Flat Tops Fishing Report (7/24/19)

Saturday July 27, 2019 comments

Flat Tops Fishing Report (7/24/19)

Escape the crowded I-70 corridor with a trip to the scenic Flat Tops range in northwest Colorado. The fishing is outstanding and the scenery is incredible.

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, the town of Meeker and Trout Unlimited. 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 a single prey species.

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. Closer to Trappers Lake, the fishing for brookies and smaller cutthroats, cutbows and rainbows is generally excellent. 

The North Fork is rounding into form. Wading can still be tricky in spots, so don’t overestimate your ability to negotiate the swift water. The hatches have been spectacular in recent days. We’re seeing hordes of mayflies and caddis, so pattern selection is not nearly as important as presentation. Anglers are taking some nice trout with a variety of dry patterns and terrestrials. We recommend caddis patterns (#16-#18), parachute Adams (#16-#18), stimulators (#12-#16), chubby Chernobyls (#12-#14), PMX (#12-#16) and Amy’s ants (#12-#14). If you’re not seeing consistent action on the surface, a dry-dropper rig is a good choice. We recommend trailing a nymph with enough weight to achieve some depth—BH copper johns (#16-#18), BH hare’s ears (#16-#20) and BH zug bugs (#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, especially for those able and interested in to doing 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 offers both solitude and outstanding fishing for the price of a little leg work.

The South Fork is also red hot. Flows have dropped, but wading with caution is still the word. Stonefly hatches are dropping off, but the caddis and mayfly hatches continue to come off in impressive numbers. You’ll find the best action on the South Fork if you hike upstream about 2.5 miles to just above the falls. We’re seeing some nice trout take flies on the surface. We recommend throwing a PMX (#12-16), BWO foam post emerger (#16-#20), stimulator (#14-#18) caddis pattern (#16-#20) or Amy’s ant (#12-#16). If you aren’t seeing action on the surface, try dragging a nymph through some of the deeper runs and shady stretches. We suggest a BH red copper John (#14-#18), BH golden-ribbed hare’s ear (#16-#18) or zug bug (#16-#18); that said, getting good depth is more important than your choice of pattern.


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. 

Flows are subsiding on Marvine Creek and the water clarity is excellent. As is almost always the case on Marvine, presentation is much more important than pattern. The last several days have seen fish really attacking the surface. Stimulators (#12-#14), PMX (#12-#16), caddis patterns (#16-#18) and foam post emergers (#16-#20) are our recommendations. If a day taking in the beauty of the Flat Tops Wilderness topped off by a pan full of brookies for dinner sounds a good day, Marvine Creek is the place to be.

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.

We’re still getting mixed reports from Trappers Lake. Your best option is to fish from a float tube or boat. Anglers fishing from watercraft are seeing success with BH hare’s ears (#14-#16), green wooly buggers (#14-#16) and scuds (#14-#18) using enough weight to get good depth. From the shore, anglers are seeing the most action in the early morning and evening hours using renegades (#16-#18), elk hair caddis (#16-#18), stimulators (#12-#14) and hoppers (#10-#12).

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. 

Access Lake of the Woods 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.

West Lost Lake can be accessed via multiple trails that connect to the West Lost Lake Trail #1103. We continue to get mixed reports from West Lost Lake. Your best bet is fishing early and/or late in the day with a caddis pattern (#16-#18) or parachute Adams (#16-#18). 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.

Big Fish Lake is accessed using the Big Fish Trail #1819. Big Fish has been hit and miss over the past week. We’ve received a few reports of large fish taken, but more reports of frustration.

The action on Skinny Fish Lake is slowing as it typically does as the temperatures warm. Skinny Fish Lake is accessed via the Skinny Fish Trail #1813. Anglers are seeing some success with terrestrials (#10-#14), stimulators (#12-#14) and Pat’s rubber legs (#10-#12).

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. Virtually any caddis or mayfly patterns (#16-#22) are bound to bring fish to the surface.

Wall Lake offers an excellent opportunity to do some fishing while enjoying a spectacular view. Wall Lake can be accessed via the Wall Lake Trail (#1818). The trail to Wall Lake is finally clear of snow making the lake accessible. We haven’t received any reports on the fishing. Post a comment if you hear something.