Time: 12:30PM – 1:00PM
Location: Natural dam next to the outlet.
On July 3, 2018 Jane and I trekked to Skinny Fish Lake in the Flattops Wilderness, and I fished for a short amount of time with no success. We held our experience in such high regard, that we decided to once again travel to the Flattops and repeat the hike in 2019. In advance of the trip I contacted the White River National Forest ranger station in Meeker, CO, and I discovered that Ripple Creek Pass was closed as a result of a surprise late snowstorm and a generous number of fallen trees. This news forced us to revise our route, and we traveled west on Interstate 70 to Rifle, CO and then journeyed north to Meeker, CO and finally made an eastern swing on CO 8 to the North Fork Campground. I reserved campsite number 27 in advance for Sunday through Tuesday nights.
Monday was forecast to be a gorgeous day from a weather standpoint, so Jane and I elected the repeat hike to Skinny Fish Lake as our destination. The report that Ripple Creek Pass was closed prompted us to pack snowshoes, and these were a backup plan in the event that we encountered deep snow on our hike. On Sunday evening after we arrived, the campground host stopped by to introduce himself, and when queried on the Skinny Lake Trail he was fairly certain that snow would not be an impediment to our hike. Based on this information we lightened our loads and left the snowshoes behind.
As we traveled along the White River and the North Fork of the White River on Sunday, it was evident that fly fishing in rivers and streams in the Flattops would not be an option on this July 2019 trip. I was thwarted in my attempt to land a fish from Skinny Fish in 2018; so I packed my wading socks, wading boots, fly rod and fishing packs for the trip. I conjectured that our timing was more appropriate than the previous year given the late snow pack and ice-off on the lake. A twin lake to Skinny Fish Lake named McGinnis Lake is located a half mile to the east, and it can be reached via a trail that branches off from Skinny Fish. My goal was to reach McGinnis and thus experience some new terrain and sample a different high elevation lake.
We departed from the Skinny Fish Lake Trailhead at 10:30, and we arrived at Skinny Fish Lake by noon. Wait, you might ask, what happened to McGinnis Lake? We took the right turn at a Y in the trail and advanced .2 mile, until we reached a stream crossing to continue to McGinnis Lake. The stream was bloated with run off, but it split into three braids, and we evaluated several crossing schemes, but eventually our better judgment prevailed, and we reversed to the Y and continued to Skinny Fish.
The hike was as breathtaking as we remembered. The meadows and grasses were in a lush green state and wildflowers abounded. We were surrounded by spectacular views of the Chinese Wall, West Wall and Amphitheater; and the wild fire of fifteen years ago opened the vistas in every direction. The path was quite muddy in spots, but we both wore our hiking boots. Several stream crossings presented a challenge due to the melting snow in the headwaters, but we managed to overcome these early season obstacles.
When we arrived at Skinny Fish Lake, we immediately extracted our sandwiches and snacks to refuel for the return trip. As I ate, I scanned the surface of the lake, but I was unable to identify a single rising fish. This circumstance reinforced my experience of the previous summer. I had my wading socks, wading boots and quick dry pants for wet wading; but I decided to cast from the natural earthen dam on the south side of the lake and forego changing into the wet wading gear.
I rigged my Sage four weight and walked along the lake to the outlet, and I decided to attempt a crossing on several wide logs that angled across the moving creek. This was a significant error in judgment. I placed my left foot on a log next to the bank, and as I leaned to disengage from land and placed my right foot on another log, I discovered that the first step was perched on a floating log. Both my feet sank two feet below the surface, and I found myself wet wading in my hiking boots. I quickly jumped back on land, but my pants, boots and socks were saturated with ice cold lake water. How ironic that I lugged wet wading essentials for 2.5 miles and then ended up with wet feet while forsaking the appropriate equipment.
I shrugged off the minor mishap and focused my attention on fly fishing. Jane of course chuckled at the entire episode. Evidence of surface feeding continued to be absent, and an advantage of remaining on the earthen dam section was the open space for backcasts. I abandoned all thoughts of fishing a dry fly, and I crimped a split shot to my line and then added a black woolly bugger and wiggle damsel nymph. This combination accounted for seven fish on Flatirons Reservoir, so why would it not entice wild trout from Skinny Fish Lake?
I cannot answer that question, but it did not lure any trout to my flies during thirty minutes of focused casting and stripping. I launched forty foot casts, counted down the sink period, and stripped them back with varying cadences; but I never saw a follow or felt a bump. I began near the outlet and moved in three step increments, until I was in the southwest corner to the lake. My confidence sank to a new low, and combined with the futile experience in 2018 I gave up hope and called an end to Skinny Fish Lake fishing by 1:00PM.
Jane attempted to hike around the lake, but this endeavor was thwarted by deep snow drifts, and this scouting report convinced me, that trying to circle the lake to try different areas was not worthwhile. I repacked my fishing gear in the backpack, and we began our descent to the trailhead parking lot. Skinny Fish Lake pitched me a second strike, and I am not certain, that I will offer it the opportunity to strike me out.
Thirty minutes is not a long time, and some inbound fishermen that we encountered on the return hike assured us that fish do call Skinny Fish Lake home. Perhaps the end to my quest for trout was premature, but the primary objective of the hike was accomplished. We were together in a beautiful remote Colorado environment, we viewed pretty wild flowers; and we overcame the mud, snow and snow melt to reach our destination. The hike to Skinny Fish Lake was a win in my book.
Fish Landed: 0