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

Due to technical issues I am unable to insert photos. If you click on the above link, you can view photos from this fishing trip. Hopefully I can resolve the problem soon.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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

Due to technical issues I am unable to insert photos. If you click on the above link, you can view photos from this fishing trip. Hopefully I can resolve the problem soon.

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.

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

Due to technical issues I am unable to insert photos. If you click on the above link, you can view photos from this fishing trip. Hopefully I can resolve the problem soon.

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.

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.

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.

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

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.

[peg-image src=”” href=”″ caption=”Decent Brook Trout” type=”image” alt=”P9140079.JPG” image_size=”2048×1536″ ]

[peg-image src=”” href=”″ caption=”Deep Slot Behind the Exposed Boulder Was Productive” type=”image” alt=”P9140078.JPG” image_size=”2048×1536″ ]

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.

[peg-image src=”” href=”″ caption=”Giant Whitefish” type=”image” alt=”P9140083.JPG” image_size=”2048×1536″ ]

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.

[peg-image src=”” href=”″ caption=”Keeping Them Wet” type=”image” alt=”P9140085.JPG” image_size=”2048×1536″ ]

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.

[peg-image src=”” href=”″ caption=”One of the Better Fish” type=”image” alt=”P9140094.JPG” image_size=”2048×1536″ ]

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.

[peg-image src=”” href=”″ caption=”More Cutthroat than Rainbow Cutbow” type=”image” alt=”P9140099.JPG” image_size=”2048×1536″ ]

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.

[peg-image src=”” href=”″ caption=”Outfitter Corrals” type=”image” alt=”P9130046.JPG” image_size=”2048×1536″ ]

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.

[peg-image src=”” href=”″ caption=”Stripes and Spots” type=”image” alt=”P9130051.JPG” image_size=”2048×1536″ ]

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.

[peg-image src=”” href=”″ caption=”Awesome” type=”image” alt=”P9130061.JPG” image_size=”2048×1536″ ]

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.

[peg-image src=”” href=”″ caption=”Brook Trout Territory” type=”image” alt=”P9130060.JPG” image_size=”2048×1536″ ]

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.

[peg-image src=”” href=”″ caption=”A Large Snack for a Small Fish” type=”image” alt=”P9130070.JPG” image_size=”2048×1536″ ]

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

[peg-image src=”” href=”″ caption=”The Guard Dog Did Not Want to Let Me Pass” type=”image” alt=”P9130044.JPG” image_size=”2048×1536″ ]



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.

[peg-image src=”” href=”″ caption=”Tall Aspens” type=”image” alt=”P9120038.JPG” image_size=”2048×1536″ ]

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.

[peg-image src=”” href=”″ caption=”Very Nice Rainbow Trout in My Net” type=”image” alt=”P9120030.JPG” image_size=”2048×1536″ ]

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.

[peg-image src=”” href=”″ caption=”Beauty Abounds” type=”image” alt=”P9120028.JPG” image_size=”2048×1536″ ]

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.

[peg-image src=”” href=”″ caption=”Pool Toy Snack” type=”image” alt=”P9120037.JPG” image_size=”2048×1536″ ]

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.

[peg-image src=”” href=”″ caption=”Deep Slots Ruled” type=”image” alt=”P9110019.JPG” image_size=”2048×1536″ ]

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.

[peg-image src=”” href=”″ caption=”Best Cutthroat of the Week” type=”image” alt=”P9110004.JPG” image_size=”2048×1536″ ]

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.

[peg-image src=”” href=”″ caption=”Fish of the Day” type=”image” alt=”P9110007.JPG” image_size=”2048×1536″ ]

[peg-image src=”–euJ6cq1ZGo/WbxEsyzMDvI/AAAAAAABOqk/2AjOnaPDwbMIY9S6QUKQVm_iskYXWvJnACCoYBhgL/s144-o/P9110010.JPG” href=”″ caption=”Displaying the Chubby Whitefish” type=”image” alt=”P9110010.JPG” image_size=”2048×1536″ ]

Included in my catch on Monday was a sixteen inch rainbow, a couple of feisty thirteen inch bows, and a significant  number 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.

[peg-image src=”” href=”″ caption=”Rather Nice” type=”image” alt=”P9110016.JPG” image_size=”2048×1536″ ]

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

North Fork of the White River – 09/14/2016

Time: 10:00AM – 3:30PM

Location: Between Himes Peak Campground and Trappers Lake

North Fork of the White River 09/14/2016

My expectations were sky high as I drove along the dirt road toward the North Fork of the White River on Wednesday morning after experiencing a spectacular day on Tuesday. I decided to fish in the same segment of the North Fork, but a different stretch. My car was packed with a wet tent, rain fly and footprint; the result of a heavy rain shower while in the midst of assembling my tent on Tuesday evening. Fortunately the inside of the tent remained dry, and I enjoyed a peaceful night of sleep, but the wet contents in my SUV would require some significant drying time. I decided to fish until late afternoon on Wednesday, and then drive to Avon, CO, where my wife was staying at the Timbers Bachelor Gulch Resort with a friend. Such a drastic change in lifestyle within twenty-four hours made me wonder if I could adjust.

[peg-image src=”” href=”″ caption=”Better Focus” type=”image” alt=”P9140099.JPG” image_size=”2048×1536″ ]

I once again assembled my Orvis Access four weight rod, as it is shorter and lighter than my other fly rods, and I discovered that it is nearly perfect for small stream conditions. The storms that passed through on Tuesday evening left behind a trail of heavy cloud cover, and I wore my raincoat for warmth and protection against rain for the entire day. This proved to be a solid choice, as two periods of rain passed over my fishing location, and the second storm delivered a fairly heavy downpour for ten minutes.

Similar to Tuesday I began my fly fishing day with a pool toy with a beige body, and beneath the foam terrestrial I attached a salvation nymph. My choice of flies seemed perceptive, as I landed two fish fairly early in my progression up the North Fork, but then a fairly lengthy dry spell ensued. This pattern of landing a few fish and then fruitless casting would repeat itself throughout the day, and it resulted in a cumulative fish count of fifteen. This may sound like an enviable day, but it took place over five hours of fishing, and some simple division reveals a catch rate slightly over two per hour. I covered at least a mile of stream in the process of landing fifteen fish, and this entailed some fairly strenuous climbing and scrambling to circumvent rocks and fallen trees.

[peg-image src=”” href=”″ caption=”Another Fine Catch” type=”image” alt=”P9140105.JPG” image_size=”2048×1536″ ]

I adhered to the dry/dropper approach most of the day, although given my success rate, I probably should have experimented with different methods. I was mistakenly fixated on the idea that what worked on Tuesday, would bring success on Wednesday. Adding to this certainty was the unsettled weather and thick cloud cover which normally provokes insect activity and active fish. Part way through the afternoon, I lost the pool toy, so I tested a fat Albert with a red body, but this exchange did not enhance my success rate. Eventually I reverted to the pool toy as the top fly. The bottom flies were another story, as I cycled through an ultra zug bug, pheasant tail, copper John, and dark cahill in an effort to find a consistent producer. The copper John accounted for a couple fish, and the ultra zug bug added one; but the best combination remained the beadhead hares ear and salvation nymph.

[peg-image src=”” href=”″ caption=”Narrow Shelf Pool Was Inviting” type=”image” alt=”P9140108.JPG” image_size=”2048×1536″ ]

Once again I lost three salvation nymphs, and I seem to go through this fly faster than a fraternity house consumes beer on a party weekend. The largest fish on Wednesday were several twelve inch cutbows, and for some strange reason only two brook trout languished in my net. During the afternoon I hooked two hot fish that immediately dashed beneath some fallen logs and snapped of the flies. In the first instance the trout gulped the hopper, and the break off resulted in the loss of all three flies and a time consuming reconfiguration of my line.

[peg-image src=”” href=”″ caption=”A Work of Art” type=”image” alt=”P9140111.JPG” image_size=”2048×1536″ ]

Unlike Tuesday I performed a huge amount of fruitless casting throughout the day. Places that appeared similar to trout magnets of Tuesday, did not produce. How do I explain this dichotomy of results? I can only speculate. Perhaps the stretch of water was subject to more fishing pressure? It was moderately more accessible, so that is a possibility. The gradient seemed steeper, and the stream offered fewer deep holding spots, so this may have played into the slow day. For some reason rainbows and cutbows were the predominant species, so perhaps a reduced population of gullible brook trout offer another clue. On Tuesday I fished numerous juicy pockets where I experienced a refusal or temporary hook up with a rainbow, and I followed up with a second cast that yielded a brook trout. This sequence did not play out on Wednesday. Another factor may have been the weather, which was more adverse to a human fly fisherman; however, I generally find that adverse weather is a positive for fish. Finally I seemed to spend more time hooked to branches, rocks and sticks, and this detracted from the amount of time that my flies were in the water.

[peg-image src=”” href=”″ caption=”Color in the Flattops” type=”image” alt=”P9140112.JPG” image_size=”2048×1536″ ]

At any rate I spent another day in the remote backcountry of the Flattops, and it is hard to find fault with that. The fish I landed were gorgeous jewels, and I had my share of long distance releases, so the connection rate was better than the count might suggest. The foliage was changing, and the leaves were spectacular, and I bumped into only one other fishermen in four days on the streams. Health permitting I will likely return to the Flattops again in 2017.

Fish Landed: 15

[peg-image src=”” href=”″ caption=”Bad Weather Moving into the Flattops” type=”image” alt=”P9140113.JPG” image_size=”2048×1536″ ]

North Fork of the White River – 09/13/2016

Time: 10:00AM – 5:00PM

Location: Between Himes Peak Campground and Trappers Lake

North Fork of the White River 09/13/2016 Photo Album

Some days are just magical, and the White River historically accounted for many memorable experiences. A tough day on the South Fork, however, triggered serious doubts in my fishing obsessed brain. Was 2016 simply a bad year for the waterways in the Flattops region?

After a career in finance and accounting I confess that I am a chronic counter. This character trait applies to money and baseball stats, and unfortunately it transfers to my passion of fly fishing. The reader can confirm my tendency by clicking on the fish counter tab on this blog. A quick glance at the first table reveals that my record year for cumulative fish count was 2012, when 930 trout found my net. As an aside I only count trout greater than six inches long, and I do not count foul hooked fish unless the fly is in the vicinity of the mouth. I do count fish if they slide free of the fly, as I begin the process of elevating toward my net.

In 2015 I narrowly missed setting a new record, but cold weather halted my progress by Thanksgiving, and I fell short by seventeen fish. In 2012 when I set my new high, my son’s girlfriend suggested that I should target 1,000, since I was so close, but time ran out before I could accomplish her challenge.

I underwent a significant surgical procedure in January 2016, and although I scheduled it during the winter intentionally, so that I could recover before the main season, I suspected that the rehabilitation period would crimp my ability to attain a new record. Fast forward to September 13, 2016, and I found myself perched on a fish count of 975, as I anticipated a day of fishing in one of my favorite places, the North Fork of the White River. I attributed my standing to a faster than expected recovery from surgery, some unexpected high fish count days, and a retired status that enabled frequent outings to Colorado streams.

I departed the South Fork Campground on Tuesday morning and made the one hour drive over mostly dirt roads in an hour, and then I pulled into the North Fork Campground and paid for site number 24 for Tuesday night. Three deer and two ringneck pheasants made an appearance, as I traveled along the remote backcountry roads. After securing my lodging for the night, I proceeded to a pullout along the road that leads to Trappers Lake, and I prepared for a day of fishing. The temperature was 55 degrees so I pulled on my raincoat as a windbreaker, and this layer remained in place for the remainder of the day, and I never felt overdressed. The temperature never surpassed the low sixties, and the cutting wind was brutal.

[peg-image src=”” href=”″ caption=”Tree Debris Everywhere” type=”image” alt=”P9130052.JPG” image_size=”2048×1536″ ]

Before I stepped into my waders, I hiked across the burnt hillside, so I could gaze at the river, and miraculously I encountered a feint trail that scaled the steep hillside and led to the edge of the stream. I accepted this good fortune, and after I assembled my Orvis Access four weight, I utilized the access trail. Once I reached the North Fork, I scrambled farther downstream along the base of the hillside for one hundred yards, and here I began my quest for trout and hopefully number 1,000.

[peg-image src=”” href=”″ caption=”Cutthroat Loved the Pool Toy” type=”image” alt=”P9130051.JPG” image_size=”2048×1536″ ]

I tied the tan pool toy, that I utilized Monday, to my line; and I began to prospect the obvious deep holding spots. The stream in this area was relatively narrow with a steep gradient, and a large quantity of downed trees leftover from a past wildfire crossed the river at various intervals. This combination of natural obstacles made wading a challenge, but it also created some very attractive trout holding structure. Fairly early in my pursuit of trout it became obvious that the pool toy was a popular fish attractor. I landed six fish on the hopper, and this included some beautiful trout in the twelve to fourteen inch range. The first resident of my net was a deeply colored cutbow, and it was followed by a colorful brook trout. The first six also included some gorgeous rainbows, and I was quite pleased with my early good fortune.

[peg-image src=”” href=”″ caption=”Gorgeous Cutthroat” type=”image” alt=”P9130053.JPG” image_size=”2048×1536″ ]

 [peg-image src=”” href=”″ caption=”Submerged” type=”image” alt=”P9130066.JPG” image_size=”2048×1536″ ]

By 11:30 I was locked on five fish, and I set a goal of reaching eight by noon, when I planned to break for lunch. I am not certain why I set these ridiculous fish count goals, but I suppose it is part of my nature. As the morning evolved, I felt that I covered productive spots that failed to yield fish, so I added a salvation nymph dropper to the foam hopper, and this change delivered number seven.

[peg-image src=”” href=”″ caption=”Crimson Is Amazing on This Fish” type=”image” alt=”P9130067.JPG” image_size=”2048×1536″ ]

As I sat on a long log and enjoyed my lunch, the weather peaked for the day, and the sun made a rare appearance. I mentally reviewed my morning, and I realized that significant holes with depth and length produced fish. In the afternoon I would discover the reason for this observation. In addition to the seven fish that I successfully landed, I also experienced four or five temporary hook ups with the pool toy hopper, and this frustrated me.

[peg-image src=”” href=”″ caption=”Lunch Log” type=”image” alt=”P9130072.JPG” image_size=”2048×1536″ ]

After lunch I discovered why the marginal small pockets and shallow riffles failed to produce in the morning. These places were the domain of the brook trout, and they preferred the smaller salvation dropper over the large surface hopper imitation. Between 12:30 and 5:00 the greatest hurdle to my fish catching success was determining how to maneuver around and over the plentiful natural obstructions to my progress. Dead fire damaged logs criss crossed the stream everywhere, but if I managed to circumvent the obstacles to get in the proper position, the fish appeared, and they relished my offerings. I landed my share of rainbows, cutthroats, and cutbows, but the brook trout were insatiable.

[peg-image src=”” href=”″ caption=”What a Jewel” type=”image” alt=”P9130079.JPG” image_size=”2048×1536″ ]

I estimate that I landed five cutthroats in the afternoon, ten rainbows/cutbows and twenty-six brookies. That is a lot of brook trout, and they were not universally six and seven inch dwarfs. Four or five were in the nine to twelve inch range, and that is a nice length for brook trout in a small stream. More stunning than their size was the intense color of these wild jewels, and I could not resist photographing them.

[peg-image src=”” href=”″ caption=”Deep Background Color” type=”image” alt=”P9130085.JPG” image_size=”2048×1536″ ]

Just before 3PM I realized that my fish count on the day was twenty-four, and therefore, the cumulative count was 999. I hoped that the next fish would not be a six inch brook trout, and I was not disappointed, as a brilliant twelve inch rainbow shot to the surface and crushed the pool toy. It was an appropriate conclusion to my quest for 1,000, and I took a moment to celebrate.  A brief shout of joy sufficed, and then I resumed my search for more trout in the North Fork of the White River.

[peg-image src=”” href=”″ caption=”Number 1,000!” type=”image” alt=”P9130087.JPG” image_size=”2048×1536″ ]

In the afternoon momentary hook ups on the pool toy continued to frustrate me, and the escaping fish appeared to by above average size. In the past I blamed the dropper for this circumstance, but the same long distance releases plagued me in the morning, when only one fly was attached to my line. Midway through the afternoon the pool toy lost all its legs, and I suspect that rubber knotted legs are a key triggering characteristic of a hopper. I removed the handicapped hopper and replaced it with a Charlie boy with the hope that perhaps a different grasshopper imitation would eliminate the failed hook ups. Perhaps it was purely coincidental, but ten minutes elapsed with no action on the Charlie boy/salvation combination, so I returned to a new tan pool toy with its legs intact.

[peg-image src=”” href=”″ caption=”Best Brook Trout on Tuesday” type=”image” alt=”P9130093.JPG” image_size=”2048×1536″ ]

On Tuesday September 13 I had a blast. The annoying wind was a negative factor, but the fish were responsive to my flies, and they generally emerged where I expected. I easily fell into a smooth rhythm, and an almost certain top ten day resulted. Judging from the lack of worn paths, I suspect that I was off the fisherman grid, and this is understandable given the impediments to accessing the stream and the difficult wading. 1,000 fish says it all!

Fish Landed: 48

[peg-image src=”” href=”″ caption=”A Waterfall Enters the Main Stream” type=”image” alt=”P9130090.JPG” image_size=”2048×1536″ ]



South Fork of the White River – 09/12/2016

Time: 9:30AM – 4:00PM

Location: 2 – 5 miles above the South Fork Campground

South Fork of the White River 09/12/2016 Photo Album

My journey into the backcountry of the Flattops along the South Fork Trail qualified as the number one day of fly fishing during 2015. Needless to say I was exceptionally excited about my prospects on Monday September 12, 2016. Originally I planned to have a fishing companion on my 2016 excursion, but John’s participation was quashed by a tennis tournament. My buddy John read about Lost Solar Creek, a tributary of the South Fork, in a Colorado fly fishing guidebook, and fishing in Lost Solar Creek immediately found a place on his bucket list. A five mile hike to Lost Solar Creek was in our plans.

Ironically I had a conversation with a fellow camper on Sunday evening, and he informed me that there was a wild fire in the Lost Solar Creek drainage, and it was closed to fishing and hiking. John’s tennis tournament saved him the disappointment of being denied access to his dream destination. When I woke up on Monday morning, I experienced firsthand confirmation of the wildfire, as the smell of thick sooty smoke smothered the campground. My camping friend warned me that the smoke was the worst in the morning, until the wind picked up and pushed it toward the north and east.

[peg-image src=”” href=”″ caption=”Panorama of Ridge” type=”image” alt=”P9120033.JPG” image_size=”1616×720″ ]

Given my elevated state of eager anticipation to renew my success on the South Fork, I was ready to hike by 8:30. I pulled on my waders, assembled my Sage four weight, stuffed my backpack with a lunch, and set out at a vigorous pace. It was quite chilly at the outset, but I blocked the urge to wear an extra layer, as I knew the exertion from hiking would quickly overheat my body. The trail was worn deeply by the impact of horseshoes, and the lack of rain caused each foot strike to kick up a small dust cloud. After I hiked for two miles I paused to look at a steep vertical ridge to the north, and here I gazed upon several dense clouds of smoke obscuring the gray rock face. I snapped a few photos to forward to John upon my return.

[peg-image src=”” href=”″ caption=”Lots of Smoke to the Northeast” type=”image” alt=”P9120034.JPG” image_size=”2048×1536″ ]

After an hour of hiking at a rapid pace, I veered to the right and approached the edge of the river. Once again I was mesmerized by the clarity of the stream, but I quickly refocused on fly fishing and knotted the same tan pool toy and salvation nymph to my line that I deployed on Sunday, but on Monday I began with a hares ear instead of the ultra zug bug as the middle fly. Between 9:30 and noon I landed four small rainbow trout, and I can assure the readers that it was tough fishing and not even close to my elevated expectations based on my 2015 venture. I limited casts to water at least three feet deep, as I leveraged my Sunday experience near the campground, but even this discretionary approach did not aid my efforts to establish an above average fish count.

[peg-image src=”” href=”″ caption=”Fine Speckles” type=”image” alt=”P9120043.JPG” image_size=”2048×1536″ ] [peg-image src=”” href=”″ caption=”Sending Away” type=”image” alt=”P9120041.JPG” image_size=”2048×1536″ ]

After lunch I began to doubt the dry/dropper strategy, so I experimented with different approaches. First I tried a solitary dry fly in the form of an olive stimulator, but the fish showed no interest, not even a look or refusal. Because the flow was higher than normal, and I was fishing deep spots, I tested a deep nymphing setup with an indicator, split shot, iron sally and beadhead hares ear. This ploy did not last long, as I repeatedly got hung up, and the lack of attention from fish did not justify the hassle.

[peg-image src=”–aAeWHeHUGQ/V9y3uiJBg_I/AAAAAAABDGs/LG5xrhaygB0ym3lr40g0v6E_G4_vLIxTwCCo/s144-o/P9120035.JPG” href=”″ caption=”Crystal Clear South Fork” type=”image” alt=”P9120035.JPG” image_size=”2048×1536″ ]

Finally I returned to the dry/dropper method with a yellow fat Albert leading the way, and below that I dangled an ultra zug bug and salvation nymph. When I reviewed my 2015 post I recalled that these two flies were heavy producers. These three flies remained on my line from 1PM until 4PM, and I accumulated seven additional fish to bring my total on the day to eleven. In addition I endured five long distance releases, so the action was better than the morning, although it was never comparable to 2015. From 2 – 3 PM I passed through a very attractive area where the river narrowed and created an abundance of deep runs and pockets among numerous exposed boulders. This segment produced generous quantities of above average trout in 2015, but history did not repeat on September 12. The highlight of the afternoon was a fourteen inch rainbow that grabbed the salvation, and this connection generated a significant test to my fish battling skills.

[peg-image src=”” href=”″ caption=”The South Fork Trail” type=”image” alt=”P9120046.JPG” image_size=”2048×1536″ ]

Insect activity was completely absent, unlike 2015 when pale morning duns, blue winged olives and caddis made appearances around mid-afternoon. The wind was quite blustery, and this circumstance made accurate casting quite a challenge. I wore my raincoat as a windbreaker for the duration of the afternoon, and I was never too warm. It was a tough day on the South Fork, and I am baffled for reasons. It felt like the season was more advanced than previous trips, so perhaps the late summer hatches were over, and this explained the lack of activity? The water was higher and colder, so perhaps the metabolism of the trout was already reduced? Should I have persisted with the single dry fly longer, as the presentation of a lighter fly with a soft landing may have been more to the liking of the trout? Did a group of fishermen pass through during the summer and catch their limit of fish repeatedly, thus, reducing the wild population? Perhaps the wind announced the arrival of a cold front, and the weather change put down the fish?

[peg-image src=”” href=”″ caption=”Aspens Golden” type=”image” alt=”P9120047.JPG” image_size=”2048×1536″ ]

I will never know the answer, but I am not giving up on the South Fork. Historically it has been more temperamental than the North Fork, so I will continue to take my chances. The slow day did make my decision on where to fish on Tuesday easy. I prepared to move on to the North Fork Campground and the North Fork of the White River to fish.

Fish Landed: 11