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.


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