Flat Tops Fishing Report (7/2/20)

Thursday July 2, 2020 comments

Flat Tops Fishing Report (7/2/20)

Escape the holiday weekend crowds on the Front Range and I-70 corridor by venturing to the Flat Tops range in northwest Colorado. Join us to experience the spectacular natural surroundings, solitude and outstanding fishing opportunities.

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 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 are seeing some exceptional action on the North Fork. Flows are ideal and the water is clear. For dry patterns, we recommend elk hair caddis (#16-#18), Amy’s ants (#10-#12), BWO emergers (#16-#18) and stimulators (#14-#18). If nymphing is your game, we suggest a BH rubber legs hare’s ear (#16-#18), BH blowtorch (#16-#18) or BH zug bug (#16-#18).

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.

The action on the South Fork has also been excellent. The stonefly hatch has nearly ended, but we’re seeing clouds of caddis and mayflies. Various terrestrials, PMDs (#16-#18), parachute Adams (#16-#18) and elk hair caddis (#14-#18) have all proven effective dry flies. Green copper johns (#16-#18), zug bugs (#14-#18) CDC loopwing emergers (#16-#18) and BH hare’s ears (#14-#18) are good bets below the surface. As is typically the case on both forks of the White, presentation is more important than pattern.

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.

Marvine Creek is an excellent choice if you’re up for a day spent immersed in the beauty of the Flat Tops Wilderness followed by a dinner of fresh brook trout. You might find a few rainbows and cutthroats in some of the deep pools, but most fish taken are brookies. A good drift with nearly any dry pattern often provokes a strike. Stimulators (#12-#14), yellow sallies (#14-#16) and elk hair caddis (#16-#18) are our flies of choice. 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.

Big Fish continues to fish well. Terrestrials (#10-#14) and stimulators (#12-#16) are good patterns for Big Fish Creek.

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 a game of hit and miss. The fish are beginning to move for the cooler waters toward the middle of the lake. Your best approach is to fish from a float tube or boat. Success from the shore is coming early and late in the day when the temperatures drop. We recommend scuds (#14-#16), green wooly buggers (#12-#14), BH golden ribbed hare’s ears (#14-#16) and BH pheasant tails (#16-#18). If the evening hatches come off, we suggest going with an elk hair caddis (#16-#16), Adams (#16-#18) or blue dun (#16-#18).

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 several 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. Lake of the Woods remains slow. 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.

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. 

Skinny Fish Lake and McGinnis Lake are accessed via the Skinny Fish Trail #1813 and the McGinnis Trail #2213. As expected, the action on Skinny Fish and McGinnis is slowing. The long, warm days and mild nights are driving fish to cooler waters near the middle of the lakes. Anglers are seeing some success with terrestrials (#10-#14), stimulators (#12-#14) and Pat’s rubber legs (#10-#12).

West Lost Lake can be accessed via multiple trails that connect to the West Lost Lake Trail #1103. We’re hearing that West Lost Lake is a mixed bag. Fishing early and/or late in the day with a caddis pattern (#16-#18) or parachute Adams (#16-#18) is your best bet. West Lost Lake is a short walk or ride from Deep Lake, Dines Lake and East Lost Lake. If you’re not having any luck at West Lost, you have some additional options. A guided horse trip from Ripple Creek Lodge is the perfect way to enjoy all four lakes.