Category Archives: White River

North Fork of the White River – 09/16/2021

Time: 10:30AM – 3:00PM

Location: National forest area

North Fork of the White River 09/16/2021 Photo Album

Thursday felt like a repeat of Wednesday. I spent Wednesday evening filling two empty fly boxes with dry flies from my boat box to replace my MFC box that broke free from its leash on Wednesday. Needless to say I am still grieving over the loss of a box stuffed with hopper patterns, chubby Chernobyls, classic Chernobyls, ants, beetles, stimulators, caddis, yellow sallies, and comparaduns. I am anxious to fill another MFC brown trout box with my mainstay patterns, when I return home.

Trout Expected

The temperature at the car, as I prepared to fish, was already in the sixties, and by the time I returned to the Santa Fe at 4PM, it was 69 degrees. I assembled my Sage four weight and hiked to my chosen starting point. During the afternoon some large puffy clouds rolled across the sky on a regular basis, and I actually resorted to wearing my rain shell for additional warmth for most of the afternoon.

Brilliant Red Says It All

For the day I kept my fly selection rather basic, as I started and ended with a size 8 tan pool toy hopper, a size 14 prince nymph, and a size 16 salvation nymph. Thursday’s game was more about casting to the right water than choosing the correct fly.

Love the Deep Color

Another Look

I began my quest for trout at 10:30AM, and by lunchtime the fish counter rested on eleven. Quite a few chunky twelve and thirteen inch rainbows rested in my net, but the ones that escaped were the most impressive. I quickly learned that marginal spots were a waste of time, and I focused my casting on places with depth and length. Of course, as is usually the case, the farther I moved from easy access, the better my catch rate. The hopper only generated a couple fish, but the prince nymph delivered most of the damage. The salvation induced ten grabs, and the prince accounted for the remainder. Inexplicably numerous prime spots failed to produce, but I discovered that movement was my friend. Rather than dwelling on the failure, I pressed on and found spots that produced multiple trout.

Spawning Colors

I Know You Are in There

The ratio by species was around seventy percent rainbow and cutbow and thirty percent brook trout. At one point I considered adopting Wednesday’s lineup of a hippie stomper and salvation nymph, but I concluded that the configuration might attract more small trout, and I was pleased with the steady stream of energized eleven to thirteen inch rainbow trout that were finding their way to my net.

Like Opening a Christmas Present

By 2:30PM the catch rate slowed considerably, my arm was sore and weary from four straight days of casting, and I grew increasingly concerned about my exit plan. I called it quits at 3PM to allow time to find the main dirt road, and after a .9 mile hike I arrived at my car.

Outfitter and Horseback Riding Stables Next to Ute Lodge

Although I fell short of fifty fish on Thursday, I registered another outstanding day of fly fishing. I estimate that half of the thirty-six fish were robust rainbows and cutbows in the eleven to thirteen inch range. A sprinkling of vividly colored brook trout added to the mix, and I ended my week in the Flattops in a satisfied state of mind.

Fish Landed: 36

North Fork of the White River – 09/15/2021

Time: 10:00AM – 4:30PM

Location: National forest area

North Fork of the White River 09/15/2021 Photo Album

Another spectacular day of fly fishing was overshadowed by an expensive loss, but I will return to that misfortune at the end of this report. After a terrific day on the South Fork, I returned to the North Fork on Wednesday.

Typical Productive Bank Pocket

Once again the weather was perfect, as the dashboard displayed 53 degrees, and I assembled my Sage four weight and prepared for a day of fly fishing. I felt a bit chilly, so I slipped into my rain shell, but within fifteen minutes of fishing I shed the layer and remained in my fishing shirt for my 6.5 hours on the creek. The air temperature was 75 degrees, when I started the Santa Fe for my return drive to the cabin. The stream appeared to be in prime condition, although a bit lower than previous Septembers. Eventually I would discover that greater than normal stealth was required to fool the wild trout on Wednesday.

Pool Toy Hopper 2

Very Fine Specimen

The day of fly fishing essentially breaks down into three segments. During the two morning hours I prospected a significant distance from my starting point and landed eight trout. The fish count included a couple of chunky twelve inch rainbows and a mix of smaller brook trout and rainbows. Perhaps I was spoiled by my ridiculous success on the South Fork, but I sensed that I was not catching fish in prime shelf pools that produced in previous years. I used a size 8 tan pool toy with a salvation nymph for most of the morning. I did hook up with two above average beasts that I failed to land, so I had a shot at double digits.

Promising Pocket

Orange Belly

After lunch I began to experiment with dry/dropper combinations. I added an ultra zug bug along with a salvation for a short period, but the results were no better than the two fly approach. I also added a sunken ant below the salvation, and that move seemed to provide a temporary boost, as the fish count advanced to the thirteen range. Still, it seemed as though I was casting to prime lies with no sign of fish, and I was not catching my normal quota of hot cutbows and rainbows in the twelve to thirteen inch range.

Lowered for Release

Stunning

I pondered the situation and concluded that the large hopper and nymph tandem was disturbing the water too much at the lower than normal water level. I remedied the excessive splash down by replacing the hopper with a smaller yet buoyant hippie stomper and matched it with a salvation nymph and sunken ant. This combination turned the tide, and the fish counter zoomed from fifteen to fifty-two during the remaining hours on the creek. After some time I realized that the ant was simply getting in the way, so I revisited the two fly dry/dropper, and judging from the numbers, the trout obviously approved.

Defined Slashes

Elegant Trout

I’m not sure whether to credit the fly selection, the rise of the water temperature to a prime feeding range, or my increased distance from the trailhead; but suddenly the North Fork was on fire. The afternoon action was equal to or better than previous years, and my net was visited by bright orange-bellied ten inch brookies, a host of muscular rainbows in the twelve to thirteen inch range, and two copper-hued cutbows. One of the cutbows may have been the best fish of the day, as it stretched the tape to fifteen inches. The salvation was easily the star fly of the day, although five trout crushed the foam-bodied stomper.

Amazing Yellow Spots

Below the Woodpile

Highlight of the Day

By 4:30PM I was quite weary from climbing over rocks and deadfalls, and I was positioned below a short steep bank, so I called it quits. When I returned to the car, I decided to replace flies that I lost throughout the day, and one of those was a hippie stomper. I grabbed my waders and reached in the bib pocket for my MFC dry fly box. Imagine my shock, when all I found was half of the fly line that served as a tether, and it was frayed where the fly box was previously connected. My pulse and heartrate elevated at the thought of losing my valuable selection of dry flies. I quickly returned to my exit point and carefully maneuvered down a steep bank to a place, where I remembered fishing through some difficult shrubs, but the box was nowhere to be found. I estimate that the box contained at least 400 flies. I thought about spending Thursday retracing my path, but I concluded that it would be like searching for a needle in a haystack. Did the fly box fall in the water or on the bank? If on the bank, which bank? I would need to search both banks, since I criss-crossed the stream on a regular basis. I decided to write off the flies and move on. Fortunately, I had my boat box along on the trip, and it contained a deep supply of backup dry flies. I planned to fill two spare fly boxes that evening and continue my Flattops adventure on Thursday and possibly Friday.

Chinese Wall

The loss of my flies put a significant damper on what should have been the celebration of another fifty fish day. Hopefully as time passes, my memory of the magnificent day of fishing will overshadow the loss of a fly box.

Fish Landed: 52

South Fork of the White River – 09/14/2021

Time: 10:30AM – 4:30PM

Location: National forest area

South Fork of the White River 09/14/2021 Photo Album

The temperature was 51 degrees, when I began my hike, but the exertion from hiking quickly warmed my body temperature. I never wore a layer beyond my fishing shirt, and I was comfortable all day. The sun was bright and warm with only a rare cloud. There were some periods of breeziness, but not enough to impact my casting. The river was very clear and perhaps slightly lower than previous visits, but not enough to impact my fishing.

Near the Start

Not a Bad Start

I knew from past trips that the cutbows and rainbows of the South Fork are very strong fighters, so I rigged my Sage One five weight for extra leverage. This proved to be a very prescient move. I hiked a good distance from the parking lot and then cut to the river and configured my line with a size 8 yellow fat Ablert, a size 12 weighted prince nymph and a salvation nymph. I extended the leader, so that the total distance from the fat Albert to the salvation was four feet. I wanted to make sure that I was getting deep enough in the relatively high and cold flows of the South Fork.

Nice Deep Water in This Area

Jagged Wing Edge

Look at That Tail

The system apparently fit the circumstances on Tuesday, because I never changed the flies through six hours of fly fishing. I lost four salvation nymphs and replaced them, but I never changed to different patterns. I also knew from previous years, that extreme efficiency was necessary to succeed on the Flattops river. I skipped wide sections with shallow riffles and marginal pockets, and I focused my efforts on long slots and riffles of moderate depth. I knew my strategy was paying off, when I paused for lunch at 11:45AM with eight rainbows already notched on the fish counter. In addition, two very respectable fish escaped from my line and prevented me from upping the fish count total to ten.

Smooth Water by the Bank Enticing

Pastel Pink Stripe

Dense Speckle Pattern

The remainder of the day was simply amazing. I concentrated my casts to quality spots with depth and progressed upstream for .7 mile, and the fish count soared from eight at lunch to fifty-one, when I quit at 4:30PM. The fishing was simply outstanding. Of the 51 trout landed, one was a brook trout, and the remainder were rainbows and cutbows, but the rainbows clearly dominated the net. I estimate that thirty-one trout gobbled the prince nymph and twenty snatched the salvation. By the end of the day the prince nymph was essentially a tapered peacock cylinder with gold rib and a gold bead. I find it amazing that the fly held up that well through thirty fish.

Inviting

Love This Shot

But what about size? The size and energy of these fish is what makes Tuesday potentially the number one day of fishing in 2021. I landed at least three rainbows that stretched the tape to the sixteen and seventeen inch range. The predominant size was twelve to fourteen inches, and the rainbows were pound for pound some of the toughest I have ever wrangled with. Of course there were probably fifteen below twelve inches, but if you do the math, you will realize that my day included an abundant quantity of above average size fish. Can someone pinch me?

Reentry

On Tuesday fifty-one fish were landed on a stream that historically has proven to be quite temperamental. What was different about this venture? I am placing credit on the longer dropper leader and the extra weight of the prince nymph. These modifications to my approach enabled me to get my nymphs in front of large trout in deeper lies. I suspect I was drifting over the top of likely eaters on previous trips. Being disciplined on my river coverage was also a major positive. How can the next several days in the Flattops possibly compare to Tuesday? Stay tuned.

Fish Landed: 51

North Fork of the White River – 09/13/2021

Time: 1:15PM – 5:00PM

Location: National Forest area

North Fork of the White River 09/13/2021 Photo Album

Every year around the second week of September I schedule a trip to the Flattops area of Colorado. It is a relatively remote area that is difficult to access from Denver, and this circumstance is probably an essential part of the allure. The area is teeming with wildlife and lacking human beings, at least that is the case during weekdays in September. The timing of my trip overlaps with muzzleloader and archery hunting seasons, so I do share the wilderness with orange clad hunters, horses and horse trailers, and large canvas tents. Modern amenities are very basic, and I always struggle to find a strong enough cell phone signal to maintain contact with my wife, Jane. Normally I camp during my one week stay in the Flattops area, but for 2021, in a concession to my advancing age, I rented the rustic Pine cabin at the Ute Lodge near Marvine, CO. For $150 per night I dwelled in luxury with heat, a bed, a refrigerator, a bathroom with a shower and a kitchen that enabled me to prepare meals. It was rather basic, but cozy, and it served my needs perfectly.

Very Respectable Rainbow

I began the week on Monday morning, as I departed Denver at 8:05AM, and this allowed me to pull into a nice wide pullout next to the North Fork of the White River by 12:30PM. I quickly inhaled my small lunch and pulled on my waders and assembled my Sage One five piece rod. I intended to tangle with some above average fish on Monday; and, therefore, chose the larger rod for the extra leverage. The air temperature was a cool sixty degrees, and heavy clouds dominated the sky for most of the afternoon. When I arrived along the edge of the river, I noted that the stream seemed lower than normal for mid September, but it was still decent for fly fishing in my estimation.

Wide, Fast Shallow Water

Distinct Spots

I began the afternoon with a size 8 tan pool toy hopper and added a size 12 prince nymph and a size 16 salvation nymph. Between 1:15PM and 5PM I worked my way up the river from the starting point, until I was forty yards above the confluence with a small tributary. Two brief periods of light rain forced me to wade to shore to pull on my raincoat. I stuck with the pool toy for most of the afternoon, and the prince nymph was a constant. The end fly rotated between the salvation nymph, ultra zug bug, hares ear nymph, iron sally, sunken ant, and an emerald caddis pupa.

Nice Size

After a series of refusals to the hopper at 4PM, I swapped the pool toy for a gray parachute hopper, and as a final act I exchanged the parahopper for a fat Albert for visibility and floatation. Over the course of the afternoon I landed three trout on the pool toy hopper (one was a rewarding, fat twelve inch brook trout), one on the salvation nymph, two on the sunken ant, and the remainder on the prince nymph. Three countable trout were brookies, and the remainder were rainbows. A pair of chunky bows in the thirteen to fourteen inch range were the highlights of the day along with the two twelve inch brook trout and seven energized rainbows in the twelve inch range.

Some Nice Deep Runs Ahead

Greedy for the Pool Toy Hopper

Large for a Stream Brook Trout

I covered roughly .7 mile in just under four hours, so I was skipping a fair amount of unproductive wide shallow riffle sections. Prerequisites for success were depth and length. Short deep pockets did not produce. The key to a decent catch rate was constant movement and being very selective about where to cast. The afternoon encompassed quite a few refusals to the pool toy, and I was tempted at times to experiment with a double dry, but I never made the change because of the performance of the prince nymph.

Look at the Dense Spot Pattern on This Cutbow

In summary, I rated Monday as a solid success. Eighteen fish in four hours was a decent catch rate, and eleven chunky brook and rainbow trout in the twelve to fourteen inch range was a respectable showing. Last year I landed fifteen in the same section over a similar period of time, so Monday’s performance was an improvement. By the end of my fishing day on Monday I was looking forward to day two in the Flattops.

Fish Landed: 18

Cozy Cabin Bedroom

North Fork of the White River – 09/29/2020

Time: 11:00AM – 3:30PM

Location: Between North Fork Campground and Trappers Lake

North Fork of the White River 09/29/2020 Photo Album

When Jane mentioned that she was looking at lodging in the Flattops, I was all in favor. After five days of outstanding weather, fishing and scenery earlier in September; I was extremely interested in another day of fly fishing in the area. A couple additional days of hiking and leaf peeping made the prospect even more appealing, and a rental cabin eliminated the hardships of camping in late September, when low  temperatures were apt to fall into the upper twenties.

We took the plunge and rented the Chokecherry cabin located at the Ute Lodge Resort for three nights from Sunday, September 27 through September 29. We made the drive on Sunday, September 27 and arrived in time to launch a short hike up the Papoose Trail. An arched trailhead entrance was literally twenty steps from our front door. The cabin was rustic and cute but quite small. It consisted of three rooms; a bedroom, a bathroom and a kitchen. The kitchen was barely larger than the bathroom, and the only free space to relax and read, aside from the bed, was two chairs and a very small table in the kitchen. The premier feature of the cabin was the huge log bed, which I am certain exceeded the dimensions of a king size. An electric heater controlled by a thermostat kept the bedroom cozy, but the bathroom remained quite chilly, and until we discovered a space heater, the kitchen was downright frigid. Needless to say, the space heater logged a lot of usage in the kitchen. A small porch was attached to the front of the cabin, and a homemade barrel grill and picnic table occupied the small area in front of the cabin. We grilled bratwursts on Tuesday night to take advantage of the outdoor amenities.

On Monday Jane and I actually completed two fairly rigorous hikes. First on our agenda was an out and back on the West Marvine Creek Trail. This stroll totaled 4.5 miles and 644 feet of elevation gain. On our return we bumped into an archery hunter from Indiana, who was packing out fifty pounds of his elk kill. He told us he was going to pay an outfitter to pack out the remainder for $300, and it struck us, that this fee could purchase quite a few steaks! Upon our completion of the West Marvine Creek hike we consumed our lunches at an East Marvine Campground site, and then we drove to the tralhead for the Ute Creek trail. Another out and back on this challenging Flattops trail accumulated another 3.1 miles and 521 feet of elevation gain. This hike was less interesting than West Marvine and consisted almost entirely of climbing a ridge and then returning back down.

Tuesday was my designated fishing day, and I will return to that topic later in this post. Wednesday was our get away day, and we decided to tackle some trail riding at the JML stables that neighbored the Ute Lodge. We packed all our belongings in the Santa Fe and rolled around the corner to the corral behind the bungalow and parked next to a fence and some pickup trucks. Two men were present in the corral, and one was banging away on metal, as he shaped a horseshoe. The other tall gentleman approached us, and we inquired whether we could enjoy a trail ride on the last day of September. He replied that we needed to talk to Marie, as she managed the trail ride side of the business. At our patient insistence, he called Marie, and they agreed that the gentleman with us would saddle up Patty and Charley and take us on a two hour ride. The charge was $25 per hour, so two riders for two hours equaled $100. Our reluctant wrangler went through the fence and gathered Patty and Charley and brought them toward us, at which point I asked, if they accepted a credit card. The cowboy replied no, and Jane and I quickly counted our cash and determined that our total amount was $93. We apologized for putting the man through the exercise of gathering the horses, be he seemed somewhat relieved to be released from wrangling duty. As we drove away, we discussed the idea of doing a one hour ride, as that fit within our cash availability, but by then our thoughts shifted to another hike.

Ice Confirms It Was Cold Overnight

For our last hike before departing the Flattops we returned to the Marvine Creek overflow parking lot and found the East Marvine Trail.  Our destination was the intersection with another Flattops Wilderness crossing trail, and this hike logged 5.4 miles on my Garmin activity tracker, and the cumulative vertical gain was 1,095 feet. Needless to to say, we were a pair of tired Coloradans, when we returned to the car. After the high country amble we adjourned to a campsite at the Marvine Campground and once again devoured enough snacks to replenish our energy stores.

Lovely Spot for a Fish

Tuesday was my day to fish, while Jane hiked to Little Trappers Lake and then climbed three-fourths of the Skinny Fish Lake Trail. The temperature was around 55 degrees, when I began my short trek to the North Fork, and Jane accompanied me on most of my inbound stroll. On Tuesday the stream was flowing at nearly ideal levels for the end of September, and the high temperature for the day eventually spiked in the low seventies. When Jane and I separated, I agreed to return to the place where we parked by 4PM, and Jane returned to the car and drove to Trappers Lake to hike.

Early Success

Pastel Color Scheme

I began my day with a tan pool toy hopper, that I fished solo. This approach yielded excellent results on Friday, September 18, and I was hopeful that history would repeat itself two weeks later. It did not. I hooked and landed two eleven inch cutbows in the first thirty minutes and then fell into a slump. In response to the slow action I added a salvation nymph, and the shiny attractor duped a small brook trout and rainbow trout, before I broke for lunch at noon. Four fish in an hour was acceptable, but I must concede, that I had higher expectations.

In Front of the Partially Exposed Rock Right of Center

Zoomed a Bit Closer

After lunch I moved the fish count steadily upward to ten, and surprisingly the tally was dominated by cutbows, and many were fine fish in the twelve to fourteen inch range. The landed fish were split between the salvation nymph and hopper, but it seemed that the larger cutbows snatched the salvation, as it began to swing or lift. When I reached ten, I rested on a that count for quite a while, and I attributed the lull to the stream structure, as I passed through a very high gradient section with minimal prime holding spots.

Another Hopper Fan

In order to counter the lack of action I added a second dropper fly, although the full length of the leader from the hopper to the point fly was only around two feet. In other words, my nymphs were drifting quite high in the water column. I cycled through an ultra zug bug and hares ear nymph, but the salvation and hopper performed the heavy lifting, as the fish count elevated from ten to seventeen. I continued to catch predominantly cutbows and rainbows, and I was very pleased with that result. I began to wonder, if the brook trout were already preoccupied with spawning.

Very Nice

Seventeen became another unexpected plateau in the fish count graph. I was plagued by refusals, a couple foul hooked fish and some long distance releases. All these obstacles to netted fish forced me to reevaluate, and I decided to test a solo hippie stomper. The hippie stomper was a workhorse fly on September 16, so why would it not shine again on September 29? I cannot provide the answer to that question, but I can report that it was totally ignored in some very attractive runs and pockets, so I once again pondered my options. I was mired on seventeen fish, and I had a strong desire to reach twenty.

Deep Color and Fine Width

Excellent Specimen

I decided to return to the dry/dropper approach; however, I configured my line with longer droppers and two nymphs. For this final push I chose a tan ice dub chubby Chernboyl to optimize visibility and floatation, and for the nymphs I attached an ultra zug bug as the top fly and a size 16 super nova as the point. The super nova is very similar in appearance to a pheasant tail. Hurrah! the combination saved the day, and before I halted my casts at 3:30, I boosted the fish count from seventeen to twenty-four. The chubby produced one aggressive brook trout, and most of the remainder favored the super nova. One or two grabbed the ultra zug bug to justify its position in my starting lineup.

Very Nice for the Char Species

I had thirty minutes to return to the car to meet Jane, and I fell short of my anticipated destination for exiting the stream. This forced me to bushwhack through an evergreen stand, and I clumsily climbed over numerous deadfalls and up some fairly steep inclines, before I arrived at a fence. I was within viewing distance of the road, but I could not figure out how to negotiate the barbed wire fence. Finally I found a spot with barely adequate space to crawl beneath the bottom wire. I placed my wading staff and fly rod on the opposite side and then removed my backpack and frontpack and positioned them there as well. Before I dropped to my back to wiggle underneath, I noticed that the wooden post to which the fence was attached was connected to a metal stake by a wire loop. I was able to slide the loop upward, and this raised the wooden post and all the horizontal fence sections. I used my wading staff to prop up the wooden post and maintain the loop in the highest position and dropped to my back and slid to the other side. Once I was on the other side, it was easy to climb the short hill to the road, and then I strode back along the shoulder for a mile to my meeting place with Jane. I arrived a few minutes after 4PM!

So Much Scarlet

Twenty- four fish was a decent day, and 80% of the catch were cutbows or rainbows. For some reason the proportion of brook trout fell from the ratio I experienced two weeks before. I estimate that eight of the twenty-four were cutbows or bows in the twelve to fourteen inch range, and these were very substantial catches for a small waterway like the North Fork. The weather was gorgeous, the scenery was spectacular, and I managed to sneak in a bonus day of fishing in the Flattops in 2020. My legs are definitely stronger after four challenging back country hikes, and Jane and I experienced the 2020 foliage viewing season near its peak.

Fish Landed: 24

The Word Glow Comes to Mind

North Fork of the White River – 09/18/2020

Time: 10:00AM – 2:00PM

Location: Between North Fork Campground and Trappers Lake

North Fork of the White River 09/18/2020 Photo Album

I was mildly disappointed with my day on Marvine Creek on Thursday, so I decided to remain in the Flattops to fly fish on Friday, but I committed to leave early. Early for this outing was defined as 2:00PM. Astute readers may ask how I could be disappointed with a thirty-one fish day, and that would certainly be a legitimate question. Twenty-eight of the thirty-one trout were small brook trout, and unlike previous visits, only one substantial cutbow rested in my net. My hugely successful day on Wednesday may have also influenced my view toward Thursday. On Marvine Creek I covered 1.1 mile of stream real estate, and the wading was quite challenging as a result of the high gradient and many streamside obstacles to impede my movement. Flies that worked on Wednesday failed to satisfy the trout on Marvine Creek, and this forced me to cycle through quite a few changes. I never settled on a reliable fly that produced consistent results.

I was quite weary from four consecutive days of fishing and camping including two lengthy hikes in excess of five miles, and I actually considered driving back to Denver after breaking camp on Friday morning. However, I was hesitant to squander valuable fishing time in the Flattops after making the four hour drive and bouncing over two passes on a gravel washboard road. I concluded that my advancing age dictated, that I should take advantage of my annual trip to leverage one more day in the area.

Honey Hole

The temperature hovered around fifty degrees when I pulled into a parking spot at my chosen destination on Friday morning. I quickly assembled my Sage four weight and knotted a peacock hippie stomper to my line. The section of the North Fork that I chose as my destination differed from Wednesday, and after a brief hike I arrived at my starting point ready to cast by 10:00AM. The river was flowing at a nice velocity, and it was crystal clear.

Whew! Brilliant.

So Bright

Trout Lair for Sure

I prospected with the hippie stomper for the first fifteen minutes, and nary a trout showed a sign of interest. This was the same creek, where I utilized a solitary hippie stomper for 6.5 hours, and it yielded in excess of forty fish, and now the residents shunned my offering like radioactive waste. What was going on? I pondered the situation and decided to test a three fly dry/dropper rig. I attached a tan pool toy hopper and then added an ultra zug bug and salvation nymph. The fish gave this move a thumbs up, and I began landing fish at a fairly rapid clip. The ultra zug bug and salvation were popular, but the hopper pattern also attracted a decent level of interest. Between 10:00AM and noon I expanded the fish count from zero to ten, and during this time I lost the salvation nymph and subsequently cycled through a beadhead pheasant tail nymph, a perdigon, a dark cahill wet fly, and a copper john. For the top nymph I swapped the ultra zug bug for a bright green go2 caddis pupa for a portion of the time. The salvation, ultra zug bug, go2 caddis and pool toy hopper delivered fish; and, in fact, the hopper was clearly the most desirable food item on the fly menu. Initially the predominant species was the brook trout, but then a few rugged cutbows and rainbows joined the party. These wild jewels were aggressive fighters and brilliantly colored, and they measured between twelve and fourteen inches.

Spawning Colors

After a quick lunch I continued my upstream migration and landed a few more trout before a bruiser of a cutbow snapped off the trailing nymphs in the process of attempting an escape. I managed to coax the fly theft into my net, but rather than replacing the nymphs with another set, I opted to fish the hopper solo. The move proved to be brilliant, and I spent the remainder of my time on the river fooling brook trout, cutbows and rainbows with the Grillos pool toy hopper with a tan body. I set a goal of reaching twenty fish by 2:00PM and surpassed that with room to spare at twenty-five. Even more satisfying was the fact that these fish were not small brook trout. They were muscular fighters that displayed vivid and deep colors, and they typically measured between twelve and fourteen inches, and they carried greater than average body weight. I used two pool toy hoppers in the process, as the first one lost all its legs, and the same fate awaited the second. I was perched on twenty-three, when hopper number two lost its final leg, but I continued with the legless version and duped two additional fish.

Left Side Attractive

Chubby

For the most part the brook trout occupied secondary lies such as shallow slow moving pools next to the bank. The cutbows and rainbows held at the tail of deep runs and pockets next to higher velocity current. Normally I limit my number of casts to five, before I move on to the next promising spot, but on Friday I recall several instances, where I made between five and ten casts, before I ultimately encouraged a take from one of the prized cutbows.

Loving This Chunk

Lighter Coloration

Such a Gorgeous Fish

Friday on the North Fork of the White River was truly a memorable day. Clearly forty-seven landed trout on Wednesday on the North Fork was a high mark, but I truly believe that I would have surpassed that achievement with another 2.5 hours on the Friday section. But more impressive was the higher proportion of larger cutbows and rainbows compared to Wednesday. I estimate that 60% of the Friday catch was one of the bow varieties, while brook trout were more than 50% of Wednesday’s netted fish. For an avid fly fisherman like myself, it does not get much better than Friday. I worked upstream at a steady pace and popped the single hopper to all the likely holding spots. More often than not a spectacular brook trout, cutbow, or rainbow jumped on the fake hopper. It was fly fishing at its simplest level. I gave little thought to fly selection, after I discovered the appeal of the pool toy hopper, and the size 8 foam impostor was easy to track among the swirls and churning current of the high gradient stream. Of course, I witnessed my share of refusals and temporary connections, but the conversion rate to landed trout was enough to give me confidence in the pool toy. When can I return to the Flattops?

Fish Landed: 25

Autumn Advancing

Marvine Creek – 09/17/2020

Time: 10:00AM – 4:00PM

Location: Upstream from Marvine Creek Campground

Marvine Creek 09/17/2020 Photo Album

Based on past years I should have known what to expect, and surely a thirty-one fish day is a numbers booster, but unlike several previous visits twenty-eight of the landed fish were small brookies in the six to eleven inch range, and the mix was definitely skewed on the small end. Three cutbows graced my net, but one was a prize for such a small stream, as it measured sixteen inches and flaunted a wide girth. I fished deeper than my farthest penetration previously, and I am not convinced the extra steps were worth it. The section that I covered was characterized by fast wide shallow riffles and high gradient, and I waded considerable distances between promising spots. The creek and I had an adversarial relationship, and on this day, the creek won. By 4:00PM I was a very weary dude facing a long return hike.

Crowded Trailhead

Entering the Backcountry

The weather was terrific, and the creek was clear and cold. I began with a peacock hippie stomper, since it shined on Wednesday on the North Fork, and it quickly built the fish count to nine. I was very optimistic at this point, but for some reason in the half hour before lunch steady action changed into a slump. In an effort to inflate the catch rate I added a salvation nymph to the hippie stomper after lunch. The ploy initially paid dividends, as I landed fish number ten and then approached a spectacular deep pool.

I lobbed a cast to the frothy head of the deep pool, and on the second such effort a large form grabbed the trailing nymph. I instantly recognized that this was not a brook trout and allowed the cutbow slack line, as it charged upstream and then reversed itself and shot downstream. I began taking a few steps to follow my prize catch, but the small stream giant suddenly turned its head, and the nymph lost its grip. As the reader might imagine, I was very distraught over this turn of events.

Easily the Best Fish of the Day

I inspected the flies and composed myself and tossed another cast to the deep center of the churning whitewater. As the two fly dry/dropper crept toward the center between two fast seams, the Chernobyl ant once again took a dive, and for a brief second I spotted another Marvine Creek monster. Unlike its pool neighbor this fish dove and headed in a relentless drive to a large exposed rock along the left bank. I made a futile attempt to restrain it from its intended destination, since I suspected the near side of the rock held a subsurface obstruction such as a branch or log. My intentions were admirable, but my performance was lacking. Suddenly I no longer felt the writhing weight of a fish, and after saying a few unkind words I decided to invade the depths of the pool. I waded to the outer edge of the rock, while holding my rod in a forward position, and suddenly I once again felt a throbbing weight. Apparently the fish on the end of the line hunkered down next to the rock, and my invasion of its safe harbor encouraged a move. I carefully applied side pressure to the obstinate brute, and in short order I scooped it into my net. In this instance some celebratory whooping and hollering accompanied my success. The sixteen inch slab made my day, and I snapped a few photos and recorded a video, before I prodded the wide body to swim for freedom. It did not require much prodding.

Yum Yum

A Fine Brook Trout

I continued my upstream advancement, and notched a couple more brook trout on the salvation to reach thirteen. The Chernobyl ant was not contributing to the cause, so I removed it and reverted to the hippie stomper. It was at this time that I encountered a massive beaver pond. I skipped around the slow moving tail section and progressed to the midsection, where I began executing casts to the fast entering run and the deep slower moving areas that bordered the seams. The area enabled me to elevate the fish count from thirteen to seventeen, as an array of small brook trout found the salvation to their liking.

One of the Better Brookies from Marvine

Room to Grow

When I progressed beyond the beaver pond, another period of futility impacted my fly fishing karma. I pondered the situation and decided to made a radical change to my approach. Much of the water was moving at a rapid velocity, and I concluded that additional weight was the answer. I knotted a size 8 yellow fat Albert to my line, and beneath it I added a bright green go2 caddis pupa and salvation nymph. The three fly system was moderately effective, and the fish count gradually rose to twenty-seven. Each of the flies accounted for a few fish, but none stood out as more effective than the others.

More Orange

I was stuck on twenty-seven as my watch registered 3:00PM, and thirty fish were within my grasp. Very few promising spots were appearing, and the dry/dropper configuration lost its luster. I decided to make a last ditch effort and changed to a double dry consisting of the hippie stomper and a size 14 olive stimulator. Bingo! Three brook trout attacked the stimulator, and I rejoiced at reaching the thirty mark. On the return hike I paused at the beaver pond and duped another brook trout on the stimulator to end the day at thirty-one.

Glowing Bushes

The fish count was in line with previous visits to Marvine Creek; however, the size of the brook trout seemed diminished and fewer cutbows joined the mix. Large cutbows dominated my recollection of previous days on Marvine Creek, and I was unable to overlook their absence on Thursday. I also discovered that the structure of the creek after a more distant hike did not justify the effort. Thursday was a decent day, but not an exceptional outing.

Fish Landed: 31

Campsite at North Fork Campground

North Fork of the White River – 09/16/2020

Time: 10:30AM – 5:00PM

Location: Between North Fork Campground and Trappers Lake

North Fork of the White River 09/16/2020 Photo Album

Wednesday left no room for disappointment. If one could project a nearly perfect day of fly fishing in a high country stream, Wednesday would serve as a superb model.

The Leaves in Transition

Tuesday was a long day, as I fished the South Fork and then drove to the North Fork Campground and set up my tent for three nights. On Wednesday morning I was situated close to the streams that I planned to fish for the remainder of the week. The air temperature began in the low fifties and then climbed to the upper sixties. A smokey haze blocked the sun for the entire time on the river. Flows on the section of the North Fork, that I chose to fish on Wednesday, were clear and at an ideal level. Wading, as is always the case for the North Fork, was challenging due to the numerous fallen logs to climb over, and the rocky, high gradient environment added to the difficulty.

Tough Wading Ahead

Performed the Heavy Lifting

When I arrived along the edge of the river, I decided to keep it simple and knotted a peacock hippie stomper to my line. How was I to know that September 16th was destined to be a hippie stomper sort of day?The stomper quickly accumulated eight landed fish in the first thirty minutes. One was a fine thirteen inch cutbow, and the others were brightly colored brook trout.

Nature’s Pallet

Cutbows Shared the River

My description of the first half hour aptly defines my entire day on the river. I prospected all the deep pockets and plunge pools, and more often than not a cutbow, rainbow or brook trout subsequently rested in my net; but for every fish landed, I experienced a refusal or temporary connection. Obviously that represents an abundant quantity of fish in a small stream environment.

Predator Brook Trout

Do Not Skip Behind the Log

Color of Stripe Matches the Leaves

When I reached a count of twenty, I decided to experiment and added an ultra zug bug as a dropper off the stomper. The ultra zug bug picked up two fish, but the thin foam hippie stomper struggled to support the beadhead nymph, and consequently its effectiveness waned. I considered the situation and decided to rest the hippie stomper and switched to a tan pool toy hopper with a salvation nymph. A brook trout found the hopper desirable, and the salvation was snatched by another hungry brookie, but the overall pace of action slowed significantly from the early going with the solo stomper.

Money in the Bank

Not the Rock Band Slash

Tail Drag

What did I do? I reverted to the ever popular hippie stomper, and I only deviated from the stomper once more at 4:00PM, when I spotted a pod of four cutbows in a narrow pool on the south braid of the river. Two trout refused the hippie stomper, and I observed several pale morning duns, as they launched from the water’s surface. I invested the time to switch to a size 16 light gray comparadun. The move paid dividends when a football-shaped cutbow sipped the PMD imitation, and a similar result was recorded in a nearby bucket-sized shelf pool. The brief interest in a pale morning dun imitation subsided, and it was difficult to track in the faster currents, so I once again reverted to the old reliable hippie stomper and closed out my day.

Stunning Colors and Spots

The Colors of the Rainbow

So Many Spots!

They Keep on Coming

I estimated that 75% of my fish count were brook trout, and they were clearly numbers boosters, although a few eleven and twelve inch fish were part of the brook trout booty. The rainbows and cutbows were outstanding. I netted at least eight wild cutbows in the twelve to fourteen inch range, and they dazzled with their array of vivid colors. Days like Wednesday are what keep me coming back to streams in search of trout.

Fish Landed: 47

Cannot Skip This Spot

South Fork of the White River – 09/15/2020

Time: 10:30AM – 4:00PM

Location: Southeast of the South Fork Campground

South Fork of the White River 09/15/2020 Photo Album

I camped at the South Fork Campground on Monday night, and I was pleased to discover that the air was relatively free of smoke. Only two other campsites were occupied, and I elected to stow my storage bins in the bear locker and slept in the back of the Santa Fe. I was successful in avoiding setting up and taking down my tent for a one night stay.

No. 6 at South Fork Campground

I was conveniently positioned for my day of fishing the South Fork of the White River on Tuesday morning. I stashed all my food and camping gear in the car and drove fifty yards to the trailhead, where I assembled my Sage four weight and pulled on my waders. The temperature at the beginning of my hike was 48 degrees, but the hike initiated quite a bit of body heat, and the high temperature for the day peaked in the 70 degree range. In short, it was a glorious late summer day in the Flattops. As I strode along the South Fork, I noted that the flows were ideal, and the river was crystal clear and cold.

Grandeur of the Flatttops

Nice Clear Deep Run

I hiked a good distance from the trailhead and began fishing at 10:30AM with a tan ice dub chubby Chernobyl, ultra zug bug, and salvation nymph. Early in the game I landed a chunky twelve inch rainbow on the salvation, but it was tough going in the hour before noon, as the fish count slowly advanced to three. Midway through the morning I exchanged the ultra zug bug for a 20 incher to achieve deeper drifts.

Subtle Pink Stripe

After a quick lunch I continued my upstream progression and raised the fish tally to six. Other than the first fish of the day, the rainbows were on the small side. Once I attained six on the trout meter, I decided to convert to a double dry approach. For this endeavor I knotted a peacock hippie stomper to the front position and trailed a gray stimulator. For most of the afternoon I concentrated on prospecting prime spots; depth and moderate current were the key prerequisites. The fish count climbed from six to ten, but the fish netted in the afternoon were the nicest of the day. These afternoon fish convinced me that the thirteen and fourteen inch cutbows and rainbows of the South Fork are pound for pound some of the hardest battlers, that I have encountered.

Worthwhile

Stunning

With an hour remaining before my planned exit I swapped the stimulator for a salvation nymph, and then I added an ultra zug bug. The dry/dropper approach clicked for a pretty cutthroat trout and two small cutbows, but two substantial fish escaped my hook and added to my frustration.

Cast Worthy

On Tuesday I suffered several break offs on fish and ended my day by breaking off three flies in a tree. I lost two 20 inchers, four salvation nymphs, two ultra zug bugs, one gray stimulator, and one hippie stomper. I also tossed a legless pool toy hopper in my fly recycling canister.

Power Curl

I must admit that my expectations for Tuesday were higher, but a double digit day including six trout in the thirteen to fourteen inch range was more than acceptable. I had the place to myself, and the weather was spectacular. I observed very little aquatic insect activity, and historically my best days on the South Fork coincided with the presence of more caddis, pale morning dun and blue winged olives. September 15, 2020 seemed like a continuation of the summer doldrums from an insect perspective.

Fish Landed: 13

North Fork of the White River – 09/14/2020

Time: 1:30PM – 5:00PM

Location: Between North Fork Campground and Trappers Lake

North Fork of the White River 09/14/2020 Photo Album

I protected the week of September 14, 2020 from conflicting appointments, as I eagerly anticipated a week of fly fishing in the Flattops area of Colorado. This trip has developed into an annual tradition, and I was not willing to sacrifice it in 2020. I was, however, cognizant of my recent heart issues and atrial fibrillation, so in a concession to advancing age I rented a satellite phone for the week. I planned to hike into several remote stream destinations, where the presence of other human beings was rare, so the availability of 24/7 communication capability was a valuable safety precaution. I viewed the $255 for thirty minutes of voice time as an insurance policy in case of injury or health issues.

Branch in a Bad Place

Salvation Nymph

I departed on Monday morning after completing most of the packing on Sunday night, and I arrived next to the North Fork of the White River by 12:45PM. I quickly downed my small lunch and prepared to fly fish with my Sage four weight as the weapon of choice. Monday was a bright sunny day with the temperature at my location in the 69 – 70 degree range. Flows appeared to be a bit lower than previous years, but easily within an ideal range for mid-September.

Nice Grip

Speckles and Stripes

I began my quest for White River trout with a tan pool toy hopper that dangled an ultra zug bug and salvation nymph on a three foot dropper. I read all my North Fork posts on this blog from previous years before my departure, and the three flies that I selected were the top producers. In the very first decent pocket along the left bank, I landed a thirteen inch rainbow that nabbed the salvation nymph, and my optimism zoomed. I continued working my way upstream, and I built the fish count to seven in the first hour, but all the fish except the first were in the six to eleven inch range. One was a brook trout, and the others were rainbows and cutbows. The ultra zug bug delivered a small trout early, but then it drifted mostly unmolested, so I switched it for a weighted size 12 prince nymph. The prince became a relatively hot item, as it combined with the salvation to boost the fish count from seven to fifteen. The heavier prince enabled deeper drifts, and this condition likely explained the elevated catch rate. Three of the last eight landed trout were muscular fourteen to fifteen inch rainbows, and the prince was the food of choice for these bruisers. In addition, another three energetic hook ups developed, but the bold fighters managed to escape while breaking off the prince and salvation.

Slip Away

Surely Home to a Fish

Similar to past years on this section of the White, long riffles and pockets with depth in excess of four feet produced. Toward the end of my time on the river I bumped into two other anglers, so I circled around them and continued upstream. The last hour was very slow, and I failed to increase the fish count, although I was teased by two decent temporary hook ups in the final pool. Monday represented a fine start to my week in the Flattops during 2020. Fifteen fish landed in 3.5 hours is an above average catch rate, and the three bruisers in the late afternoon were much appreciated surprises. Monday afternoon boosted my appetite for more success during the remainder of the week.

Fish Landed: 15