Category Archives: White River

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

Time: 11:00AM – 3:30PM

Location: Between North Fork Campground and Trappers Lake

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

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

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

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

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

Ice Confirms It Was Cold Overnight

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

Lovely Spot for a Fish

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

Early Success

Pastel Color Scheme

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

In Front of the Partially Exposed Rock Right of Center

Zoomed a Bit Closer

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

Another Hopper Fan

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

Very Nice

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

Deep Color and Fine Width

Excellent Specimen

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

Very Nice for the Char Species

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

So Much Scarlet

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

Fish Landed: 24

The Word Glow Comes to Mind

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

Time: 10:00AM – 2:00PM

Location: Between North Fork Campground and Trappers Lake

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

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

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

Honey Hole

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

Whew! Brilliant.

So Bright

Trout Lair for Sure

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

Spawning Colors

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

Left Side Attractive


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

Loving This Chunk

Lighter Coloration

Such a Gorgeous Fish

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

Fish Landed: 25

Autumn Advancing

Marvine Creek – 09/17/2020

Time: 10:00AM – 4:00PM

Location: Upstream from Marvine Creek Campground

Marvine Creek 09/17/2020 Photo Album

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

Crowded Trailhead

Entering the Backcountry

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

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

Easily the Best Fish of the Day

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

Yum Yum

A Fine Brook Trout

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

One of the Better Brookies from Marvine

Room to Grow

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

More Orange

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

Glowing Bushes

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

Fish Landed: 31

Campsite at North Fork Campground

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

Time: 10:30AM – 5:00PM

Location: Between North Fork Campground and Trappers Lake

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

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

The Leaves in Transition

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

Tough Wading Ahead

Performed the Heavy Lifting

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

Nature’s Pallet

Cutbows Shared the River

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

Predator Brook Trout

Do Not Skip Behind the Log

Color of Stripe Matches the Leaves

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

Money in the Bank

Not the Rock Band Slash

Tail Drag

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

Stunning Colors and Spots

The Colors of the Rainbow

So Many Spots!

They Keep on Coming

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

Fish Landed: 47

Cannot Skip This Spot

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

Time: 10:30AM – 4:00PM

Location: Southeast of the South Fork Campground

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

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

No. 6 at South Fork Campground

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

Grandeur of the Flatttops

Nice Clear Deep Run

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

Subtle Pink Stripe

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



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

Cast Worthy

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

Power Curl

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

Fish Landed: 13

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

Time: 1:30PM – 5:00PM

Location: Between North Fork Campground and Trappers Lake

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

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

Branch in a Bad Place

Salvation Nymph

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

Nice Grip

Speckles and Stripes

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

Slip Away

Surely Home to a Fish

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

Fish Landed: 15

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

Time: 10:00AM – 4:00PM

Location: Between North Fork Campground and Trappers Lake

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

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

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

Prime Small Stream Location

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

Brook Trout Brilliance

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

More Cutthroat Than Rainbow

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

Prize of the Day

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

Let Me At It

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

Those Colors

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

Typical Water

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

Silvery Brook Trout

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

Afternoon Success

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

Fish Landed: 23

Leaves Beginning to Change

Marvine Creek – 09/16/2019

Time: 10:30AM – 4:00PM

Location: Upstream from the Marvine Creek Trailhead

Marvine Creek 09/16/2019 Photo Album

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

Near the Start

Workhorse Salvation Nymph

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

Teeth Marks and Missing Legs after a Day of Fishing

Brilliant Color

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

Dazzling Beauty

Likely Home of Trout

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

Could Not Resist This Mouthful

Belly Check

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

Big Surprise

Net Filler

More Cutthroat Coloration on This One

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

Love the Left Side

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

Fish Landed: 38

Head of the Beaver Pond

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

Time: 10:00AM – 4:00PM

Location: Upstream from the South Fork Campground

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

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

Remote South Fork

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

Do Bears Eat These?

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

Trough Below the Exposed Rock Equals Fish

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

I Love the Orange Fins

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

The Most Productive Fly on Sunday, a Salvation Nymph

Top Fly All Day, Pool Toy Hopper

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

Another Rainbow Lair

No End to Rainbows

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

Deep Along the Edge

Hand for Perspective

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

Perfect Pose

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

Grip Gap

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

Fish Landed: 24

Berries Next to Campsite

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

Time: 1:00PM – 4:30PM

Location: Between North Fork Campground and Trappers Lake

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

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

Fast Water

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

Lovely Rainbow or Cutbow

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

Target for My Flies

Long One

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

Another Wide Body

A Brook Trout Joins the Mix

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

Fish Landed: 31

Korkers and Bear Locker in This View