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


South Fork of the White River – 09/11/2016

Time: 3:00PM – 5:00PM

Location: Upstream from South Fork Campground

South Fork of the White River 09/11/2016 Photo Album

Since the inception of this blog I enjoyed nearly annual trips to the Flattops area of Colorado to fish the North Fork and South Fork of the White River. If you search on White River, you can read about these historical adventures. Generally the fishing has been excellent for abundant quantities of small rainbow, cutthroat and brook trout; but the true attraction is the beauty and remoteness of the Flattops area. During September quite a few hunters make the trip, but they tend to set up camp along the high ridges and mountain passes. I generally have the streams to myself during this time.

Sunday September 11 was the start of my 2016 trip to the White River. I checked the weather forecast before my departure, and I noted that the best days were Sunday and Monday with cooler temperatures and a greater chance of rain on Tuesday and Wednesday. During 2015 I enjoyed my best day of fly fishing of the entire year, when I hiked for an hour along the South Fork, and I anxiously anticipated another foray into the remote reaches of this branch, so I decided to make the South Fork my destination for the first half of my stay. In order to position myself for an early start and lengthy hike, I set up camp at the South Fork Campground. I prefered the campsites at North Fork because of the presence of tent pads, but that campground was 22 miles away from the South Fork Trailhead.

[peg-image src=”” href=”″ caption=”Another View” type=”image” alt=”P9110030.JPG” image_size=”2048×1536″ ]

I arrived at the campground by 1:30 and chose site number 8, as it was close to the trailhead and mainly free of tall trees on the eastern side. In September I seek the warming effect of the sun in the early morning hours. I ate a quick lunch and transferred food bins to the bear proof locker, and then I paid for one night. Sunday was a gorgeous day with temperatures approaching eighty degrees even at the high elevation of the South Fork, so I decided to sample the fishing for a couple hours. I climbed into my new Hodgman waders and assembled my Orvis Access four weight and hiked up the trail for ten minutes, before I cut over to the river at a convenient access point.

[peg-image src=”” href=”″ caption=”Pretty Spectacular” type=”image” alt=”P9110025.JPG” image_size=”2048×1536″ ]

Because this stretch of the South Fork was near the campground, I assumed that it received significant pressure during the summer months, so I was skeptical that I would experience much success. The flows were excellent for early September, and I marveled at the clear cold water, as it tumbled over light tan and gray rocks in the brilliant sunlight.

[peg-image src=”” href=”″ caption=”Decent Size” type=”image” alt=”P9110024.JPG” image_size=”2048×1536″ ]

I decided to begin my quest for bonus time trout with a tan pool toy, beadhead ultra zug bug, and a salvation nymph. Once I configured my line with these offerings, I tossed the flies to the top of a nice deep depression, and almost immediately the pool toy took a dive, and I set the hook. The clarity of the water enabled me to catch a glimpse of a sizable fish with silvery sides, but it thrashed and dove unlike a rainbow trout. Sure enough, as I applied pressure, I learned that I was attached to a sixteen inch whitefish. Normally I am disappointed with a whitefish, but this fish was a surprise and a welcome catch early in my outing. I was amazed that such a large fish possessed a tiny mouth, and the salvation nymph was embedded in the soft lips that surrounded the round opening. I snapped a few photos to capture the shimmering silver beauty of the sides of the wild fish, as it reminded me of a grayling.

Next I moved a bit farther upstream, and I cast the dry/dropper combination to the top of a narrow deep slot. As the pool toy drifted toward the tail of the trough, it once again dipped, and I executed a solid hook set. This time the pricked fish streaked back and forth several times, until I coaxed it into my net and marveled at a fourteen inch rainbow trout that also favored the salvation nymph. What a thrill to enjoy this early success near the campground on Sunday; a day on which I did not plan to fish.

[peg-image src=”” href=”″ caption=”Quite a Prize” type=”image” alt=”P9110027.JPG” image_size=”2048×1536″ ]

[peg-image src=”” href=”″ caption=”More Enticing Pocket Water” type=”image” alt=”P9110028.JPG” image_size=”2048×1536″ ]

Unfortunately the action slowed after the initial successes, but I did manage to land four additional small rainbows. Two measured in the ten inch range and the others were smaller. One of the four inhaled the hares ear nymph, and the remainder savored the salvation similar to their larger cousin. In addition I experienced three temporary hook ups with small fish, so this added to the action during the two hour period. All the fish emerged from deep water, and I quickly discovered it was a waste of energy to prospect the smaller marginal pockets and runs. I also filed this information away for Monday, when I planned to skip the marginal water and focus on deeper high probability locations. Sunday was a great introduction to the South Fork of the White River in 2016.

Fish Landed: 5 + 1 whitefish

South Fork of White River – 09/10/2015

Time: 10:00AM – 5:00PM

Location: Hiked for 40 minutes and then began above a long small braid. I was approximately 3.5 miles from the trailhead when I quit.

Fish Landed: 38

South Fork of White River 09/10/2015 Photo Album

What can I say about a spectacular day of fly fishing such as I experienced on Thursday, September 10? I am still euphoric now, three days later. I was in a remote location among gorgeous scenery with perfect weather and large quantities of hungry trout with no other human beings present. And what if I were to add that many of the fish were sizable backcountry football shaped rainbows?

Before I visited the Flattops in 2015 I read my posts from my visit in September 2014. I was impressed by the fact that I identified certain water types that produced fish, so I attempted to apply this knowledge to my 2015 South Fork outing. I skipped large sections of wide shallow riffles, and I also abstained from marginal pockets or limited myself to two casts. The strategy was effective as evidenced by my fish count.

The thermometer registered 41 degrees when I pulled into the South Fork trailhead lot at 9AM. I elected to wear a neck gaiter that I pulled up over my ears, and I also tugged my Adidas pullover over my head for added warmth. The pullover did not last more than fifteen minutes, as I walked at a rapid pace and began to perspire quickly despite the cold air temperatures. I stopped and wrapped the arms of the pullover around my waist under my waders, and the Adidas apparel remained in this position for the remainder of the day as the high temperature probably reached the upper sixties.

After a forty minute hike I began fishing at 10AM with a gray pool toy, salvation nymph and dark cahill wet fly. My devoted readers may ask, why a dark cahill wet fly? I decided to experiment with some oldies that I carry around in my fly box. These are flies that I tied many years ago, and I continue to question if they might produce if given an opportunity. I assumed that I had one proven fish catcher on my line in the salvation nymnph, so I was not taking a huge risk. The experiment was largely a bust as the dark cahill did not produce nor did the size 16 amber nymph that I replaced it with. I landed a fish on the salvation nymph while the oldies were attached to my line, so at least I know the fish were eating and preferred a different fly.

[pe2-image src=”” href=”″ caption=”Check the Girth on This Fish” type=”image” alt=”P9100053.JPG” ]

Eventually I settled on the subsurface combination of a salvation nymph and a beadhead ultra zug bug. At noon I quit for lunch, and by that time I moved my fish count to ten. Most were small trout, but two were quite nice rainbows that challenged my fish landing capabilities. The third fish of the day was a huge surprise that responded to a backhand lob to some soft water created where the river deflected off a large boulder along the bank. No sooner did the flies hit the deep hole than there was a large bulge. At first I thought the fish took the pool toy, and then I conjectured that I foul hooked it, as it refused the top fly. But once I slid the rainbow into my net I could see that it had the salvation nymph it its lip. Another of the first four trout was a feisty thirteen inch cutbow.

[pe2-image src=”” href=”″ caption=”Salvation Nymph Did Its Job” type=”image” alt=”P9100054.JPG” ]

The morning water presented a lot of wide shallow stream real estate, so I believe that my selective approach enabled me to be efficient and thus move my fish count to ten earlier than previous visits to the South Fork. Midway through the morning I was having significant difficulty following the pool toy in the shadows and glare created by the low sun in the eastern sky. Also the pool toy was a carryover from the one I used on Wednesday, and it was somewhat mangled and rode very low in the water. I used this as an opportunity to switch it for a chubby Chernobyl as the top fly, and this exchange solved the visibility problem for awhile.

[pe2-image src=”” href=”″ caption=”And One More” type=”image” alt=”P9100057.JPG” ]

 [pe2-image src=”” href=”″ caption=”Lots of Flesh on This Fish” type=”image” alt=”P9100059.JPG” ]

After lunch I picked up a few more small fish, but the lighting improved, and I converted to a tan pool toy along with the salvation nymph and a beadhead ultra zug bug. These flies were the workhorse imitations for most of the afternoon and accounted for the bulk of my catch. There was a period in the middle of the afternoon when I lost the ultra zug bug, so I tried a size 18 beadhead pheasant tail as my point fly. This fly became a hot item as I landed five straight fish, and it actually outperformed the salvation. Two of the pheasant tail consumers were substantial fish in the 15-16 inch range.

[pe2-image src=”” href=”″ caption=”Pretty Catch Stretched Out” type=”image” alt=”P9100060.JPG” ]

 [pe2-image src=”” href=”″ caption=”Longer Than the Net Opening” type=”image” alt=”P9100061.JPG” ]

The last hour was fairly slow until I foul hooked a missile of a fish before 5PM. I fought the streaking fish up and down the river on all sides until I finally leveraged it to the surface and learned that it was foul hooked in the cheek. I struggled to hoist the sizable rainbow within fifteen feet of my position, and then a bad knot gave way, and I lost all three flies. This made my decision easy, and I quit for the day.

Just as I experienced last September, long deep riffles and deep pockets produced fish. The bigger fish tended to emerge from prime lies near the bank. Thirty-eight fish is a big number, but more impressive was the size of the fish. At least eight of the fish that visited my net were in the 14-17 inch size range, and they were well fed judging from their width to length ratio. It was an amazing day. One of the big fish took the pool toy, but the salvation and pheasant tail were the most desirable flies for the bruisers. I probably lost two or three additional large fish in the similar size range, but my landing performance was clearly superior to that of 2014.

[pe2-image src=”” href=”″ caption=”I Cannot Wait to Fish This” type=”image” alt=”P9100062.JPG” ]

 [pe2-image src=”” href=”″ caption=”Big Rainbows Keep Coming” type=”image” alt=”P9100063.JPG” ]

September 10 certainly ranks as one of my best experiences of 2015 if not number one. I’m already planning next year, and I expect to hike even farther and thus skip most of the less desirable morning water. What a day! I exceeded my expectations with significant numbers and many big fish sprinkled in to keep things interesting. If I have a better day than this over the remainder of the season, I am in for a lot of fun.

[pe2-image src=”” href=”″ caption=”Away from the Net” type=”image” alt=”P9100064.JPG” ]

 [pe2-image src=”” href=”″ caption=”Vivid Spots and Stripe” type=”image” alt=”P9100065.JPG” ]

North Fork of White River – 09/09/2015

Time: 10:00AM – 4:00PM

Location: Himes Peak Campground from western border with private land upstream a mile. At the end of the day, 30 minutes on the White River across from the North Fork Campground.

Fish Landed: 38

North Fork of White River 09/09/2015 Photo Album

Wednesday represented another episode of my repeat of my 2014 experience. I decided to once again visit the Himes Peak Campground area along the North Fork. This segment of the river has been my dependable productive location on all my previous trips. Could it continue the streak?

For some reason I slept until 7:45 on Wednesday morning after falling asleep at 9:30. If you do the math, that equates to over ten hours of sleep. I did have a headache on Tuesday evening, so perhaps my body was reacting to a mild case of altitude sickness. At any rate, sleeping later than normal allowed me to avoid the colder pre-dawn temperatures, as the sun had already poked above the eastern hills and helped to warm the air temperature. I hustled to eat my breakfast, prepare lunch, and complete my normal morning camping routine; although the drive to Himes Peak was only ten miles, and plenty of time remained for me to begin fishing at a productive time.

I arrived at the Himes Peak Campground at 9:30 and once again chose my Loomis five weight for duty. If I expect to toss heavy buoyant dry flies as part of a dry/dropper configuration, I prefer the slow action of the Loomis. Also it is six inches shorter than my Sage rods, and I feel that it places less stress on my shoulder when executing repetitive line pick up motions. When I was ready to hit the water, I wandered into the campground as I was searching for a path that would take me to the stream below the pedestrian hiking bridge. Normally I begin above the bridge, but I hoped to cover some new water to the west. As I was walking about uncertain of my direction, a gentleman called out from the first campsite. He was about to chomp into a nice slab of trout for breakfast, but he interrupted his feast to suggest that I could walk through his campsite and take the path to the river that began there. He was rather proud of his breakfast, and he went on to inform me that he caught the fleshy treat from Slide Lake which can be reached from the Marvin Creek drainage.

[pe2-image src=”” href=”″ caption=”Out of the Net” type=”image” alt=”P9090030.JPG” ]

 [pe2-image src=”” href=”″ caption=”Juicy Hole” type=”image” alt=”P9090031.JPG” ]

I thanked him for his assistance and walked down the path and then west until I found the downstream border with the adjoining private ranch land. I settled on a size 14 gray stimulator as my first offering to the North Fork trout, and I began prospecting likely holding spots with the buoyant attractor. My efforts resulted in two momentary hook ups, but then I went quite a while with no action. This lack of response caused me to convert to a gray pool toy and salvation nymph since these performed admirably on Tuesday. It was not a novel move, but it worked perfectly, and I deployed these flies along with the intermittent use of a hare nation for the remainder of my time on the water.

I moved upstream and landed four decent fish by the time I encountered another fisherman, or actually two. Three of the four fish were extracted from an extremely productive run not far above the footbridge, and several of the first four trout were quite nice and prompted photos. The two fishermen I met on Wednesday would be the only competing anglers I saw on my entire three day stay in the Flattops. Since there was an enormous amount of open water above me, I simply exited the stream and circled above them. This involved climbing a steep bank to the Himes Peak entry road, and then I followed a trail along the fence line until I cut back down to the river before reaching some thick bushes and trees.

[pe2-image src=”” href=”″ caption=”This Cutbow Has Gold Color and Pool Toy in Mouth” type=”image” alt=”P9090035.JPG” ]

I resumed fishing and increased my fish count to seven, and then I took a quick break for lunch at 12:15. Seven fish in two hours is fair, but I honestly expected a better catch rate. After lunch I detoured around a massive tangle of deadfalls by wading a small channel until I merged back with the main flow. But there was a very still slow moving slough at the point where the small channel rejoined the main river, and I stopped to flip a cast above two large criss crossing logs as I hid myself from view.  It was one of those obligatory casts where I did not expect to catch a fish, but why not give it a try while I moved along? As soon as the hopper splashed down, a feisty thirteen inch rainbow trout charged the foam terrestrial and gulped it down. What a highlight!

[pe2-image src=”” href=”″ caption=”Out of the Net” type=”image” alt=”P9090043.JPG” ]

The remainder of the afternoon was spent prospecting all the likely pockets and deep runs with the two fly combo, and I had a blast doing it. My fish counter steadily incremented until it grew to 37, and this exceeded my best expectations. I did not see any significant hatch activity such as evolved on Tuesday, but it did not matter. I estimate that one out of every four fish smashed the pool toy, and this seemed to occur mainly in short pockets and slots with decent depth. In addition to the plentiful number of fish that filled my net, I also registered a large number of long distance releases. I attribute the lost fish to the fact that many were small and unable to get their mouths around the pool toy. In human terms their appetite was bigger than their mouths. In other instances I was unable to maintain constant pressure due to the many branches that surrounded me.

[pe2-image src=”” href=”″ caption=”Lots of Timber Across the Stream” type=”image” alt=”P9090044.JPG” ]

Any slower moving shelf pool along the edge of the stream was money in the bank. Wednesday was not simply a numbers day, however, as I landed quite a few fish that placed a sag in my net. One rainbow measured fourteen inches and many were in the twelve to thirteen inch range and quite chunky. But beyond the size and quantity of fish, the greatest pleasure was derived from the beauty of these wild jewels. Some were pure rainbows, but most were cutbows; a product of a rainbow trout and cutthroat trout breeding. There was quite a bit of variation in the coloration of the cutbows, with many possessing the light body color of a rainbow, but others displaying the deep amber shade of a cutthroat with an overlaying pink stripe. The fish were as stunning as I have ever seen.

[pe2-image src=”” href=”″ caption=”Very Nice Size for the North Fork” type=”image” alt=”P9090048.JPG” ]

I managed to land one thirteen inch pure cutthroat (no pink stripe), and that was a special thrill. Surprisingly it smashed the pool toy in relatively fast water. I was amazed by this since I thought cutties prefer deep slow pools next to cover.

I also landed a few brookies, but not as many as I expected based on previous year’s experience and the nice specimens that I hooked on Tuesday. A few were decent size, and they were already arrayed in their bright spawning colors. It is hard to find a prettier fish than a multi-hued brook trout in autumn.

Once I quit on Wednesday I needed to scale a very steep bank, and then I was fortunate to stumble on to a relatively visible worn trail. The path led me to an open meadow where the road came into view, but as I came within fifty yards of the gravel lane, I realized that I was blocked by a barbed wire fence. I removed my wading staff, front pack, and backpack and threw my rod into the grass on the other side. In this slimmed down state I was able to separate the top and middle wires and squeeze through without touching the fence. Fortunately I am not a very large person.

A thirty minute walk on the road brought me back to Himes Peak where I shed my fishing gear and drove on to Trappers Lake Lodge. Here I purchased a bag of ice for my cooler and paid $2 so I could use the lodge’s land line to call Jane and let her know that I was alive and safe.

[pe2-image src=”” href=”″ caption=”Sparkle Minnow Given a Test Drive” type=”image” alt=”P9090049.JPG” ]

On the return to the campground I decided to stop and fish the North Fork public water across from the camping area. I fished here in previous years but never experienced the success of Himes Peak or the area below Trappers Lake. Wednesday was no different, although I only fished for thirty minutes, but I did manage to land one six inch rainbow to up my total to thirty-eight. At the very end of my time I approached a large deep pool and converted to a sparkle minnow. I chucked twenty casts into the promising hole and varied my retrieve, but the streamer tactic was not effective.


North Fork of White River – 09/08/2015

Time: 2:30PM – 6:00PM

Location: Below private bridge and beaver pond a mile or two below Trappers Lake Lodge; walked across brush with lots of dead timber so I could fish away from the road.

Fish Landed: 18

North Fork of White River 09/08/2015 Photo Album

For the last two years I journeyed to the Flattops region of Colorado and fished in the White River during the second or third week of September, and 2015 would be no different. My favorite river in Colorado has always been the Frying Pan, but my favorite region is becoming the Flattops area. In order to visit the Flattops, one needs to make a four hour drive that includes 36 miles on a gravel road that climbs over two mountain passes. It is a gorgeous drive, but still very stressful due to the dust and washboard surface that is prevalent on the steep uphill sections.

The effort is worth it, as the White River valley is quite remote, contains abundant wildlife; and the impact of human beings is less than that of most of the other major river valleys in Colorado. On Tuesday morning, the day after Labor Day, I was packed and on my way to the Flattops. The weather forecast was perfect with highs in the upper 60’s and lows in the upper 30’s for the remainder of the week and no precipitation was anticipated. I made the trip in four hours as expected, and I was surprised to see that most of the aspen leaves remained green. Also the number of RV’s and horse trailers belonging to hunters that are normally present in the dispersed camping spaces along the gravel road seemed to be fewer than in previous trips. I attributed both of these observations to the fact that my 2015 expedition was a bit earlier than normal.

[pe2-image src=”” href=”″ caption=”Campsite No. 25 at North Fork Campground” type=”image” alt=”P9080014.JPG” ]

I cruised the North Fork Campground loop and selected campsite number 25 just as I had during the visits in the previous two years. Site 25 contains a tent pad, and I discovered during my 2013 trip that these structures are invaluable in the event of rain. I quickly set up my tent and ate lunch and unpacked some essentials to establish my new home, and then I paid for three nights at the pay station. On the way to the fee tube I ran into an irate campground host. Apparently a flock of sheep had just passed by as the host was making her rounds, and she redirected their path, but not before they deposited large amounts of excrement in two campsites. My introduction to the woman was highlighted by an angry diatribe that included commentary about her “not being a shepherd”, and “due for a raise since I have to pick up sheep sh–“.

[pe2-image src=”” href=”″ caption=”I Hiked Across the Ridge on the Right and Fished Back” type=”image” alt=”P9080015.JPG” ]

I said my hello and goodbye and departed for the more pleasurable prospect of fishing on the North Fork. I chose to drive southeast toward Trappers Lake, where I parked along the road and surveyed a section of water just below a bridge with a no trespassing sign. I fished this area in 2013 with moderate success, so I was interested to determine if I could repeat the past. The area actually looked quite stark as a 2002 fire destroyed all the trees in the upper section of the North Fork of the White River below Trappers Lake. All that remained were toothpick remnants of dead evergreens and the brown-yellow leaves on the shrubs and bushes that covered the earth. Because the stretch of river was without trees I could easily discern its path, and it took a big bend and flowed away from the road just beyond my parking place. I decided to hike along the top of the hills next to the North Fork and then drop down the far side and work my way back upstream.

I climbed into my waders and fit together my Loomis five weight rod and began my afternoon venture. The strategy was easier said than done, as I soon discovered that I was required to climb and scramble over ridiculous quantities of dead evergreen trees, and eventually I would learn that the same acrobatic skills were necessary to wade upstream in the small stream. But even more challenging was the descent of the steep hillside once I navigated the fallen trees and bristly brush. Actually as I began cautiously scrambling down the slope, the deadfalls became a positive aid for braking my slide and arresting my downward momentum.

It took perhaps thirty minutes to reach my starting position, and here I prepared to fish. It was now 2:30 in the afternoon, and the sky was bright blue with not even a wisp of white in the sky. The high temperature never climbed above the upper 60’s, and I actually wore my raincoat as a windbreaker all afternoon and never felt over dressed. My ultimate goal was to reach water that was rarely fished, and I am certain that I succeeded. I began fishing with a solo Chernobyl ant, as I hoped I could avoid a dropper due to the many fly snagging obstacles within range of my casting.

[pe2-image src=”” href=”″ caption=”A Pretty Cutbow” type=”image” alt=”P9080016.JPG” ]

This strategy worked quickly as I landed a gorgeous brightly colored thirteen inch cutbow, but then I began observing looks from fish with no take. This circumstance influenced me to retool, and I added a beadhead hares ear to my arsenal. The hares ear immediately produced a small brook trout, and then as I allowed the dry/dropper to sweep by a log on the far bank, a prize brook trout grabbed the trailer and put up a valiant fight. This fish was absolutely stunning in its fall colors, and it probably represented the largest brook trout I ever landed aside from the twenty inch gems taken from lakes in Argentina. I was thrilled with the good fortune I was enjoying at the start of my afternoon of fishing.

[pe2-image src=”” href=”″ caption=”Check Out This Gorgeous Brook Trout” type=”image” alt=”P9080017.JPG” ]

After photographing the brook trout jewel, I continued upstream and landed one more rainbow trout, but I was covering some very juicy water with no action, and I continued noticing looks at the Chernobyl with no follow up attempt to eat my offering. I clipped off the dry/dropper and turned to a size 14 stimulator with a medium olive body. After this change I was surprised by a very nice thirteen inch rainbow that slurped the stimulator on the fifth drift through a promising area. The stimulator continued to be effective for a period that moved my fish count to seven, and then I began to observe occasional pale morning duns fluttering up from the surface of the stream. I switched to a money fly, a light gray size 16 comparadun, for a bit and recorded a momentary hook up, but then the hatch waned so I returned to the dry/dropper approach with a Charlie boy hopper trailing a salvation nymph on a two foot dropper.

[pe2-image src=”” href=”″ caption=”A Nice Long Pool on the Upper North Fork” type=”image” alt=”P9080019.JPG” ]

Wow, what a move. Over the next two hours the salvation nymph and hare nation produced the remainder of my catch except for one rogue brook trout that hammered the hopper. At one point during this time period I thought I lost the salvation when my line got behind me and hooked in my backpack, so I replaced it with a hare nation, and this fly produced quite well until an abraded knot caused me to lose the fly. Amazingly I found the original salvation stuck in my net and gave it a second turn on the end of my tippet. Both flies, which are close cousins, produced equally well on the end of my dry/dropper system.

[pe2-image src=”” href=”″ caption=”Nice Size Rainbow from Small Stream” type=”image” alt=”P9080021.JPG” ]

 [pe2-image src=”” href=”″ caption=”A Better View” type=”image” alt=”P9080026.JPG” ]

Just below the private bridge with the no trespassing sign there was a nice run, and I detected two fish rising. At approximately 5:30 a decent hatch commenced, and I concluded that the mayflies were blue winged olives. Normally I convert to a CDC blue winged olive fly in this circumstance, but the sun was low in the western sky, and this created an abundance lot of shadows and glare on the surface of the water. I was fairly certain that I would not be able to follow the CDC BWO, so instead I added a soft hackle emerger to my dry/dropper arrangement. Unfortunately I could not convince the risers to fall for my emerger ploy, so I moved above the bridge. In the area between the bridge and the large beaver pond I landed number eighteen on the salvation nymph, and then I adjourned for the day.

[pe2-image src=”” href=”″ caption=”The Salvation Was a Workhorse” type=”image” alt=”P9080023.JPG” ]

In summary I caught mostly small fish on Tuesday in my three and a half hours of fishing after the long driver from Denver. But I also landed three very nice brook trout, one fine cutbow, a thirteen inch rainbow, and a small but pure cutthroat. It was a sort of White River grand slam, and a great start for my White River fishing trip in September 2015.


South Fork of the White River – 09/18/2014

Time: 10:30AM – 6:00PM

Location: 40 minute hike from trailhead; just above a narrow chute area with tall vertical walls and whitewater.

Fish Landed: 24

South Fork of the White River 09/18/2014 Photo Album

In September 2013 I visited the Flattops Wilderness and spent a day on the South Fork of the White River. I spent a full day on the beautiful clear backcountry stream and landed seven fish with all but one on the small side. In 2014 I spent two days on the North Fork above Himes Peak Campground and enjoyed some wonderful fishing, but I was in need of a change. Did I want to commit another day to the South Fork? Another option might be to fish the upper North Fork below Trappers Lake and even combine that with some fishing on Trappers Lake. Since the weather was supposed to be clear and warm again on Thursday, I decided to give the South Fork another try. In 2014, however, I decided to hike even further than my last venture so that I would begin above the stretch of water characterized by high vertical rock walls and deep pools.

Part of the attraction of the South Fork is the fact that it flows for over forty miles through national forest and wilderness area, and the river is relatively large over most of the drainage allowing for open space for backcasting and wading. Most headwater streams in national forest lands are small and necessitate casting in tight quarters and difficult wading over deadfalls and through dense brush.

I executed my plan flawlessly and after a vigorous forty minute hike, I arrived at a position just above the narrow stretch with vertical rock walls where the trail dropped very close to the river. It was 10:30, and the sky was bright blue, the air temperature was around 50 degrees, and it was clear that Thursday would be a warm late September day in this remote area of the Flattops Wilderness. The water was higher than a year ago due to the heavy rain on Monday and Tuesday September 8-9, and it was crashing through the narrow canyon chute at a rapid clip. I brought my Sage four weight and began my day with a purchased stimulator with a peach colored body.

First Fish Came from Current Entering from Side Channel

First Fish Came from Current Entering from Side Channel

Despite my optimism I fished for fifteen minutes without any sign of a fish, so I converted to a yellow Charlie Boy hopper with a beadhead hares ear and copper john. This move paid off somewhat as I tallied a nine inch rainbow in a small deep hole where a side channel entered the main river. I continued working my way upstream rapidly, as I encountered quite a few wide shallow riffle areas that I simply waded through. In the first hour of fishing I added a couple more small rainbows plus a foul hooked fish and a momentary hook up. I decided to break for lunch early as the fishing was relatively slow, and as I munched my sandwich, I had visions of a repeat of my 2013 experience. I was having difficulty identifying holding water in this clear backcountry river.

The South Fork

The South Fork

A Better Sun Angle

A Better Sun Angle


After lunch and a continued lack of success, I decided to exchange the yellow Charlie Boy for a tan version, and then I removed the copper john and replaced it with a beadhead pheasant tail nymph. Only the hares ear remained on my line from the morning. This change improved my success rate a bit, but the air temperature was now heating up rapidly, and I was feeling quite sluggish in the bright sunny conditions. If I was sluggish, wouldn’t a coldwater fish feel the same way?

Aspens Change Colors on the Hillsides

Aspens Change Colors on the Hillsides

At some point during this early afternoon period while reconfiguring, I dropped the hares ear nymph in the water, so I elected to replace it with an ultra zug bug as I desired more flash in a subsurface attractor. The ultra zug bug is a Scott Sanchez creation that is actually a stripped down version of a prince nymph sans hackle and white wings. By 3PM I began noticing tiny blue winged olive mayflies drifting up slowly from the surface of the river, and my catch rate seemed to improve during this time as fish began to grab the pheasant tail even though I don’t typically view this size 18 fly as a good imitation of BWO nymphs. I’m guessing the BWO emergence caused the fish to become active feeders, and they were not particularly selective about what subsurface food morsel they ate.

This Fly Produced

This Fly Produced

Concurrent with the increased insect activity I continued wading upstream and the river narrowed a bit thus creating more deeper pockets and attractive holding areas for trout. The combination of increased insect activity, better holding water and more distance from the trailhead seemed to combine to improve my action and this in turn improved my confidence and focus. Also during this period I went through a stretch of water where I landed three or four brook trout, although only two made my six inch cut off for registering on the fish counter.

Unfortunately the blue winged olive hatch waned, and I entered a another slow period when I decided to abandon the three fly system and reverted to a size 12 stimulator with a light olive body. This did nothing for my success rate, although I enjoyed making some great fluttering casts to some nice pocket water for twenty minutes.

Perhaps the Best Fish from the South Fork

Perhaps the Best Fish from the South Fork

By 4:30 the sun sank lower in the western sky, and parts of the river were enveloped in shade. Following a fly from sun to shade and back to sun is always a difficult task, and I debated quitting and getting a jump on my return hike. However, I remembered that some of my best fishing took place in the late afternoon on Tuesday and Wednesday as the air temperature cooled, so perhaps the same might apply to the South Fork. I resolved to stick it out this time to see what developed.

The lengthening shadows and cooler temperatures caused the caddis to become active, and numerous small tan insects dapped and skittered on the surface along with the occasional lagging blue winged olive. I decided that I should return to nymphs in case the fish became active subsurface feeders again as they had earlier in the afternoon, so I tied on a Chernobyl ant with striped legs and a large visible neon yellow indicator. This would help me follow my flies in the shadows and sun glare. Below the Chernobyl I attached an ultra zug bug, and then on the point I knotted a classic beadhead prince nymph.

Silvery Rainbow Took Pheasant Tail Nymph

Silvery Rainbow Took Pheasant Tail Nymph

This combination caught fire over the remainder of the afternoon as I landed ten additional fish before quiting at 6PM. This was truly my type of fishing as I moved rapidly from pocket to pocket making three to five casts, and more often than not I was rewarded with a dip of the Chernobyl and a feisty streaking fish that inhaled the ultra zug bug or prince. The decision to continue fishing into the early evening was rewarded.

Near the beginning of the late afternoon productive period, I tossed the Chernobyl and nymphs into the nook of an eddy where the water returned from its swirl to a current break. The Chernobyl disappeared, and I instantly set the hook thus provoking a huge rainbow to streak across the river. This fish looked like a giant in this stretch of water that consistently produced twelve inch rainbows. I gave the fish line and allowed it to run, but after a twenty foot highlight reel, the flies popped free, and I was quite disappointed.

Remote Beauty

Remote Beauty

I probably hooked but did not land at least ten additional fish during the last one and a half hours, and some of these fish were quite nice and probably measured thirteen to fourteen inches. The rainbows of the South Fork seemed comparatively powerful for their size, and that may partly explain my higher than normal ratio of lost fish. I also had a difficult time maintaining side pressure because the fish tended to run in a circle around my position, and there were numerous branches and bushes along the bank that interfered with my attempts to reach the rod sideways. Another reason may have been the tendency of the rainbows to attack the middle fly of my trio, and I’ve historically noticed that more fish seem to escape from the middle fly position.

By the late afternoon I discovered the most productive water types. The first and best water consisted of long riffle sections with four feet of depth, and these areas produced fish at the tail in front of current breaks and along the outer seams. The water needed to be four feet or greater in depth, however, as shallow riffles seemed to be void of fish. Deep pockets also produced, but again these needed to be substantial, and this is defined as five to ten feet long and four feet or greater in depth. Even better was a deep pocket or slot that met these dimensions, but bordered on one side by a bank or structure.

Overall it was a decent day and my best day ever on the South Fork. I landed three or four nice rainbows in the thirteen inch range and the bulk of my catch was nine to ten inch fish. Had I landed the big one or a few more of the late afternoon escapees, my rating would improve from decent to outstanding. Regardless of fishing success, the South Fork is a gorgeous remote setting deep in the Flattops Wilderness and worth visiting for that reason alone.

The Return Trail

The Return Trail

I began my return hike at 6PM, and I clocked twenty minutes until I reached my entry point in the morning. I estimate that I covered one mile of water over the course of the day, and when combined with the two mile inbound hike, means that I was three miles from the trailhead at my farthest point. It was a fun day.


North Fork of the White River – 09/17/2014

Time: 9:30AM – 6:00PM

Location: From confluence with Snell Creek upstream; Himes Peak Campground where I ended on Tuesday and then upstream to huge beaver pond.

Fish Landed: 26

North Fork of the White River 09/17/2014 Photo Album

Despite one of my best days of fishing in 2014 on the upper North Fork above Himes Peak, I decided I wanted to explore different water on Wednesday. I had mixed success on the North Fork near the confluence with Snell Creek on previous visits, so I decided to give it another try. I had a quick breakfast and prepared my lunch and got off to a nice early start. Wednesday was shaping up to be another gorgeous fall day in the Flattops, and I suspect the air temperature never got lower than 50 on Tuesday night and Wednesday morning.

As I prepared to fish I wore my UnderArmour shirt under my fishing shirt and assembled my six weight four piece Scott rod. Both of these choices proved to be mistakes as I grew to be overheated, and the large rod was overkill for the size of the North Fork. I parked on the shoulder along the bend of Trappers Lake Road and found a worn path that led me down the steep bank to the point where Snell Creek joined the North Fork. I was searching for the nice pool near an overhanging evergreen tree where I landed some nice trout in two previous experiences on this stretch of the White River. Some tight bushes and trees forced me to cross the river, and then I maneuvered down the south bank until I was across from the targeted pool.

Ideal Spot for a Trout

Ideal Spot for a Trout

I’m not sure if it was due to the higher than normal September flows or a permanent shift in the structure of the river, but the pool was much narrower than what I remembered. Nevertheless I rigged with a Chernobyl ant, beadhead hares ear, and copper john and began prospecting the seven foot wide deep run and pool. I managed a split second hook up toward the tail of the run, but that was the extent of my action on the evergreen pool, so I moved along and began wading upstream.

Over the next two hours I covered a huge amount of water, but it was mostly wading and not casting. The river in this section was largely a fast riffle, and it did not contain very many good holding lies for fish. I managed one nine inch rainbow trout in a narrow slot along the south bank, as I continued upstream farther than I had ever ventured previously. I kept expecting the river to narrow a bit and thus present more deep pockets and pools, but it never happened, so I decided to cut my losses and found a weak path that led up the steep north bank to a very high position. As I followed the path, it became more defined and eventually connected with the steep path that I originally used to descend to the North Fork at the start of my two hour fishing adventure.

When I reached the car, I promptly removed my UnderArmour shirt and returned the six weight Scott to its protective case, and then I drove another eight miles to the Himes Peak Campground. If I landed forty fish in one afternoon, why couldn’t I repeat this success if I continued from my ending point? This thought danced through my head as I put together my Sage four weight four piece rod and then quickly devoured my lunch. In order to find my ending point I walked up the dirt road from the parking lot a short distance and then found a faint trail that cut across an open grass area and led me toward the fence line. I followed the fence line beyond the lower beaver pond until it led me into a wooded area, and at this point I cut south and perpendicular to the fence until I intersected with the river. The fence line strategy worked quite well as I entered the river just below the breached beaver dam that produced numerous fish for me on Tuesday.

A Pretty Cutbow

A Pretty Cutbow

I tied on an orange body stimulator that I purchased at Charlie’s Fly Box and began probing all the attractive water. It was around 12:30 when I began, and the air temperature had warmed quite a bit making me thankful that I removed the long sleeved insulated UnderArmour shirt. It wasn’t long before I landed a small brook trout on the stimulator, but the catch rate was much slower than the previous day. This surprised me as I was surely in water that rarely got touched by other fishermen. Perhaps the orange color of the stimulator body was not a good one? I opted to switch it for a larger version with a tan body, but this fly was equally ignored by the trout.

Crimson Leaves on the Hillside

Crimson Leaves on the Hillside

Next I experimented with a Chernobyl ant and beadhead pheasant tail and followed that tandem with a parachute gray hopper, but the hopper generated only a number of refusals before I added a beadhead hares ear. By two o’clock I landed seven trout, and I remember thinking that it was very slow and quite different from the previous day. I could only attribute the change to fewer clouds and warmer air temperatures.

Pocket Water of the North Fork

Pocket Water of the North Fork

Since the lime green trude had served me well for a while on Tuesday, I elected to give it a try, and this proved to be a good decision. I added four more trout to reach eleven by 2:30. If nothing else, this shows how spoiled I was to be dissatisfied with ten fish in two hours. The green trude continued producing beyond 2:30 including several nice rainbows that took it after it sank. Eventually I began to observe blue winged olives in the air, so I converted from the lime green trude to a tan Charlie Boy hopper with legs as I needed a larger more buoyant fly to support droppers. Since fish were taking the submerged lime green trude, I decided to try a bright green caddis pupa as a dropper from the Charlie Boy. This was a great idea, but the trout were not buying it, although I did catch some fish on the Charlie Boy.

Another Deeply Colored Brook Trout

Another Deeply Colored Brook Trout

The green caddis pupa had its opportunity but failed to deliver, so I swapped it for a beadhead hares ear and added a salvation nymph as my point fly. From 4:30 until 6:00PM these three flies produced with nearly an even amount of production coming from each. The fishing action improved considerably during the last hour and a half as the air temperature cooled and shadows began to extend over the stream. Many more insects were visible including blue winged olives, small tan caddis, and a few pale morning duns. I did not see any significant surface activity, but the fish were clearly tuned into nymphs and began to take my offerings with more confidence.

Brilliant Crimson Colors on This Trout

Brilliant Crimson Colors on This Trout

By six o’clock the stream was entirely covered by shadows and the insect activity was largely absent so I decided to execute my exit strategy. I was hoping to avoid the long hike back along the fence line, and instead planned to see if I could reach the road. I climbed over a dense area of deadfalls from the wildfire until I crested a hill, and here I could see a large beaver pond on a small tributary, and the road was visible high above the pond. Unfortunately the barbed wire fence continued along the slope and separated me from the road. There appeared to be a path from the road to the beaver pond, so I assumed that someone found an opening in the fence, and I proceeded to skirt the west side of the pond until I reached the “path”.

Unique Orange Belly

Unique Orange Belly

At this point I realized that the “path” was actually an area where the beavers had beaten down the grass as they moved back and forth with their gnawed off branches. I proceeded up the bank in spite of this and discovered that someone had separated the barbed wire strands and twisted them together enough to allow me to squeeze through. I removed my front pack and backpack and slid through the narrow opening and then carefully and slowly climbed the bank until I was on the road.

Beaver Pond at End of the Day Wednesday

Beaver Pond at End of the Day Wednesday

I hiked along the road for .75 mile when the driver of a passing pick up truck stopped and offered me a ride. I accepted the offer and angled my rod from the back seat through an open window and then jumped in. The driver was named George, and he was from Syracuse, NY and had been camping and living in Colorado since August. He was a hunter and practitioner of hang gliding and also quite a conversationalist. After a brief drive he turned on the campground road and dropped me off by my car at the Himes Peak Campground parking lot. Somehow my beadhead hares ear and salvation nymph must have hooked something in George’s truck and broken off, as they were missing when I broke down the rod and returned it to its case.

Looking Back at the Beaver Pond

Looking Back at the Beaver Pond

It turned out to be a fun day on the North Fork despite the slow morning. I worked harder for fewer fish than Tuesday, but I still managed to land 26 and several very nice rainbows and brook trout were included in the count. It was an unbelievably nice fall day, and I’m sure the high temperature reached 80 degrees. I had one more day to explore the White River drainage, and I needed to decide on a destination.

North Fork of White River – 09/16/2014

Time: 12:30PM – 6:00PM

Location: Himes Peak Campground and upstream

Fish Landed: 40

North Fork of White River 09/16/2014 Photo Album

I kept my eye on the weather after being thwarted in my efforts to visit the Flattops Wilderness the previous week. I was in a lull at work, and a fishing trip during the week of September 16 – 19 worked nicely with my schedule. When I noticed a weather forecast for a series of days in the 80’s in Denver, I made the decision to reschedule my Flattops trip. The forecast for Meeker, CO on the western rim of the Flattops was similar to Denver, so that clinched it.

Aspen Leaves Change in the Flattops

Aspen Leaves Change in the Flattops

The drive to the North Fork Campground from Denver is four hours, and I wanted to enjoy at least a half day of fishing on Tuesday, so I had nearly everything packed and ready on Monday night. This enabled me to depart Denver by 7AM, and I arrived at the campground by 11:40AM. I quickly paid for the campsite and gobbled my lunch and headed to the Himes Peak Campground on the way to Trappers Lake to begin my fishing adventure.

Since I lost my Simms fly box on the Frying Pan River, I purchased a replacement along with ten stimulators. I rotated this box to my front pack and then shifted the Pennsylvania box to my zippered bib pocket in my waders. I assembled my Orvis Access rod (which I would come to regret) and hiked down the trail from the parking lot toward the stream. After a short distance I cut to the left and then skidded down a steep bank to the stream. The stream remained high from the heavy rain the previous week, and a steep gradient made fishing difficult. In addition numerous deadfalls spanned the stream as a result of a wildfire several years ago, and this added significantly to the casting and wading difficulty.

A Feisty Rainbow from the North Fork

A Feisty Rainbow from the North Fork

Initially I used a gray pool toy and beadhead hares ear dropper, and I did not have any problem hooking fish. Unfortunately I did have difficulty landing fish, as the first five hook ups resulted in long distance releases. This was quite frustrating particularly as several of the fish felt quite heavy in proportion to the small high mountain river. I decided to change tactics and removed the dry/dropper and switched to a purchased stimulator with a light green body. With this fly on my line, I finally connected with and landed four fish by 1:30.

Speckles Like Cutthroat, Stripe Like Rainbow

Speckles Like Cutthroat, Stripe Like Rainbow

I continued upstream and covered a ton of water and built my fish count to nine, but I lost the stimulator along the way and replaced it with a lime green trude, and this productive fly accounted for three or four of the first nine fish. At 2:30 I decided to try a Chernobyl ant with a beadhead pheasant tail as a short dropper as I was weary of continually drying the trude. I knew that a long dropper was asking for trouble given all the logs and brush, so I kept the dropper length at 18 inches. After making this change, as I was wading along the edge of the stream, I stepped on a slanted wet slimy rock and my right foot shot sideways into the stream. I reacted instinctively by reaching out my left hand to catch my fall, but this hand also held my Orvis Access four weight rod. I dropped the rod as my hand went toward the ground, but it was two late, and after picking myself up and gathering my senses, I realized that I snapped the rod in the middle of the second piece after the butt section. I’m not sure if the tip hit the ground and snapped the rod or if the impact of dropping the rod did the damage, but the cause was irrelevant, and I now had a broken rod.

Lime Green Trude Was Effective

Lime Green Trude Was Effective

I uttered some curse words and grieved for a bit, but then gathered the pieces and made the 15 minute hike back to the car where I had two back up rods. I selected my Sage four weight and assembled it and hiked back to the scene of my fall. I was feeling pretty low at this point near the start of my four day fishing adventure. The catch rate was slower than I expected, the wading was quite challenging, and I broke my rod. In addition I had to hike all the way back to the car through a mucky beaver pond, obtain another rod, and hike the same distance back to the river.

Close Up of the Slash

Close Up of the Slash

Since I was starting over with a new rod, I decided to try another purchased crystal stimulator, and I selected one with a gray body. This choice proved to be a winner, and I landed a bunch of fish and took my tally to the mid-20’s until I lost a second purchased stimulator. I had another three days of fishing ahead of me, and I’d already lost 20% of my purchased stimulator inventory. I had some royal stimulators that I tied several years ago, so I decided to try one in an effort to preserve my purchased flies. The royal model worked reasonably well, and I added another three or four fish to my count before I began to see a decent number of blue winged olives.

Head Shot of Pretty Rainbow

Head Shot of Pretty Rainbow

I knew an exact match such as a CDC olive comparadun would be nearly impossible to see in the rushing mountain stream, so I tied the Chernobyl ant back on my line and added a soft hackle emerger as a dropper. I hoped that the fish would see the soft hackle emerger as an emerging blue winged olive, and the Chernobyl ant with the bright neon yellow foam indicator would allow me to spot takes. This tactic did not work very well, and I can only assume that the tiny size 20 emerger was too difficult for the fish to see in the swirling currents. I clipped off the soft hackle emerger and replaced it with a salvation nymph, and this combination was on fire for the last hour of the day.

Best Brook Trout of Trip

Best Brook Trout of Trip

As the shadows lengthened I approached a broken beaver dam and surveyed the water. It was a beautiful set up as the breached dam enabled the current to continue running through the center, but nice slower moving pools spanned out from the center to the banks on both sides where the stick dam remained. I began drifting my dry/dropper combination along the seam of the main current first and then gradually lengthened my casts to methodically cover the entire width of the pool. On nearly every cast I hooked a fish, and eventually landed at least seven or eight from this one location. It was a blast, and these fish were chunky hard fighting rainbow trout that streaked in every direction around the pool. The most amazing fact was that the disturbance of a hooked fish did not seem to impact the desire of neighboring fish to inhale my salvation nymph on subsequent casts.

Pure Cutthroat or Cutbow?

Pure Cutthroat or Cutbow?

I decided to quit at 6PM despite the fact that the fishing remained quite productive because I had a tough hike along the fence line back to the car. I ended farther from the parking lot than I’d ever ventured, and I really wasn’t sure about my exit route. I ended up fighting through some deadfalls and walking perpendicular to the stream until I encountered the fence. The fence was very taut, and I could not determine a way through or around it, so I followed it back to the road that led to Himes Peak.

What an afternoon! I landed 40 trout with a ratio of 80% rainbows and 20% brook trout. The rainbows were feisty chunky hard fighting wild fish mostly in the 12-13 inch range with a few 14 inch fish to make things interesting. I probably could have tallied 70 fish had I landed every trout that I hooked. I attribute the high escape ratio to the narrow stream and the multitude of snags and obstacles that made maintaining constant side pressure a significant challenge.

I accomplished all this in half a day of fishing with thirty minutes lost to a round trip to the car to get another fly rod. What an amazing day! It was just too bad I broke my rod on the first day.