step was perched on a floating log. Both my feet sank two feet below the surface, and I found myself wet wading in my hiking boots. I quickly jumped back on land, but my pants, boots and socks were saturated with ice cold lake water. How ironic that I lugged wet wading essentials for 2.5 miles and then ended up with wet feet while forsaking the appropriate equipment.

Wet Oboz

I shrugged off the minor mishap and focused my attention on fly fishing. Jane of course chuckled at the entire episode. Evidence of surface feeding continued to be absent, and an advantage of remaining on the earthen dam section was the open space for backcasts. I abandoned all thoughts of fishing a dry fly, and I crimped a split shot to my line and then added a black woolly bugger and wiggle damsel nymph. This combination accounted for seven fish on Flatirons Reservoir, so why would it not entice wild trout from Skinny Fish Lake?

Shooting a Cast

I cannot answer that question, but it did not lure any trout to my flies during thirty minutes of focused casting and stripping. I launched forty foot casts, counted down the sink period, and stripped them back with varying cadences; but I never saw a follow or felt a bump. I began near the outlet and moved in three step increments, until I was in the southwest corner to the lake. My confidence sank to a new low, and combined with the futile experience in 2018 I gave up hope and called an end to Skinny Fish Lake fishing by 1:00PM.

Run Off in Full Swing

Jane attempted to hike around the lake, but this endeavor was thwarted by deep snow drifts, and this scouting report convinced me, that trying to circle the lake to try different areas was not worthwhile. I repacked my fishing gear in the backpack, and we began our descent to the trailhead parking lot. Skinny Fish Lake pitched me a second strike, and I am not certain, that I will offer it the opportunity to strike me out.

Amphitheater in the Distance

Thirty minutes is not a long time, and some inbound fishermen that we encountered on the return hike assured us that fish do call Skinny Fish Lake home. Perhaps the end to my quest for trout was premature, but the primary objective of the hike was accomplished. We were together in a beautiful remote Colorado environment, we viewed pretty wild flowers; and we overcame the mud, snow and snow melt to reach our destination. The hike to Skinny Fish Lake was a win in my book.

Fish Landed: 0

Perfect Columbine

North Fork of the White River – 09/21/2018

Time: 9:30AM – 2:30PM

Location: Between Trappers Lake and Marvine

North Fork of the White River 09/21/2018 Photo Album

The dashboard thermometer registered 44 degrees F, as I drove along the dirt road toward my chosen fishing destination on Friday morning. When earlier I tilted the water container to fill my teapot on the deck of cabin 5 at Trappers Lake Lodge, I could hear chunks of ice rattling against the plastic sides. The weather forecast predicted highs around seventy degrees, but fly fishing in the shadows of the canyon at 9:30AM had me concerned. After banner days on Wednesday and Thursday, I was a bit apprehensive about my prospects on Friday. The section of the North Fork that I selected yielded varying results during prior ventures, but I was averse to covering river and creek mileage experienced during the previous two days. On 9/14/2017 I enjoyed an outstanding day in the area that I planned to fly fish on Friday, so I banked on a repeat.

My Orvis Access four weight was already rigged with a peacock body hippy stomper, ultra zug bug, and salvation nymph; so I decided to continue my quest for Flattops trout with the same alignment that fooled numerous spunky fish on Thursday. I pondered wearing a fleece to counter the morning chill, but I eventually pulled on my raincoat to add warmth and serve as a windbreaker. If the temperature elevated as predicted, I could remove the rain layer and roll it tightly to fit in my backpack. I arrived at the bottom of a long canyon section prepared to cast by 9:30AM, and the steep southeastern wall cast a shadow over the entire width of the river.

In the Shadows

Between 9:30 and noon I moved fairly rapidly along the left bank of the river, as I prospected with the three fly combination. I employed a strategy learned in previous visits to the White River. The fish occupy only long deep troughs, pockets and pools; so I curbed my innate urge to cover the many small marginal spots that surprise with fish on other rivers and creeks. Skipping wide fast sections with only short marginal pockets enabled me to cover more stream real estate than usual. In 2.5 hours of targeted fly fishing I managed to land nine trout, and several were very energetic rainbows and cutbows in the thirteen inch range. These fish were powerful for their size, and scooping them into the net was not a foregone conclusion. In fact five of my better hook ups managed to slide free after a brief connection, and I was not pleased with this series of disappointing outcomes. One of the escapees broke off the hippy stomper, and this misfortune resulted in the loss of three flies. I was not happy, although I used this circumstance to swap the small hippy stomper for a larger more visible and more buoyant tan pool toy.

Melon Colored Stripe

After lunch I continued with the pool toy, ultra zug bug, and salvation and boosted the fish counter from nine to thirty. Yes, I had a very pleasurable afternoon. My strategy paid dividends in a major way, as I cherry picked the prime spots, and fortunately the river narrowed and offered many more attractive runs and pockets that met the casting-worthy criteria. One particularly productive long deep pool yielded at least ten of the thirty fish landed on the day. Every time I allocated one more cast with the expectation that the pool was excessively disturbed, another fish jumped on the swinging or lifting nymphs, and this caused me to linger.

Quite Nice

Between 1:00 and 1:30 I looked ahead, and I was surprised by some movement fifty yards upstream along the left bank. I quickly determined that a young male moose was browsing among the streamside vegetation. I snatched my camera and snapped a photo, just as the moose paused in an opening between some large shrubs. I assumed that the wild creature was moving away from the river, so I resumed my focus on the matter at hand; catching fish. I waded upstream ten yards, and suddenly I heard some thrashing no more that ten feet away from me. The moose meandered along the bank and passed me, while I scrambled to once again grab my camera from its waterproof case. Finally I had a grip on the camera, and the moose decided to execute a river crossing! I pressed the video button and captured two short segments, as the large antlered beast stumbled across the river. My heart pounded from being so close, and then the moose paused two thirds of the way across and looked back at me, as if to say goodbye friend. Wow!

A Moose Visit

In spite of my reservations Friday evolved into a very enjoyable day on the North Fork of the White River. A thirty fish day is worth treasuring, the weather was perfect, and I had the area to myself. Five of the trout landed were rainbows and cutbows in the 12-14 inch ranch, and each were very feisty and a challenge to land. In addition I hooked at least five that would have extended to the top end of the scale, but they managed to elude my net. The Flattops once again delivered superb fishing in September, and visiting the remote high elevation area a week later than normal actually seemed to enhance the quality of the fishing.

Fish Landed: 30

Marvine Creek – 09/20/2018

Time: 10:00AM – 4:00PM

Location: .5 – 2.0 miles from the trailhead

Marvine Creek 09/20/2018 Photo Album

I first experienced Marvine Creek last September when the upper North Fork was closed due to a wildfire. My day on the small Flattops creek was favorable, and I decided to return on Thursday, September 20. After my prior year adventure I made a mental note to fish a .5 mile canyon stretch that was a mile from the trailhead. I now realize that I failed to review my blog post from last year; and, consequently, I bypassed the canyon section. Instead I cut down to the creek after a ten minute and .5 mile hike, and this delivered me to a section of the creek downstream from the area I targeted. I suspect that the water I covered during two hours of morning fly fishing was the most heavily pressured due to its proximity to the trailhead.

This Spot Yielded a Brook Trout

The air temperature was sixty when I began, and despite clear skies and sunshine, the high never surpassed seventy. Nevertheless I was comfortable in my fishing shirt and never resorted to an additional layer. I was surprised by the decent flows in spite of the winter drought, although I suspect that water levels were lower than September 2017.

Tough Wading

During the morning I simply continued fishing a size twelve Chernobyl ant, ultra zug bug, and salvation nymph; since my rod remained rigged from Wednesday. Between 10AM and noon I landed nine trout, and all were brookies except for one ten inch rainbow. Most of the fish snatched the salvation. After thirty minutes I exchanged the Chernobyl for a tan pool toy, as the foam ant was not attracting attention, and the small yellow indicator was difficult to follow in the shadows and glare. A few fish hammered the pool toy, but the surface fly eaters managed to escape, after they attacked the foam impostor.

Speckled Cutbow

Promising

After lunch and a lack of action in some quality sections, I decided to make an adjustment. I replaced the pool toy with a peacock ice dub hippy stomper. In addition I extended the length of the leader between the surface fly and the upper nymph, which was the ultra zug bug. The change paid off, and the fish count ballooned from nine to forty-two during the afternoon. Five netted fish, all brook trout, slurped the hippy stomper, and the remainder favored the nymphs. I estimated that 25% chomped the ultra zug bug and 75% grabbed the trailing salvation. The overwhelming majority of landed fish were brook trout in the six to nine inch range with an occasional ten or eleven inch orange bellied bruiser in the mix.

Orange Tinged Brookie

My focus remained at an elevated level throughout the afternoon with the possibility of an occasional cutbow, cutthroat, or rainbow. I landed five of these spectacular jewels in the twelve to fourteen inch range. These catches were welcome surprises, and the silver sided fighters offered significant resistance in the tight quarters of Marvine Creek. The rainbows tended to materialize in riffles of moderate depth; whereas, the brook trout frequented slower edge pockets and the tails of pools.

Easy There

Thursday was a very enjoyable day. The weather was perfect, the autumn trees were glowing, and the trout were hungry. That sums up perfection in my mind.

Fish Landed: 42

 

North Fork of the White River – 09/19/2018

Time: 1:00PM – 5:30PM

Location: Between Trappers Lake and the North Fork Campground

North Fork of the White River 09/19/2018 Photo Album

I departed Denver at 8:05AM on Wednesday morning, September 19, and arrived at my intended fishing destination along the North Fork of the White River by 12:30PM. As a result of my zeal to get on the stream, I hastily consumed my small lunch and assembled my Orvis Access four weight, and a short hike on a trail delivered me to a spot next to the tumbling North Fork by 1PM.

Difficult Wading Ahead

The temperature was around 64 degrees and the sky was overcast, and the cloud cover intensified as the day progressed. By 3PM I became quite chilled, so I pulled on my raincoat for the remainder of the afternoon. In spite of this extra layer I yearned for my fleece during several brief periods, when the sky darkened and the wind picked up.

Cutthroat Magic

I began my quest for trout with a gray stimulator, but after ten minutes and no action, I moved on to a tan pool toy and beadhead hares ear. This combination was also ignored, so I added a salvation nymph to create a three fly lineup. For the next hour I moved upstream, and the dry/dropper alignment began to connect. Interestingly I netted five trout during this time period, and four smacked the tan pool toy. Midway through the progression I exchanged the salvation for an ultra zug bug, and the iridescent peacock nymph produced a trout as well. In addition to the landed trout, I hooked three decent fish that managed to escape, and consistent with fishing lore, these were the largest.

Pumpkin Brook Trout

I covered a significant amount of stream real estate, and I learned that the deep slots and pockets were the most productive, and marginal water was largely barren. Among the first five catches were wild and colorful brook trout and cutthroats. I created a nasty entanglement near the end of this period, and the two front legs on the pool toy fell off in the process of unraveling the line. This circumstance prompted me to swap the two-legged hopper for a peacock body hippy stomper, and this move paid off handsomely.

Number six was a spectacular cutthroat that smashed the recently added hippy stomper; and the three fly combination of hippy stomper, ultra zug bug, and salvation nymph remained on my line from 3:00PM until 4:30PM, and they lifted the fish count from five to twenty. The catch rate accelerated with these three offerings, and during the late afternoon the nymphs took center stage, although the foam attractor continued to fool one out of every four fish.

Money

When I reached twenty, a few size sixteen mayflies made an appearance. They tumbled and fluttered on the surface in their efforts to combat the wind and become airborne. The hatch was very sparse, but I spotted four or five subtle rises in response to the emergence. I tossed the hippy stomper to a nice deep pocket, and an above average cutthroat refused the dry fly. I continued casting, and when the top fly was a few feet beyond the rejection point, I glimpsed a flash and splash. I responded with a hook set, felt momentary weight, and then the fish was gone along with three flies. What happened? I stripped the line in and discovered a curled end, and this typically indicates a poorly tied knot or abraded monofilament.

Deep Colors

I Love the Orange/Blue Halo Spots

Before this dose of disappointment I spotted a rise in the vicinity of the original refusal, and since I needed to re-rig, I decided to try a size sixteen cinnamon comparadun, in case the rise was a response to a sparse pale morning dun hatch. I flicked a cast across from my position and allowed the very visible comparadun to drift through the tail of the pocket. Nothing. I repeated the ploy two more times, and on the third pass a head appeared, and the dun disappeared in a swirl. I reacted with a swift hook set, and eventually guided a gorgeous cutthroat into my net. I removed the comparadun, and before I snapped a photo, I noticed something glittering in the fish’s cheek. I inspected more closely, and I discovered my ultra zug bug and salvation nymph embedded in my hungry catch! I caught the same fish that broke me off minutes earlier!

More Pockets to Pick

I continued with the comparadun, and it produced a small brook trout, but then I advanced to some faster water, and this created visibility problems, so I returned to the dry/dropper method. For the last half hour I tossed a size twelve Chernobyl ant combined with the ultra zug bug and salvation, and I boosted the fish count to twenty-five.

Wednesday provided a fun 4.5 hours of fishing with excellent results. Fall certainly arrived in the Flattops.

Fish Landed: 25