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=”https://lh3.googleusercontent.com/-yvWq5gzcXKA/V9y00Jy4w9I/AAAAAAABDGU/h-ARGAGihakZK7lFurnD50E73V_uTSM1ACCo/s144-o/P9110030.JPG” href=”https://picasaweb.google.com/108128655430094950653/6331133930403963857?locked=true#6331133984251626450″ 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=”https://lh3.googleusercontent.com/-U8wUs3OUGbM/V9y0yqKrNoI/AAAAAAABDGU/NbXQrPa4oTgkrqbTYRNuON6MV-WnfxwowCCo/s144-o/P9110025.JPG” href=”https://picasaweb.google.com/108128655430094950653/6331133930403963857?locked=true#6331133958581597826″ 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=”https://lh3.googleusercontent.com/-84qHpEUHgmk/V9y0yKKlc1I/AAAAAAABDGU/qXsGp2BMMxcJ3CzUPYhpBfzWuHGNLWG0wCCo/s144-o/P9110024.JPG” href=”https://picasaweb.google.com/108128655430094950653/6331133930403963857?locked=true#6331133949991285586″ 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=”https://lh3.googleusercontent.com/-lTgw4JQGFCg/V9y0zJQIMiI/AAAAAAABDGU/vTq0rUXHXogXIvcTrVsMHpYxv4xyco9XgCCo/s144-o/P9110027.JPG” href=”https://picasaweb.google.com/108128655430094950653/6331133930403963857?locked=true#6331133966925967906″ caption=”Quite a Prize” type=”image” alt=”P9110027.JPG” image_size=”2048×1536″ ]

[peg-image src=”https://lh3.googleusercontent.com/-NWB-cZthFjQ/V9y0ziW2Q2I/AAAAAAABDGU/gmP3hp48vuwxy4SX7XMVTrExVY1WdDMgwCCo/s144-o/P9110028.JPG” href=”https://picasaweb.google.com/108128655430094950653/6331133930403963857?locked=true#6331133973665039202″ 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=”http://lh3.googleusercontent.com/-NebetmMO7v0/VfYgKCxNA3I/AAAAAAAA31M/dlmNCoHL5jA/s144-c-o/P9100053.JPG” href=”https://picasaweb.google.com/108128655430094950653/09102015SouthForkWhiteRiver#6194173694408721266″ 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=”http://lh3.googleusercontent.com/-Xp9wHb9iYbM/VfYgKvEIA_I/AAAAAAAA31U/h8_cD9XSrVY/s144-c-o/P9100054.JPG” href=”https://picasaweb.google.com/108128655430094950653/09102015SouthForkWhiteRiver#6194173706299245554″ 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=”http://lh3.googleusercontent.com/-Tv3molidHOY/VfYgM6rzyqI/AAAAAAAA31s/66vPICFY_Og/s144-c-o/P9100057.JPG” href=”https://picasaweb.google.com/108128655430094950653/09102015SouthForkWhiteRiver#6194173743778220706″ caption=”And One More” type=”image” alt=”P9100057.JPG” ]

 [pe2-image src=”http://lh3.googleusercontent.com/-9-aaboB2UB8/VfYgOQY3jaI/AAAAAAAA318/bIqyaUfePVI/s144-c-o/P9100059.JPG” href=”https://picasaweb.google.com/108128655430094950653/09102015SouthForkWhiteRiver#6194173766784224674″ 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=”http://lh3.googleusercontent.com/-dQg-Ym7qz7w/VfYgPBJFuQI/AAAAAAAA32M/hr8rOAuJxsw/s144-c-o/P9100060.JPG” href=”https://picasaweb.google.com/108128655430094950653/09102015SouthForkWhiteRiver#6194173779871381762″ caption=”Pretty Catch Stretched Out” type=”image” alt=”P9100060.JPG” ]

 [pe2-image src=”http://lh3.googleusercontent.com/-Ri9QpSE30JA/VfYgP3dpDeI/AAAAAAAA32I/oKXWn6rASqs/s144-c-o/P9100061.JPG” href=”https://picasaweb.google.com/108128655430094950653/09102015SouthForkWhiteRiver#6194173794453097954″ 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=”http://lh3.googleusercontent.com/-mZ6Gy4oaP34/VfYgQvMNS1I/AAAAAAAA32U/j6oamcDqsCU/s144-c-o/P9100062.JPG” href=”https://picasaweb.google.com/108128655430094950653/09102015SouthForkWhiteRiver#6194173809412361042″ caption=”I Cannot Wait to Fish This” type=”image” alt=”P9100062.JPG” ]

 [pe2-image src=”http://lh3.googleusercontent.com/-6Usc4w_tQ-s/VfYgRRUO9pI/AAAAAAAA32g/K5AyGkn9vdg/s144-c-o/P9100063.JPG” href=”https://picasaweb.google.com/108128655430094950653/09102015SouthForkWhiteRiver#6194173818572830354″ 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=”http://lh3.googleusercontent.com/-Mxl56I9n084/VfYgSGVVeTI/AAAAAAAA32k/FALWjVOWg80/s144-c-o/P9100064.JPG” href=”https://picasaweb.google.com/108128655430094950653/09102015SouthForkWhiteRiver#6194173832804530482″ caption=”Away from the Net” type=”image” alt=”P9100064.JPG” ]

 [pe2-image src=”http://lh3.googleusercontent.com/-xFB8-87yr_c/VfYgS_g0mcI/AAAAAAAA32s/WRoxm-vtznA/s144-c-o/P9100065.JPG” href=”https://picasaweb.google.com/108128655430094950653/09102015SouthForkWhiteRiver#6194173848153528770″ 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=”http://lh3.googleusercontent.com/-1bGWfeSAw00/VfYeK5JW6XI/AAAAAAAA3yM/2vi3DgI-4WY/s144-c-o/P9090030.JPG” href=”https://picasaweb.google.com/108128655430094950653/09092015NorthForkWhiteRiver#6194171509982292338″ caption=”Out of the Net” type=”image” alt=”P9090030.JPG” ]

 [pe2-image src=”http://lh3.googleusercontent.com/-nqwm18a0Nz4/VfYeL6ieFZI/AAAAAAAA3yU/rLR0wUiptpY/s144-c-o/P9090031.JPG” href=”https://picasaweb.google.com/108128655430094950653/09092015NorthForkWhiteRiver#6194171527535924626″ 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=”http://lh3.googleusercontent.com/-uz6KH2_G0PQ/VfYeOvd34KI/AAAAAAAA3y0/KXrE5LHyJuE/s144-c-o/P9090035.JPG” href=”https://picasaweb.google.com/108128655430094950653/09092015NorthForkWhiteRiver#6194171576103461026″ 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=”http://lh3.googleusercontent.com/-B-2Nci1NqHk/VfYeTrsxGMI/AAAAAAAA3z0/4oPgpqiPPaw/s144-c-o/P9090043.JPG” href=”https://picasaweb.google.com/108128655430094950653/09092015NorthForkWhiteRiver#6194171660991535298″ 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=”http://lh3.googleusercontent.com/-ZmqoYBjEdmw/VfYeUcMTIwI/AAAAAAAA3z8/T8kxRvQCO7A/s144-c-o/P9090044.JPG” href=”https://picasaweb.google.com/108128655430094950653/09092015NorthForkWhiteRiver#6194171674008691458″ 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=”http://lh3.googleusercontent.com/-jDXzPejhrAI/VfYeW8R1eyI/AAAAAAAA30c/5Q3lDjaG_8E/s144-c-o/P9090048.JPG” href=”https://picasaweb.google.com/108128655430094950653/09092015NorthForkWhiteRiver#6194171716981586722″ 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=”http://lh3.googleusercontent.com/-Xt7eDUoHU-c/VfYeXqA1ZkI/AAAAAAAA30k/yCcAsQYjMCY/s144-c-o/P9090049.JPG” href=”https://picasaweb.google.com/108128655430094950653/09092015NorthForkWhiteRiver#6194171729258309186″ 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=”http://lh3.googleusercontent.com/-0Xc60Tqz3Wc/VfOiX0XCKtI/AAAAAAAA3qM/9Q_OT8g04LQ/s144-c-o/P9080014.JPG” href=”https://picasaweb.google.com/108128655430094950653/09082015NorthForkOfWhiteRiver#6193472442640509650″ 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=”http://lh3.googleusercontent.com/-ZSOlXGeZeBo/VfOiYfLzE-I/AAAAAAAA3qY/Zc6JYnjpwno/s144-c-o/P9080015.JPG” href=”https://picasaweb.google.com/108128655430094950653/09082015NorthForkOfWhiteRiver#6193472454136108002″ 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=”http://lh3.googleusercontent.com/-kB7OJXfGEzE/VfOiY3IsqRI/AAAAAAAA3qc/axQrzzwuE3c/s144-c-o/P9080016.JPG” href=”https://picasaweb.google.com/108128655430094950653/09082015NorthForkOfWhiteRiver#6193472460565555474″ 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=”http://lh3.googleusercontent.com/-bxgS_YKBTKQ/VfOiZtUGX-I/AAAAAAAA3qw/awGo2ArwFws/s144-c-o/P9080017.JPG” href=”https://picasaweb.google.com/108128655430094950653/09082015NorthForkOfWhiteRiver#6193472475108892642″ 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=”http://lh3.googleusercontent.com/-DF4smEcrYkc/VfOiavBnlpI/AAAAAAAA3q4/tK25KopC0xo/s144-c-o/P9080019.JPG” href=”https://picasaweb.google.com/108128655430094950653/09082015NorthForkOfWhiteRiver#6193472492748117650″ 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=”http://lh3.googleusercontent.com/-bAHngKN5R1E/VfOibqE1RcI/AAAAAAAA3rI/ZaugWwIXpko/s144-c-o/P9080021.JPG” href=”https://picasaweb.google.com/108128655430094950653/09082015NorthForkOfWhiteRiver#6193472508599289282″ caption=”Nice Size Rainbow from Small Stream” type=”image” alt=”P9080021.JPG” ]

 [pe2-image src=”http://lh3.googleusercontent.com/-r-_U_LYWdZc/VfOieD6WP6I/AAAAAAAA3rw/auAtvOpmxvo/s144-c-o/P9080026.JPG” href=”https://picasaweb.google.com/108128655430094950653/09082015NorthForkOfWhiteRiver#6193472549894373282″ 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=”http://lh3.googleusercontent.com/-qvLuK2vb1QA/VfOicl4vxkI/AAAAAAAA3rU/0XzvL7Jx7ng/s144-c-o/P9080023.JPG” href=”https://picasaweb.google.com/108128655430094950653/09082015NorthForkOfWhiteRiver#6193472524654724674″ 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.

South Fork of White River – 09/13/2013

Time: 10:30AM – 5:30PM

Location: Hiked from trailhead for 30 minutes and then cut down to the river

Fish Landed: 7

South Fork of White River 09/13/2013 Photo Album

Friday began with overcast skies and threatening clouds again as I began the drive to the South Fork of the White River. I thought I allowed enough time to arrive at the trailhead by 9:30 and then hike for 30 minutes so I could be wetting a line by 10AM. Unfortunately I missed the turn at Buford and drove to Sleepy Cat before I realized I had gone too far. This added perhaps 30 minutes to my drive resulting in my arrival at the trailhead by 10AM and with the 30 minute hike I was not fishing until 10:30. As it was overcast and chilly when I began, I decided to wear my ski hat, Adidas pullover and raincoat, but this proved to be too many layers and I was quite warm. In addition the lack of a brimmed hat proved to be a significant impediment to my fishing experience.

The trail was extremely muddy due to the recent rain and apparently some horses had recently passed and chopped up the black mud. This made for a very slippery and unappealing hike, although I was grateful to be in wading boots. After hiking for approximately 30 minutes I spotted a faint trail that cut off to the right and descended through some scrubby trees to the river. I tied on a tan pool toy and extended some 5X off the hood bend and added a salvation nymph. Initially I did not encounter much attractive water as the river was wide and shallow with long stretchs of riffles.Toward the end of the first hour however I picked up two twelve inch rainbows so I became more optimistic about my prospects.

South Fork of White River Near Starting Point on Friday

South Fork of White River Near Starting Point on Friday

I was feeling good about the fact that I had two layers and a ski hat in case it rained again, when I somehow slipped and lost my balance while standing in some shallow water along the right bank. Before I knew what happened I was sitting in the water and a tiny amount spilled over the top of my waders in the back. So much for having nice dry insurance layers. I had tied the Adidas pullover around my waist under my waders, and of course this material absorbed the water that spilled inside. I guess it may have been fortuitous that the pullover absorbed the water and prevented it from running down my legs.

I uttered some choice words, but there wasn’t much I could do this far from the trailhead so I moved along and added another small rainbow to my count before breaking for lunch at 11:45. I decided to take a longer than normal lunch break to allow my clothes to dry and spread them out on a large rock nearby.

South Fork Narrows Here

South Fork Narrows Here

After lunch I landed another small rainbow, but now I reached a nice narrow stretch with deeper pools and pockets. I was dissatisfied with the productivity of the pool toy and nymph so I decided to go deeper with a split shot, strike indicator, and beadhead hares ear plus a salvation nymph. This actually proved to be a decent strategy as I experienced four or five hook ups, but for some reason I couldn’t land any of them.until finally I connected on a small rainbow for fish number five on the South Fork. One of the nymph hook ups was a very nice rainbow as I saw it leap above the water right after the hook set, but it shed the hook almost immediately.

After covering a fair amount of water with my nymphs I reached a point where my progress was blocked by a high vertical wall so I climbed to the top hoping to circle around and come back down quickly. Unfortunately the rock wall extended for quite a distance and I had to bushwhack through some dense vegetation to reach a point where there was a gradual descent back to the river. As I looked at the beautiful pool below me from a high perch on the rock wall, I spotted three fish hovering near the surface. This really got my juices flowing and then I observed the most downstream fish sip something in the surface film twice. The top fish was ridiculously large and probably extended beyond 20 inches.

Spotted Three Large Trout Next to Large Rock on Left But Failed to Catch

Spotted Three Large Trout Next to Large Rock on Left But Failed to Catch

I carefully negotiated my way down some steep rocks to the tail of the pool and realized I still had my nymphing rig on, and surely this would immediately spook the fish, so I took the time to remove all the components. But what were they sipping and what should I use to imitate the target of there casual rises? I looked at my patch and decided to bet on an ant and selected one with an orange wing post. I was a right handed fisherman along the right bank so this dictated a backhand cast. I was greedy and decided to try and catch the two largest fish and thus cast to the downstream fish first. This proved to be a strategic error as the lower fish did in fact move toward the ant but rejected it and the single cast put down the other fish including the monster farthest upstream.

I moved on in despair and switched to a Chernobyl ant for better visibility, but the fish were having none of it, and due to the shadows and glare typical for a canyon area, I was having a hard time following the small yellow foam indicator low in the water. I wanted something more visible so I tied on a yellow Letort hopper with the added advantage that it had become breezy and the weather was clearing somewhat so perhaps there were actually hoppers being blown in the water.

Not long after tying on the hopper I made a long cast to the top of a long riffle of moderate depth. The riffle spanned the entire width of the river, but somehow I chose to cast where there was a fish and the hopper dipped and I set the hook on a hot rainbow. I battled the fish for a minute or two but then the hares ear came free and flew back toward me and more expletives were uttered. In another deep run where the current ran against a large rock I thought I saw a fish hit the hopper so I set, but as I fought the fish it felt more like it was hooked on the trailing nymph. Unfortunately I’ll never know which fly the fish hit because it got free after making a dash for the current.

It was now late afternoon and I considered exiting, but I absorbed a couple refusals to the hopper. The fish were obviously looking up for their meal, but what were they looking for? Something smaller perhaps? I clipped off the hopper and tied on a size 12 caddis with a palmered body but this didn’t work so I downsized to a size 14 light gray deer hair caddis and of course after a few casts the hackle broke and unwound. I removed the damaged fly and tied on a new size 16 light gray deer hair caddis and flicked it above a protruding rock at the tail of a nice deep but short pool right above me.

Close Up of Colorful Head

Close Up of Colorful Head

Much to my surprise a huge head appeared and sucked in the caddis and the fight was on and tough one it proved to be, but unlike the previous decent hooked fish that managed to evade my tactics, this fish succombed to my pressure and slid into my net. I snapped several photos of the 15-16 inch beauty with an amazing girth.

With fresh optimism I moved on to another nice riffle over moderate depth and seduced a 14 inch rainbow to smash the caddis. Perhaps I found the answer in the caddis, but that was the end of it. I prospected on with the caddis but no more action presented itself and I reached a point where the trail was easily accessible so I took advantage and hiked back to the trailhead. It was 5:30 when I began to hike out, so it was a good choice.

North Fork of White River – 09/12/2013

Time: 10:00AM – 5:00PM

Location: Two track lane from road to river to a point above Snell Creek; Himes Peak upstream from where I quit on Wednesday and then from footbridge below campground upstream a bit

Fish Landed: 18

North Fork of White River 09/12/2013 Photo Album

In 2010 I experienced a fine day of fishing as I explored the area near where Snell Creek flows into the North Fork of the White River. I discovered a two track lane that gradually descended from the dirt road to the river that enabled me to access the water without undue risk to my physical well being. I decided to explore this area again in 2013 on Thursday, September 12. The morning weather was much nicer than Wednesday afternoon with predominantly sunshine and only occasional clouds. When I arrived beside the river I decided to work my way downstream a bit and investigate some new water. I began with the usual Chernobyl ant but attached a salvation nymph instead of a beadhead hares ear after having some great success with the salvation on Wednesday.

15 Inch Cutbow Landed on North Fork on Thursday

15 Inch Cutbow Landed on North Fork on Thursday

Unfortunately the run of success ended and I did not experience any success in the early going, so I swapped the salvation for a beadhead hares ear and this fly produced two fish; a nice cutbow and a Colorado cutthroat. In the second hour of fishing two more fish rested in my net; a small cutbow and a seventeen inch cutbow. The large cutbow was a thrill to battle and made five or six strong dashes before I could slide my net beneath its hefty body. I was once again using the Orvis four weight and the cutbow certainly tested the capacity of the slender rod. The cutbow took the Chernobyl ant at the very top of a slot that was five feet wide and fifteen feet long.

17" Cutbow Also Thursday

17″ Cutbow Also Thursday

With four fish landed I stopped fishing at noon and ate my lunch beside the river and then after lunch proceeded upstream to a nice deep pool below a large evergreen tree along the left bank. I crossed to the right side of the river to gain a better casting position and began working the deep run and pool. I remembered this spot to be quite productive during my 2010 visit. I managed to land one nice cutbow in the deep run after working it for quite a while with numerous casts. Eventually my instincts proved correct and the cutbow snared the salvation nymph which I returned to after a long unproductive period with the hares ear.

In addition to the cutbow I landed a huge whitefish that probably extended 18-19 inches and was quite fat. I continued working my way upstream and beyond the confluence with Snell Creek, but there were not that many attractive spots so I eventually decided to retreat and return to Himes Peak where the fishing had been quite fast and furious on Wednesday. I did manage to land two small fish on a pink pool toy that I experimented with for one of the first times since tying this winter.  I climbed the steep slope until I found a faint trail and then descended to Snell Creek and crossed and discovered a well worn trail that carried me up the steep slope to the road. This was a major improvement over my exit in 2010 when I slipped and slid my way up Snell Creek.

North Fork Stretch Fished on Thursday Viewed from High Bank Next to Road

North Fork Stretch Fished on Thursday Viewed from High Bank Next to Road

Overall I was a bit disappointed with this stretch of water compared to my memory of 2010, but the 17 inch cutbow was quite a thrill and did compensate somewhat for the slower action.

Meanwhile Himes Peak beckoned and after parking in the trailhead parking lot I descended the still muddy trail and then made a left and traversed the hill next to the river until I reached a point where I could descend and begin fishing approximately where I ended my day on Wednesday. I began with a pink pool toy with a salvation nymph on a dropper two feet below. In short order I spotted a rise so I splashed the pink pool toy above the spot of the rise and a nice brook trout gobbled the pool toy which prompted me to photograph and include the pink creation in the frame.

Nice Brook Trout Took Pink Pool Toy

Nice Brook Trout Took Pink Pool Toy

I continued working my way up the stream with the pink pool toy and salvation nymph and added six more fish beyond the brook trout with most grabbing the trailing salvation nymph. One of these fish was a beautiful cutbow with a bronze underside, and it was so colorful that I anticipated it would be a brook trout when I glimpsed it while still in the water. Unfortunately as I was truly enjoying this solitary remote wilderness fishing experience, the sky darkened and lightening commenced so I exited with sixteen fish landed on the day and returned to the parking lot. As I walked up to my car I discovered the same gentleman from Philadelphia that I encountered along the road, and he was now parked next to me and preparing to fish at Himes Peak. We chatted a bit and I learned that his name was Chris Daley and he was staying at Trappers Lake Lodge and he is an emergency room doctor.

We decided to walk down to the river together and this time cut down a trail from one of the campsites which led to a footbridge across the river. Chris and I decided to alternate pools so I began in the nice pool below the footbridge where I landed a small brook trout. I then circled around Chris and dropped back down to a decent area and landed a small rainbow before the rain began to fall from the sky in sheets. The heavy rain forced Chris and I to quit and retreat to our cars, although as I was departing I noticed a lot of BWO’s and a few PMD’s. The rain was coming down so hard that I was forced to change out of my waders in the back of the Santa Fe.

I experienced another productive day on the North Fork of the White River, although not quite as intense as Wednesday afternoon. I decided to stay for Friday and explore the South Fork and pay for a third night on Friday and then move on to the Green River on Saturday.

North Fork of White River – 09/11/2013

Time: 1:00PM – 5:30PM

Location: Bridge where Dan caught some nice fish when he was young up to where the river re-emerges from underground; Himes Peak area

Fish Landed: 21

North Fork of White River 09/11/2013 Photo Album

Tent pads are a wonderful thing. While the Front Range of Colorado endured one of the worst periods of rain in history, I camped and fished on the western slope of Colorado for three nights and then one night near Flaming Gorge, Utah. During the four nights of camping, I slept in my REI two person tent for three nights, and this was only possible because I used campsites with tent pads. Tent pads look like large raised beds that are popular for gardening except that they are filled with a fine gravel material that is very porous. When it rains a lot the water seeps almost instantaneously into the fine gravel and thus does not create streams and puddles that eventually undermine a tent and tarp.

Apparently Being Herded Down from the High Country

Apparently Being Herded Down from the High Country

I planned this trip for quite awhile, and had most of the camping and fishing gear loaded in the Santa Fe the night before scheduled departure. On Wednesday morning all that remained was packing the food items, the water container, my Camelbak, and my pillow and I was on my way to the North Fork of the White River in the Flattops Wilderness Area. This is a fairly remote area of Colorado and requires 40+ miles of driving over a dirt road that climbs two mountain passes. I actually did quite well and completed the trip in roughly four hours and fifteen minutes in spite of slowly creeping my way through a flock of sheep just beyond the tiny town of Pyramid. There were plenty of spots available at the North Fork Campground so I snagged number 25 as it contained a tent pad and as described earlier, this became a critical choice. I unloaded the water container, ate my lunch and paid for two nights and immediately went in quest of wild White River trout.

The sky was quite overcast as I drove east on the road I had just covered and then turned right and headed toward Trappers Lake. I decided to fish in the area I remembered from perhaps fifteen years ago when Dan and I did quite well not far below Trappers Lake. After approximately eight miles I spotted the old bridge that appeared close to my memory so I pulled along the shoulder of the dirt road and prepared to fish. I hiked thirty yards below the bridge and tied on a Chernobyl ant and beadhead hares ear nymph and began to cast my Orvis Access four weight. By now the sky was even more threatening than it appeared back at the campground and the surrounding landscape was quite bleak as a wildfire had consumed all the trees and left twisted black stumps and branches behind on the meadow grass covered hills.

Fairly quickly I landed a  nice brook trout that would actually be a monster by eastern standards. It was around eleven inches long and flamboyantly attired in orange and iridescent blueish green hues. Next I landed a small Colorado cutthroat and snapped a photo of this increasingly rare catch and then worked my way upstream and beyond the bridge and added a third fish along the way.

Pretty Cutthroat from North Fork of White River

Pretty Cutthroat from North Fork of White River

There was a large beaver pond ahead but below it a nice deep run cascaded from the dam, and here I landed another nice colorful brook trout. Several other fish were rising in this area, but they ignored my Chernobyl/BHHE combo, and then I switched to a CDC BWO as I noticed a few small BWO’s fluttering up through the air. Unfortunately this did not deceive the feeding fish so I moved on to the beaver pond.

At this point the rain began and became quite heavy but I stuck it out as there was no thunder or lightning and I had on my ski hat, fleece and raincoat. I negotiated my way around some beaver channels and soft muddy bottom areas until I approached the inlet and here there were quite a few fish rising. Again I cast my fortunes with the CDC BWO and again the fish ignored my offerings. The rain was so dense that it riffled the water and made it quite difficult to discern any insects that might be attracting the attention of the trout. I decided to switch to a size 16 light gray deer hair caddis, and after a few casts a fourteen inch cutbow slurped it in. I was now very excited and assumed I’d unlocked the secret code to duping these beaver pond fish.

Slash of Cutbow or Cutthroat

Slash of Cutbow or Cutthroat

Alas that wasn’t the case and the caddis went unmolested until the rain slacked off and I could now see PMD’s fluttering and skipping on the water thus prompting yet another conversion to a size 16 light gray comparadun.This proved attractive to a nice brook trout, but then the other fish ignored it. I noticed that the natural PMD’s were quite active on the still pond surface so I began stripping my PMD and received 5 or 6 hits, but I was unable to land any of them. I was perplexed by this situation, but decided to concede and continue on my way up the stream.

Another Colorful Brook Trout from North Fork

Another Colorful Brook Trout from North Fork

Between the inlet to the beaver pond and the spot where the North Fork of the White River emerges from underground like a spring, I landed another three trout including a nice cutbow, a chunky brook trout and a small brooky. Another heavy wave of rain descended and most of the river disappeared underground so I decided to leave this area and explore the Himes Peak stretch of the North Fork. In the hour or two that I fished near the beaver pond I landed nine trout; one cutthroat, two cutbows, and six brook trout. It was a fine beginning to my five day fishing trip.

North Fork Above Beaver Pond

North Fork Above Beaver Pond

As I walked down the dirt road to my car a Hyandai sedan approached and the driver rolled down the window to ask how I fared. I discovered that the driver was from the Philadelphia area and had traveled to the White River to fish by himself. I continued hiking down the road as the rain continued to fall and jumped in the car and drove down the road to Himes Peak Campground. This area was also marred by wildfire damage and there were several hunters parked in the lot at the trailhead as well as camping in the campground. I hiked down the muddy trail to the river and then descended a steep bank and began to fish with low expectations due to the rain and the fire damage.

My low expectations proved to be misguided as the fishing proved to be awesome. In the very first place I fished after sliding down a steep bank in the mud and converting to a Chernobyl ant and salvation nymph, I landed four trout; three rainbows and one cutbow. Two of the rainbows and the cutbow were 13-14 inch chunky fish that attacked the salvation nymph.

I continued fishing upstream for the next one and a half hours and landed a total of twelve fish including the four from the initial small pool. Several were nice brookies, another pure cutthroat came to my net, and the remainder were largely rainbows. Once again a period of heavy rain commenced, but again I stuck it out given the high level of success I was experiencing. After the rain once again slowed a dense BWO hatch kicked in, but the fish seemed to ignore it. The salvation nymph probably produced all the Himes Peak fish except for three that crushed the Chernobyl ant on the surface. Toward the end of the afternoon, the salvation nymph got destroyed so I tried a Craven emerger, RS2, and beadhead pheasant tail, but these did not produce and the last fish landed was on the Chernobyl ant.

It was an auspicious start to my fishing trip with a total of twenty-one landed in four and a half hours of fishing in some rather adverse conditions with three waves of heavy rain. Unfortunatey I have discovered that bad weather for fishermen is good weather for fish and vice versa.

Soggy Campsite Wednesday Evening

Soggy Campsite Wednesday Evening

I returned to the campsite, and the ground and tent pad were saturated due to the constant and intermittent heavy rain so I decided to rearrange my cargo and sleep in the back of the Santa Fe. I was able to eat my dinner during a brief thirty minute lull in rain showers which resumed after dinner and continued through much of the night.