Flat Tops Fishing Report (6/17/20)

Wednesday June 17, 2020 comments

Flat Tops Fishing Report (6/17/20)

The spring runoff is slowly winding down in the Flat Tops. Water clarity on the rivers and streams is good and flows are dropping daily. The high elevation lakes are now open. Some of the best fishing action of the year is just around the corner.

Most facilities and campgrounds in the Flat Tops have opened. The North Fork and Himes Peak Campgrounds opened on June 5th. The remaining Blanco Ranger District Campgrounds opened June 12th. Check the White River National Forest/Blanco Ranger District web page for the latest updates on restrictions related to the COVID-19 as well as general forest conditions.

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, Rio Blanco County and the Town of Meeker. Above the confluence, both forks of the White offer miles and miles of public access within the White River National Forest and the Flat Tops Wilderness Area. 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 any one insect.

The North Fork of the White River produces some very nice cutthroats, cutbows, rainbows and whitefish; many in the 16-20 inch range. Downstream, toward Meeker, 24 inchers are not uncommon. Upstream from the Himes Peak Campground, the fishing for brook trout and smaller cutthroats and rainbows is generally excellent. 

We continue to see some of the impact of the spring runoff on the North Fork, but conditions are improving every day. Flows are still high, but the water clarity has improved significantly in the last week or two. Expect wading to remain dodgy for at least another week, especially in narrow sections of the river. Focus your efforts on spots where fish are finding relief from heavy flows—close to the banks, behind structure, along the river bottom. For dry patterns, we suggest elk hair caddis (#16-#18), parachute Adams (#16-#18), PMDs (#16-#20) and stimulators (#12-#16). We recommend trailing a nymph with enough weight to reach a good depth—BH copper johns (#16-#18) and BH hare’s ears (#16-#20) are producing fish.

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 provides more public access than the North Fork. 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. 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 offers both solitude and outstanding fishing if an angler is willing and able to do some hiking. You’ll find the best action on the South Fork if you hike upstream about 2.5 miles to just above the falls.

Action on the South Fork is picking up day by day. Flows continue to drop and wading is becoming safer, but extreme caution is advisable. We suggest you approach the South Fork much like the North Fork. Work the areas where fish are holding to escape the current. We suggest trying a BH copper John (#16-#18), BH pheasant tail (#16-#18) or a zug bug (#16-#18). Late in the day, you might provoke a rise with a BWO (#16-#18), parachute Adams (#16-#18), stimulator (#12-#14) or an elk hair caddis (#16-#18) 

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


Marvine Creek is accessed via the Marvine Trail (#1823).  Marvine Creek is a great smaller fishery that offers amazing scenery along with excellent fishing opportunities within the Flat Tops Wilderness. If you’re looking to catch small brook trout on dry flies, Marvine Creek is a great choice. The brookies aren’t picky, fishing pressure is light and the bugs are plentiful. You might hook into an occasional healthy cutthroat or rainbow, but netting a monster trout is unlikely. The parking lot at the trailhead is often full of vehicles and horse trailers, but the creek receives minimal fishing pressure. Most riders and hikers are traveling to the upstream lakes.

A good drift with a dry fly is likely to produce results on Marvine. BWOs (#16-#20), stimulators (#12-#14), elk hair caddis (#16-#18) and smidgets (#16-#18) have been the most effective patterns of late. Nymphing is tricky on Marvine due to the prevalence of deadfall on the bottom of the creek.

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 and hikers. The creek is narrow and brushy in many places, but negotiating the brush is often worth the effort as the creek holds some surprisingly large rainbows and cutthroats as well as plenty of brook trout.

We’re seeing some good action on Big Fish Creek, particularly in the morning and late afternoon. Anglers are reporting success with wooly buggers (#14), red BH WD40 (#20) and some terrestrials (#14-#16). 

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.

With the stretch of warm weather in the forecast, we should start to see some of the higher elevation lakes open and become more accessible over the next couple of weeks.

Trappers Lake continues to be hit and miss. We’re seeing anglers come up empty handed one day only to kill it the next. You’re most likely to see success in the early morning hours and near dusk when the caddis and mayfly hatches go off. We suggest elk hair caddis (#16-#20), BWOs (#18-#22), black gnats (#18-#20) and Adams (#16-#18) if you prefer to work the top water. Below the surface, hare’s ears (#16-#18), pheasant tails (#16-#18), scuds (#18-#20) and wooly buggers (#8-#10) are solid picks.

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. 

If you’re not having any luck at Trappers Lake, you might make the short hike up the Little Trappers Trail #1814 to Coffin Lake. Coffin is another hit and miss proposition and we’re getting reports of a lot of hits over the last two weeks. Scuds (#18-#20) and wooly buggers (#8-#10) are the patterns we recommend.

Lake of the Woods is accessed via the Trappers Lake Road and Lake of the Woods Trail #2263. We’re starting to see the action slow at Lake of the Woods. That trend will likely continue until the fall. You might have some success with a float tube using small dry flies and scuds. Lake of the Woods holds some surprisingly large brook trout.

Big Fish Lake is accessed using the Big Fish Trail #1819. Like many high lakes, Big Fish tends to be a hit and miss proposition. We’ve received some reports of large fish taken and equally as many reports of anglers being skunked. Most of the trail should be open, but you may run into a drift or two of deep snow and some downed trees along the way.

Skinny Fish Lake and McGinnis Lake are accessed via the Skinny Fish Trail #1813 and the McGinnis Trail #2213. You’re likely to run into some drifted snow and downed trees along the trails so caution is advised. The reports from Skinny Fish Lake and McGinnis are excellent. Anglers are reporting good results with PMDs (#16-#20, elk hair caddis (#14-#18) and irresistibles (#14-#18). Trailing a BH hare’s ear, copper john (#16-#20) or a scud (#16-#20) should also draw attention from feeding trout.

Both Shamrock Lake and Mirror Lake are open. These lakes offer spectacular views and excellent opportunities to catch rising brook trout all day. You might even hook into a tiger trout on Mirror Lake. Both lakes are accessed via the Mirror Lake Trail #1821. Virtually any caddis or mayfly patterns (#18-#24) are bound to bring fish to the surface. 

Coffin Lake