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


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.


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


North Fork of the White River – 07/04/2018

Time: 10:00AM – 4:00PM

Location: Between Trappers Lake and Himes Peak Campground

North Fork of the White River 07/04/2018 Photo Album

After spending Tuesday on a spectacular hike to Skinny Fish Lake with my lovely wife, Jane, Wednesday was my allotted day to revel in some serious fishing in the Flattops region of Colorado. I selected the segment of the North Fork of the White River between Himes Peak Campground and Trappers Lake as my destination and arrived so that I was in the stream casting by 10:00AM. Jane dropped me off along the road, so she could utilize the Santa Fe to access some nearby hiking trails.

Prime Habitat

I began fishing with a yellow fat Albert, iron sally and salvation nymph, and I landed seven trout between 10AM and noon, when I took a break for lunch. Among the seven trout were three gorgeous brook trout in the 10-12 inch range with bright orange bellies. The remainder were rainbows, and several of the pink striped variety measured out in the 12-13 inch range. Size was secondary, as these fish dazzled the observer with vivid colors and artistic spot patterns.

Monster for a Brook Trout in a Stream

After lunch I continued with the dry/dropper approach, but I exchanged the iron sally for a hares ear nymph. During the two morning hours all the landed fish nabbed the salvation except for one deviant, who snatched the iron sally. The dry/dropper method increased the fish tally to eleven after lunch with the hares ear and the salvation producing two fish each. Near the end of this period the salvation and leader broke off in my net, so I secured it to my fleece wallet and continued for a bit with the single hares ear dropper.

I arrived at a quality deep pool after thirty minutes, and I could see a pair of fish flash to the fat Albert. As I studied the attractive spot, I sighted at least four decent trout, and they were ignoring my nymphs. I decided to made the significant move to a single dry, and I began with a yellow size 14 stimulator. Two fish refused the fuzzy light yellow attractor, so I cycled through a series of changes including a size 14 light olive stimulator and a light gray size 16 caddis. The caddis proved to be temporarily effective, as I picked up three pool dwellers.

Likely Trout Lair

I persisted with the caddis for another fifteen minutes or so with moderate success, but I also spotted trout that totally ignored the small adult. From time to time small yellow sallies fluttered over the stream and although less prevalent than the caddis, I speculated that perhaps the fish favored the less active stoneflies. I switched to a size 16 yellow sally adult, and this fly was a winner. I moved the fish counter up by ten and reached twenty-five on the strength of its magnetism.

Most of the fish landed on the dry flies were brook trout in the 8-10 inch range. I was pleased with the action and success, but I yearned for additional slightly larger and brightly colored rainbows and cutbows. I also sought a fly that was more visible, so I resurrected a lime green trude size 14. The lime green attractor with a swept back wing produced well for me in previous visits to the North Fork. During July 2018 it again proved its worth, but after four fish in the net, it became waterlogged, and I again desired a fly that floated high and dry.

Rainbow Trout Joins the Mix

I returned to the yellow stimulator, and it attracted a couple small brook trout from marginal lies along the bank. Where were all the rainbows? I pondered this question and recalled that my most robust rainbows arrived in my net via the dry/dropper nymph approach. Suddenly I remembered the hippy stompers that I tied over the winter, so I knotted one to my line and added a single size 18 beadhead pheasant tail nymph on a two foot dropper.

The tactic proved to be a master stroke, and the trout demonstrated their overwhelming approval, as they hammered the pheasant tail cast after cast. If I found a nice deep pocket or hole, and executed nice drag free drifts, I could expect a favorable reaction on nearly every cast. The fish count ballooned to thirty-eight, and during this exciting period spunky 10-12 inch rainbows outnumbered the brook trout.

Astounding Colors

The Fourth of July was a blast in spite of banned fireworks! By 3:45PM I realized that I would not be able to cover the remaining fifty yards of stream, so I scrambled over dead trees and jagged rocks and climbed a steep hillside in order to meet Jane at the prearranged time and place. What a fun day on the North Fork of the White River! The fish were plentiful, but more impressive was the exceptional colors of the wild fish.

Fish Landed: 38

North Fork of the White River – 07/03/2018

Time: 5:00PM – 6:00PM

Location: North Fork of the White River across from the North Fork Campground

North Fork of the White River 07/03/2018 Photo Album

The shutout at Skinny Fish Lake had me aching for the throb of a trout on the end of my fly line, so I requested Jane’s approval to explore the North Fork of the White River in the public section across from our campground. She readily agreed, as this allowed her to cleanse her dust covered ankles and feet after our afternoon hiking adventure. I decided to wade wet in an effort to achieve a similar rinsing effect on my legs.

My Sage four weight remained assembled from our Skinny Lake venture, but I deviated from the lake configuration and began fishing with a yellow fat Albert, beadhead hares ear, and go2 caddis pupa. I spent an hour prospecting viable holding locations, and I managed to land two small rainbow trout in the 6-9 inch range. I also temporarily hooked a fish that felt heavier, but it quickly shed the pointy irritant after a five foot downstream dash.

North Fork of the White River Across from the Campground

I noticed a few small caddis and a rare mayfly in my short time on the water. The flows remained a bit above normal summer levels, but I was very disappointed with the number of decent holding lies. This translated into covering quite a bit of water in a one hour time frame. Although I registered a couple of fish, the outing was fairly disappointing and did not satisfy my urge for a decent fish on the end of my line.

Fish Landed: 2


Skinny Fish Lake – 07/03/2018

Time: 1:15PM – 2:45PM

Location: Western shoreline

Skinny Fish Lake 07/03/2018 Photo Album

Jane and I completed the long challenging drive from Denver to the Flatttops area on Monday July 2, 2018. Upon our arrival we secured campsite 25 at the North Fork Campground, and then we made our way to the outlet parking lot at Trappers Lake. Many years elapsed since Jane and I gazed upon the gem of a lake situated among stunning rock formations such as the Chinese Wall and the Amphitheater. A 2005 wildfire converted the forests into green slopes with scattered dead tree trunks, and the grey remnants of evergreen trees reminded me of toothpicks. Certainly the scenery was much different from the views prior to the fire, but it remained stunning nonetheless.

Must Be a Perfect Climate for Indian Paintbrush

Before committing to the trip I reviewed my National Geographic contour map and selected a few interesting hiking trails. Tuesday was devoted to exploring wilderness trails with Jane, and we chose a five mile round trip trek to Skinny Fish Lake. Naturally since the destination was a high mountain lake, I filled my backpack with fly fishing gear with the hope of sneaking in an hour or two of casting for gullible high elevation trout.

Wildflowers Were Abundant

Our expectations were more than satisfied, as we enjoyed a fun 1.5 hour hike to Skinny Fish Lake. The wildflowers en route were amazing, and the views of the Chinese Wall and Amphitheater were spectacular. Upon our arrival at the picturesque body of water, Jane and I found a large fallen log, and I munched my lunch, while she marveled at our surroundings. My Sage four weight accompanied me, so after lunch we circled along the left shoreline, until we reached the point of a peninsula that protruded into the middle of the lake.

Giving Lake Fishing a Go

I knotted a slumpbuster to my line and trailed a beadhead hares ear, as I began my optimistic attempts to attract the attention of resident coldwater species. I slowly fanned casts out from the point, and then I worked counterclockwise back to the spot, where I ate lunch and stashed my backpack. Unfortunately I must report that I experienced zero action. I did not land or hook a fish. In fact I did not witness a single refusal or see a fish or even observe a rise. As far as I was concerned, Skinny Fish Lake was barren of fish, but it was worth the hike simply for the view and the wildflowers.

Fish Landed: 0

Jane Floats in Wildflowers

North Fork of the White River – 09/14/2017

Time: 9:30AM – 3:30PM

Location: Near North Fork Campground

North Fork of the White River 09/14/2017 Photo Album

I concluded that the allure of the Flattops is its remoteness and its beauty largely unblemished by the hand of man. When I returned home from my 2017 Flattops trip, a family member asked how many other fishermen I encountered. I paused and did a mental rewind of my trip, and then I smiled and spoke the truth. None. There were numerous hunters and horses, but fishermen were absent from my chosen fishing destination.

As explained on Monday’s post, the area I planned to fish on the North Fork was off limits due to a wildfire, so I was forced to improvise once again. I was quite weary after completing two hike-in ventures on Tuesday and Wednesday, and I gave serious consideration to packing up the tent to execute an early return to home. However, I recalled the demanding drive required to arrive in the Flattops, and I came to the realization that Thursday was my last opportunity to capitalize on my perfect location in the stunning backcountry.

Monday afternoon evolved into an outstanding day on a stretch of the White River that I abandoned after a couple disappointing outings in previous years, so why not visit the rediscovered section and continue upstream from where I ended? This became my plan, and I am pleased to report that the day developed into a quality adventure.

I took my time on Thursday morning to pack up the camping gear, since I was positioned very close to my fishing destination for the day. By 9AM, however, the tent dew evaporated from the rain fly and footprint, and I could no longer contain my enthusiasm for another day on the White River. Not even the minor ache of a newly developed case of tennis elbow could delay my departure, and I arrived at a wide pullout next to the river ready to create yet another fly fishing adventure.

My Orvis Access four weight remained ready for action after a day on Marvine Creek, so after I pulled on my waders and stashed my lunch, I found a moderately steep path to the river and began casting. Wednesday’s flies remained on my line, and they were a tan size 8 Charlie boy hopper, an ultra zug bug and a salvation nymph. The two bottom nymphs remained in place throughout the day, but the Charlie boy began to attract an excess of refusals after lunch, so it was swapped for a tan pool toy.

I learned from Monday on the North Fork and Tuesday on the South Fork that casting to marginal pockets and shallow riffles was essentially of waste of time, so I moved quickly and stopped only at locations that were obvious fish magnets. Long deep slots and troughs were the number one producer along with extensive deep pockets. The water covered in the first hour was a replay of Monday afternoon, so I waded through this section very rapidly and only stopped to prospect two or three quality locations. The first of these was a fortuitous choice, as I extracted four very nice trout from a long deep trough. One of the four was a ten inch brook trout, and the others were two chunky fourteen inch rainbows along with a size twelve speckled and striped beauty.

Decent Brook Trout

Deep Slot Behind the Exposed Boulder Was Productive

A short distance above the productive slot, I tossed seven casts into a deep pocket that was eight feet long, and on the eighth drift the hopper dipped, and I quickly set the hook. Immediately I spotted a large hulking form, and I correctly concluded that a whitefish grabbed the salvation nymph. I managed to hoist the ponderous load into my net, and the silvery beast represented the largest whitefish of my life. It was approximately seventeen inches long, but its width and weight were the characteristics that elevated it to the top of my lifetime achievement chart.

Giant Whitefish

The period between the whitefish and lunch did include a disappointing highlight. Shortly after releasing the whitefish, I tossed a couple casts into another deep slot below some large boulders, and the hopper took a sudden dive. I quickly raised the rod tip, and instantly I realized that I was connected to a special fish. The large object streaked downstream and then stopped in another smaller pocket across from me, and here I determined that it was a rainbow trout that easily measured eighteen inches. I held tight and began to reel up line, and then the reluctant fish shot upstream to the top of the deep trough where the battle began. I thought that the run was over, so I began to reel line, but the savvy foe made a sudden move, and broke off the salvation nymph. Needless to say, I was very disappointed for the next ten minutes.

The catch rate slowed over the remainder of the morning, but I managed to increase the fish count to seven, before I sat on a large rock to consume my lunch. The weather vacillated between overcast and cool and sunny and bright, but the former ruled the sky roughly 75% of the time. After lunch I pulled on my raincoat for added warmth, and I never regretted the move.

I continued the selective prospecting strategy for the remainder of the day, and the approach paid off, as the fish count climbed to twenty-six. Quite a few were spunky twelve and thirteen inch rainbow trout with a couple more fourteen inch beauties in the mix. My day ended with two nine inch brook trout nestled in my net.

Keeping Them Wet

By 2:30 I reached an area characterized by a long twenty yard run along the left bank. A shelf pool fanned out on the right side of the strong center current, and a narrow eight foot band of slower moving water was situated between the deep current and the left bank. I began casting at the very tail where the river spread out into a riffle that was three feet deep, and I landed a couple small rainbows. Next I shot some long casts to the very top of the slower water along the right side of the run, but this only yielded a refusal. My attention now shifted to the band of water along the left bank.

One of the Better Fish

I began at the bottom where the current slowed, and I lofted a short cast within two feet of the bank and held my rod high while the three flies cruised along the shoreline. After a long drift the flies began to swing away from the bank, and at this instant an eleven inch rainbow snatched the salvation nymph. This same scenario played out a second time and once again resulted in an eleven inch bow. Could the technique work along the entire ribbon of water between the heavy run and the bank? It sure did. Six additional fish landed in my net, as I slowly migrated upstream and executed the across and down maneuver. Every fish grabbed one of the nymphs, as they began to swing away from the bank, and these were not small fish. All except one were in the twelve to thirteen inch range along with one of the fourteen inch prizes. In addition I endured at least four long distance releases when a fish latched on to a nymph for a fraction of a second and then twisted free of the pointy annoyance.

More Cutthroat than Rainbow Cutbow

Of course this Thursday highlight film of fish catching was not perfect. On one long drift I felt a strong tug as the nymphs began to swing, and I responded with a swift downstream and across hook set. Instantly a heavy force made a twist and thrashed violently to the surface. I held tight as the rainbow shot into the heavy current and then crossed until it was directly below me. It paused, and this was the signal I needed to begin reeling, but in that instant my line went limp. I stripped in the leader and discovered that all three flies were missing, and upon closer inspection I realized that a section of 4X leader broke where a wind knot previously existed. I noticed the wind knot earlier, but I was too lazy to cut back three sections of tippet to rebuild my line. It was a tough way to learn that wind knots weaken a line.

What a surprisingly successful day it was on the North Fork of the White River! The scenery was spectacular, and I relished the solitude that I crave. The world consisted of me and my thoughts, as I focused on how to land wild Flattops trout. The weather was cool, and a small sampling of leaves shifted from green to light yellow. I learned that White River rainbow trout prefer a certain type of water, and I took advantage of this knowledge to land twenty-six wild hard fighting fish. Difficulty accessing this wilderness preserves its special quality, but it also makes me cherish the rare opportunities to visit.

Fish Landed: 26

Marvine Creek – 09/13/2017

Time: 10:30AM – 3:30PM

Location: Along the Marvine Creek Trail

Marvine Creek 09/13/2017 Photo Album

Given the closure of the North Fork near Himes Peak, I decided to try new water on Wednesday. Hiking into the South Fork again was an option, but I quickly eliminated it, as I was not willing to undertake back to back strenuous hikes. I was saving the section of the North Fork, that I fished on Monday for Thursday, since it was along my return route and close to my new campground. I relocated to the North Fork Campground on Tuesday evening after returning from my trek into South Fork canyon.

I read on several sources that Marvine Creek was an interesting small stream with plentiful brook trout and the occasional larger rainbow. This description appealed to my love of high mountain small stream fishing, so I decided to explore new water.

It was in the low sixties when I began hiking at 9:45 on Wednesday morning from the Marvine Creek trailhead. At first I thought I was at the Denver stock show, as the dirt parking lot was nearly full with vehicles and trailers. Several outfitters arranged makeshift corrals along the east side, and the arched metal entrance gates displayed their names. One wrangler was exercising his horse by trotting around the parking lot, and he extended a friendly greeting to me as he passed by. Eventually I learned that all the trucks and cars belonged to hunters and outfitters, as I never encountered another fisherman during my day on the stream.

Outfitter Corrals

I selected my Orvis Access four weight once again, as it remained strung with a light yellow pool toy, ultra zug bug, and salvation nymph; and the light shorter rod was perfect for small stream fishing. I decided to hike roughly a mile in order to get away from the trailhead and campground, since fishermen never seem to stray too far from their cars and trucks.

After twenty-five minutes I descended from the trail high above a deep canyon section, and here I began my search for Marvine Creek trout. On the return hike I timed the length of the canyon stretch, and I estimated it to be .3 mile. My future to do list includes fishing through this section, as I suspect the typical fisherman avoids it. The area where I commenced fishing was a meadow, and I covered it early in the day while skipping many wide shallow riffle sectors. Between 10:30 and my lunch break at noon I landed ten fish, and I was feeling rather optimistic about my choice of destination. The early going included four rainbows, and the remainder were brook trout.

Stripes and Spots

The ratio of brook trout to rainbows would shift dramatically in favor of brookies after lunch. During the day I landed thirty-three trout, and I estimated that ten were rainbows, and the remainder char. On average the rainbows were larger than the brook trout, although the top fish in length was no more than thirteen inches. Wednesday was simply a day of prospecting and moving and catching small trout in a gorgeous backcountry setting.


The brook trout were splendid in their fall spawning colors with deep orange breasts and iridescent spotted bodies. I negotiated through two narrow canyon areas, and while the wading was a challenge and finding decent holding water was difficult, it seemed that my catch rate accelerated. After lunch I suffered a longer than normal lull, and this prompted me to switch to a size fourteen gray stimulator. The attractor dry yielded one fish and numerous refusals, so I converted to a Jake’s gulp beetle. Terrestrials seem to be very popular with high mountain stream inhabitants. In this case, however, the beetle was a flop and failed to generate even a look.

Brook Trout Territory

I returned to the offering that worked earlier, but substituted a size ten Charlie boy hopper for the one legged pool toy. Instead of the standard ultra zug bug and salvation nymph, I attached an emerald caddis pupa. The hopper choice created some action, but the pupa was ineffective, and I reverted to the morning nymph lineup, with an ultra zug bug and salvation nymph making a repeat appearance. The two subsurface flies once again paid their way, as three out of every four fish inhaled the salvation. The two workhorse flies were so popular that they partially unraveled after repeated toothy attacks. This was not a problem, however, as I simply replaced them with one of the many backups in my fly box.

A Large Snack for a Small Fish

In the last 1.5 hours I discovered that the brook trout favored the riffles in Marvine Creek, and I dramatically boosted the fish count, as brookie after brookie slashed the trailing nymphs while they tumbled through two foot deep riffles.

What a fun day! Thirty-three fish were netted in a newly discovered stream in the Flattops. Once again the scenery was superb, the solitude was perfect, and I lost myself in the simple challenge of catching gullible mountain trout. The weather was a bit imperfect, as a storm cloud gathered overhead just as I began my return hike, but I was prepared with my raincoat, and the precipitation did not affect my day. Hopefully I will have an opportunity to return and explore more of Marvine Creek in the near future.

Fish Landed: 33

The Guard Dog Did Not Want to Let Me Pass



South Fork of the White River – 09/12/2017

Time: 10:30AM – 4:00PM

Location: Along the South Fork Trail upstream from the campground.

South Fork of the White River 09/12/2017 Photo Album

After spending the night camping at the South Fork Campground, I packed up my tent and camping gear and prepared to make the hike into South Fork Canyon. A day of remote fishing on the South Fork has become a standard event for me during the last three or four years. 2016 was a bit of a disappointment, but with the closure of the upper North Fork, I decided to give it another chance in 2017.

For some reason the campground and parking area did not seem as busy with hunters and horses as in previous years, although a group of camouflage clad individuals huddled at the trailhead and greeted me, as I began my trek. They asked about the fishing, and I told them that I enjoyed decent success in past years. I did not wish to divulge too much information to strangers. I carried my Orvis Access four weight, as it remained assembled from my day of fishing on Monday.

Tall Aspens

Recent rain caused the trail to contain frequent muddy spots, and hoofprints and horse excrement offered proof that hunters on horseback traveled the route quite frequently. The temperature was probably in the low fifties when I began, but I did not wear additional layers, since I knew from past experience, that I would overheat quickly. As was the case in the 2016, I hiked for an hour, before I cut down to the river in an open meadow area. I began my efforts to attract South Fork trout with a tan three-legged pool toy, ultra zug bug, and salvation nymph; and I picked up a few small fish in the morning before breaking for lunch at 11:45. By lunch time my fish count mounted to four trout, with three consuming the salvation and one latching on to the ultra zug bug.

Very Nice Rainbow Trout in My Net

The action escalated in the afternoon, and I added twenty-three trout to the fish tally. The compilation included one fourteen inch rainbow, three rainbows in the twelve to thirteen inch range, and a bunch of feisty rainbows/cutbows in the six to eleven inch spectrum. I applied my knowledge from past trips, and this guided me to be selective and directed my casts to deep pockets and runs. Prior years taught me that fishing marginal pockets and riffles was largely a waste of time and energy. The selectivity caused me to log significant wading, as I skipped vast stretches of water. If I return in the future, I hope to implement a strategy of focusing on sections where the river bed narrows. These locales offered more deep pockets and the type of structure that delivered fish.

Beauty Abounds

The weather was very pleasant for the second week in September. I wore only a fishing shirt for the entire day and never considered adding a layer.The high temperature probably peaked in the upper sixties for much of the afternoon. The flows were quite nice and a bit higher than normal, but this was probably beneficial for the fish and enabled me to make closer approaches than was possible during years of lower volume.

At one point I lost all three flies to a bad knot, and I followed up with a size 10 tan Charlie boy hopper with black legs. It was worth a try, but the small hopper did not entice fish, and it did not float two beadhead nymphs very well, so I reverted to a pool toy with a light yellow body for the remainder of the afternoon.

Pool Toy Snack

As I hiked back to the parking lot at the end of the day, I stopped just above the pedestrian bridge to rinse off my wading boots. I scanned the river and noticed two attractive deep narrow slots fifteen feet across from me. I decided to test the river close to the campground and unhooked my flies and lobbed a cast to the nearest narrow slack water area. Instantly a small trout bolted to the surface and inhaled the pool toy. When I brought the aggressive feeder to my net, I was shocked to learn that I caught a brown trout on the South Fork. This represented the first brown trout that I caught on either the North Fork or South Fork in my many years of fishing in the Flattops. Hopefully this is not a leading indicator that brown trout are migrating upstream on the White River and displacing rainbows and cutthroats.

Tuesday was a fun day with fairly consistent action throughout my time on the river. In 2014 and 2015 I experienced torrid action in the late afternoon, and for some reason I have been unable to replicate those experiences in 2016 and 2017. My only explanation is that the weather has been warmer and not as favorable to fall insect activity from blue winged olives and caddis. The hot action during the late afternoon in 2014 and 2015 also yielded some larger than average rainbows, so I was a bit disappointed with the size of the trout on Tuesday, September 12.

Despite these small shortcomings I was in a remote setting with no other fishermen to contend with, and it was a pleasant day in the Rocky Mountains. I landed twenty-seven beautiful wild fish and created new memories to carry me over to another year. No more complaints from this happy fisherman.

Fish Landed: 27


North Fork of the White River – 09/11/2017

Time: 1:00PM – 4:30PM

Location: Near the North Fork Campground

North Fork of the White River 09/11/2017 Photo Album

Monday was the start of my highly anticipated annual trek to the Flattops area of Colorado. The second week of September has become my preferred time to make the long four hour drive to the White River including a forty mile rumble over gravel and dirt washboard roads. Generally the arduous trip is well worth it for the fishing, scenery and solitude.

A day before my expected departure Jane spotted an item in the Denver Post announcing a new wildfire near Maybell, CO. I reviewed a map and determined that the area of the fire was in northwest Colorado and safely distant from my planned fly fishing destination. However, not willing to undertake a long journey only to be thwarted by smoke and closures, I decided to call the White River National Forest office on Monday morning. I placed the call shortly after 8AM, and a woman answered the phone. She assured me that the Maybell wildfire was not an issue, but then she informed me that there was a closure in the Himes Peak area near the White River. This was a surprise stroke of back luck, as the Himes Peak Campground was one my favorite starting points for fishing the North Fork.

I debated what to do, and I finally concluded that enough options remained to entertain me for at least three days. I simply needed to be flexible and adjust my plan. I departed Denver by 8:20AM, and the lack of traffic snarls or weather delays enabled me to arrive at the junction of CO 8 and CO 155 by 12:15PM. I turned left to head toward the stretch of water above Himes Peak, but two national forest service employees were seated in chairs along the side of the road. A young man walked over to my rolled down window and asked if I knew of the closure. I told him I did, and then I asked if the area above Himes Peak was also closed, and he replied that it was. I voiced my disappointment and asked if he knew when the area would reopen? He stated that the closure would most likely extend through Friday. With this bit of discouraging news I was in ad lib mode, since the wildfire eliminated one of my favorite haunts for the entire week. I backed up to CO 8 and considered my options.

There was a section that yielded success three to five years ago, but a more recent visit delivered disappointment. Perhaps with the elimination of the upper North Fork, I needed to give it another try. I continued for a few miles until I was near the North Fork Campground, and here I parked along the shoulder. It was 12:30, so I munched my sandwich and downed a yogurt and assembled my Orvis Access four weight for a day of fishing.

As I was about to hike along the road to a path that led to the river, I heard the rumble of thunder and noticed some dark threatening clouds to the southeast. I judged that the storm would pass to the south, and I was not dissuaded in my pursuit of trout. I hiked for approximately .5 mile and hoped to exit and climb back up the hill near where the car was parked. I glanced at my watch and noted that my start time was 1PM, and I added a tan pool toy, salvation nymph and ultra zug bug to my line. These three flies served me well for the entire day.

Deep Slots Ruled

When I reached the edge of the river, I continued downstream for another .3 mile in order to explore a segment never previously fished. I began prospecting the dry/dropper combination, and fairly quickly an eight inch rainbow snatched the salvation nymph in a deep run. A bit of a lull in action ensued, but then I noticed a pause of the hopper in a deep run, and this prompted a quick hook set. The shocked fish flashed near the surface, and I glimpsed a bronze colored combatant. Sure enough when I lifted the trout into my net, I gazed at a gorgeous cutthroat that measured thirteen inches in length. I was quite pleased, and this stroke of good fortune spurred me to continue in my impromptu destination.

Best Cutthroat of the Week

I was mindful of previous visits to this section of the White River, when I determined that the fish inhabited pockets and runs of moderate depth. This caused me to move along at a fairly rapid pace, as I allocated three to five casts to spots that met the criteria described above. I covered between .5 and one mile and landed twenty-two trout. I had a blast. Shortly after starting a large threatening cloud settled above me, and large raindrops began to ping my hat. I scrambled to remove my packs and quickly retrieved my raincoat just before a fairly heavy fifteen minute shower commenced.

Fish of the Day

Displaying the Chubby Whitefish

Included in my catch on Monday was a sixteen inch rainbow, a couple of feisty thirteen inch bows, and a significant ┬ánumber of eleven and twelve inch striped gems. A small brook trout was also in the mix, but a brown trout remained outstanding to claim a grand slam. Number twenty-one was the prettiest fish on the day, as it displayed a bright cheek, yellow-bronze body, and a wide bright stripe. This fish measured around fourteen inches, and I obtained a photo from above while it rested in the net. Unfortunately it squeezed through one of the plastic holes in the net, before I could obtain a better view. During Monday’s action one fish smashed the pool toy, and all the others grabbed the nymphs. I estimate that 75% preferred the salvation.

Rather Nice

At 4:30 I debated whether to walk along the edge of the river in order to exit near the car, or whether to retreat to my starting point. I chose the latter, and this decision necessitated some serious bouldering over large rocks deposited at the bottom of the steep bank beneath the road. Since I was now improvising my fishing trip of 2017, I decided to drive to the South Fork Campground. Camping at this campground positioned me for hike-in fishing on the South Fork on Tuesday.

On my drive to South Fork I found a few places with enough cell coverage to text Jane about my whereabouts. Also I passed two livestock trailers at the corral below the North Fork Campground, and shaggy sheep were wandering everywhere in the vicinity. Apparently they were enjoying their last moments of freedom before being transported to another destination. I hate to think where that might be.

Monday afternoon was a windfall after the disappointing information surrounding the wildfire. Early success in an area previously written off was an excellent start and provided me with a necessary boost of optimism.

Fish Landed: 22