Flat Tops Fishing Report (5/19/20)

Tuesday May 19, 2020 comments

Flat Tops Fishing Report (5/19/20)

The snow is melting fast in the Flat Tops and the spring runoff is in full force. Most of the high-elevation lakes in the Flat Tops Wilderness Area are still frozen or virtually inaccessible. Please note that all developed facilities—campgrounds, picnic grounds and toilets in the White River National Forest are closed until at least May 31st. Check the White River National Forest web page for the latest updates on restrictions related to the COVID-19 as well as general forest conditions. Have a safe and happy Memorial Day weekend.

Flat Tops Rivers and Streams:

The White River is often overlooked by anglers due in part to the perception that the best fishing opportunities require access to private property. Significant stretches of the White, both above and below the confluence of the North and South forks, do require access to private land; however, the perception that no public water exists is far from accurate. Below the confluence, several public access areas have been established by Colorado Parks and Wildlife. Above the confluence, both forks of the White offer miles and miles of public access within the White River National Forest. Neither of the forks receives heavy fishing pressure and bugs are diverse and abundant. Long leader and light tippet are rarely required and fish almost never key on one insect.

The North Fork of the White River produces some very nice cutthroats, rainbows and whitefish; many in the 16-20 inch range. Downstream, toward Meeker, 24 inchers are not uncommon. Closer to Trappers Lake, the fishing for brookies and smaller cutthroats and rainbows is generally excellent. 

The snowpack is melting exceedingly fast this spring as a result of a stretch of warm weather. The North Fork below Ripple Creek is running as high we’ve ever seen it. We have a couple of days of cooler weather in the forecast, but that probably won’t be enough to substantially lower the flows and improve conditions. Wading will be treacherous for the next couple of weeks. If you already have a trip to the area planned and want to test the North Fork, we recommend trying the stretches of public water above Ripple Creek (between the Big Fish Trailhead and Trappers Lake). Your back cast will generally be limited by streamside and overhead vegetation, but the water conditions will be better than what you’ll find downstream.

Access on the North Fork is restricted in some stretches, but the public water within the forest boundaries is not heavily fished. Be sure to respect private property boundaries. Most are well-marked.

The South Fork of the White River offers more public access than the North Fork, especially for those willing to do a little walking. The South Fork Trail (#1827) follows the river for about 15 miles within the Flat Tops Wilderness Area. The trail is an easy to moderate walk and is well-traveled by hikers and horseback riders, but most fisherman don’t venture more than a few hundred yards from the campground, so don’t be deterred if the trailhead parking lot is busy. The South Fork is a great spot if you’re looking to combine seeing the fall colors with some excellent fishing.

Fast, high water is also the story on the South Fork. Water clarity on the South Fork is much better than you’ll see on the North Fork, but wading is still extremely hazardous in some sections. Fish will be seeking relief from the strong currents, so your best approach is to work deep pools, near the banks and in the slower moving seams. Stoneflies and colorful streamers and nymphs will be the patterns most likely to provoke a strike.

Please take note of the special regulations in the White River drainage by visiting:



Marvine Creek is accessed via the Marvine Trail (#1823).  The parking lot at the trail head is often full of vehicles and horse trailers, but the creek receives minimal fishing pressure. 

If you’d like to spend a day experiencing some of the beauty of the Flat Tops Wilderness topped off by a pan full of brookies for dinner, Marvine Creek is the place for you. The trout on Marvine Creek aren’t especially selective. The fishing pressure is minimal and the bugs are plentiful.

We haven’t received an updated report from Marvine Creek. You’ll almost certainly hit some deep snow in the shady areas along the trail and near the creek. If you make the short hike back to the open meadows, you might have some luck as the runoff does not generally impact Marvine to the degree that it does the larger streams.

Big Fish Creek runs along the Big Fish Trail (#1819). The Big Fish Trailhead is on the left as you enter the Himes Peak Campground. The campground is on the Trappers Lake Road 6 miles from the intersection with County Rd 8. The trail sees some heavy use in the summer months, primarily by horseback riders. The creek is narrow and brushy in many places, but negotiating the brush is worth the effort as the creek holds some surprisingly large rainbows and cutthroats as well as plenty of brook trout.

Flat Tops Lakes:

Over 100 fishable lakes are just a hike or trail ride away from Ripple Creek Lodge—far too many to include in this report. If you’re looking for information on a specific lake, which you don’t see listed here. Feel free to get in touch with us and we’ll tell you what we know.

Higher elevation lakes remain frozen or difficult and dangerous to access due to remaining snowpack. The run of warm weather should open things up very soon and the fish will surely take to the open water with aggressive feeding.

Trappers Lake

Be sure to familiarize yourself with the special regulations for Trappers. Only artificial flies and lures are permitted. The number and size of cutthroats in possession is restricted, but free to keep all the brookies you’d like! The lake sits within the boundaries of the Flat Tops Wilderness, so motorized vehicles and watercraft are prohibited. 

Trappers Lake is beginning to thaw on the edges. We expect that ice off is just around the corner. Give us a call for the latest conditions.

Lake of the Woods is accessed via the Trappers Lake Road and Lake of the Woods Trail #2263. Lake of the Woods has been open for the last few weeks and reports have been favorable. This is the best time of the year at Lake of the Woods as the mosquitoes aren’t in full force and the fish are hungry.

Skinny Fish Lake is accessed via the Skinny Fish Trail #1813. We haven’t received any reports that Skinny Fish is open, but it should be soon. Contact the lodge for the latest. Skinny Fish is always red hot when the ice comes off.

Shamrock Lake and Mirror Lake offer beautiful settings to pull in brookies all day long. Both lakes are accessed via the Mirror Lake Trail #1821. Both lakes are likely frozen and the trail virtually impassable.

If you’ve been fishing the Flat Tops recently, get in touch and let us know how you did.