Time: 1:00PM – 4:30PM
Location: Near the North Fork Campground
Monday was the start of my highly anticipated annual trek to the Flattops area of Colorado. The second week of September has become my preferred time to make the long four hour drive to the White River including a forty mile rumble over gravel and dirt washboard roads. Generally the arduous trip is well worth it for the fishing, scenery and solitude.
A day before my expected departure Jane spotted an item in the Denver Post announcing a new wildfire near Maybell, CO. I reviewed a map and determined that the area of the fire was in northwest Colorado and safely distant from my planned fly fishing destination. However, not willing to undertake a long journey only to be thwarted by smoke and closures, I decided to call the White River National Forest office on Monday morning. I placed the call shortly after 8AM, and a woman answered the phone. She assured me that the Maybell wildfire was not an issue, but then she informed me that there was a closure in the Himes Peak area near the White River. This was a surprise stroke of back luck, as the Himes Peak Campground was one my favorite starting points for fishing the North Fork.
I debated what to do, and I finally concluded that enough options remained to entertain me for at least three days. I simply needed to be flexible and adjust my plan. I departed Denver by 8:20AM, and the lack of traffic snarls or weather delays enabled me to arrive at the junction of CO 8 and CO 155 by 12:15PM. I turned left to head toward the stretch of water above Himes Peak, but two national forest service employees were seated in chairs along the side of the road. A young man walked over to my rolled down window and asked if I knew of the closure. I told him I did, and then I asked if the area above Himes Peak was also closed, and he replied that it was. I voiced my disappointment and asked if he knew when the area would reopen? He stated that the closure would most likely extend through Friday. With this bit of discouraging news I was in ad lib mode, since the wildfire eliminated one of my favorite haunts for the entire week. I backed up to CO 8 and considered my options.
There was a section that yielded success three to five years ago, but a more recent visit delivered disappointment. Perhaps with the elimination of the upper North Fork, I needed to give it another try. I continued for a few miles until I was near the North Fork Campground, and here I parked along the shoulder. It was 12:30, so I munched my sandwich and downed a yogurt and assembled my Orvis Access four weight for a day of fishing.
As I was about to hike along the road to a path that led to the river, I heard the rumble of thunder and noticed some dark threatening clouds to the southeast. I judged that the storm would pass to the south, and I was not dissuaded in my pursuit of trout. I hiked for approximately .5 mile and hoped to exit and climb back up the hill near where the car was parked. I glanced at my watch and noted that my start time was 1PM, and I added a tan pool toy, salvation nymph and ultra zug bug to my line. These three flies served me well for the entire day.
When I reached the edge of the river, I continued downstream for another .3 mile in order to explore a segment never previously fished. I began prospecting the dry/dropper combination, and fairly quickly an eight inch rainbow snatched the salvation nymph in a deep run. A bit of a lull in action ensued, but then I noticed a pause of the hopper in a deep run, and this prompted a quick hook set. The shocked fish flashed near the surface, and I glimpsed a bronze colored combatant. Sure enough when I lifted the trout into my net, I gazed at a gorgeous cutthroat that measured thirteen inches in length. I was quite pleased, and this stroke of good fortune spurred me to continue in my impromptu destination.
I was mindful of previous visits to this section of the White River, when I determined that the fish inhabited pockets and runs of moderate depth. This caused me to move along at a fairly rapid pace, as I allocated three to five casts to spots that met the criteria described above. I covered between .5 and one mile and landed twenty-two trout. I had a blast. Shortly after starting a large threatening cloud settled above me, and large raindrops began to ping my hat. I scrambled to remove my packs and quickly retrieved my raincoat just before a fairly heavy fifteen minute shower commenced.
Included in my catch on Monday was a sixteen inch rainbow, a couple of feisty thirteen inch bows, and a significant number of eleven and twelve inch striped gems. A small brook trout was also in the mix, but a brown trout remained outstanding to claim a grand slam. Number twenty-one was the prettiest fish on the day, as it displayed a bright cheek, yellow-bronze body, and a wide bright stripe. This fish measured around fourteen inches, and I obtained a photo from above while it rested in the net. Unfortunately it squeezed through one of the plastic holes in the net, before I could obtain a better view. During Monday’s action one fish smashed the pool toy, and all the others grabbed the nymphs. I estimate that 75% preferred the salvation.
At 4:30 I debated whether to walk along the edge of the river in order to exit near the car, or whether to retreat to my starting point. I chose the latter, and this decision necessitated some serious bouldering over large rocks deposited at the bottom of the steep bank beneath the road. Since I was now improvising my fishing trip of 2017, I decided to drive to the South Fork Campground. Camping at this campground positioned me for hike-in fishing on the South Fork on Tuesday.
On my drive to South Fork I found a few places with enough cell coverage to text Jane about my whereabouts. Also I passed two livestock trailers at the corral below the North Fork Campground, and shaggy sheep were wandering everywhere in the vicinity. Apparently they were enjoying their last moments of freedom before being transported to another destination. I hate to think where that might be.
Monday afternoon was a windfall after the disappointing information surrounding the wildfire. Early success in an area previously written off was an excellent start and provided me with a necessary boost of optimism.
Fish Landed: 22