Flat Tops Fishing Report (7/29/20)

Thursday July 30, 2020 comments

Flat Tops Fishing Report (7/29/20)

Most facilities and campgrounds in the Flat Tops are open. 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.

We finally saw some much-needed rain in the Flat Tops last week and early this week. The upcoming forecast shows a return to hot and dry conditions. Given the low flows and warm conditions, we suggest targeting high elevation lakes and streams to avoid putting additional stress on fish already stressed by warm water temperatures at lower elevations.

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.

Both above and below the confluence, several public access areas have been established on land managed by Colorado Parks and Wildlife, Rio Blanco County, the BLM, the Blanco Ranger District and the Town of Meeker. You will find several informational kiosks displaying maps of public fishing access areas. 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. Both above and below the confluence,

Neither of the forks of the White 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. 

The moisture last week put a temporary tint in the North Fork, but the low, clear flows have returned. Throughout the last several weeks, regardless of weather conditions, the fishing has remained outstanding. Focus your attention on the areas that provide cool water and cover—deep runs, cut banks and shaded stretches. Big terrestrials--Amy’s ants (#10-#12), chubby Chernobyls (#10-#12) and hoppers (#8-#12)—are still doing the trick. Rubber leg copper Johns (#16-#18), BH hare’s ears (#16-#18) and BH prince nymphs (#16-#18) continue to be productive along the bottom.

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 do not venture more than a few hundred yards from the campground, so do not 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 will find the best action on the South Fork if you hike upstream about 2.5 miles to just above the falls.

The South Fork is running gin clear and still providing some excellent outings. Look for big fish in deeper runs, shady areas and close to the bank. You will find small fish in the quiet water, but the rod benders are hunkered down where they can find cold water and cover. BH hare’s ears (#16-#18), BH pheasant tails (#16-#18) and rubber leg copper Johns (#16-#18) are our nymphs of choice. If happen to be a dry fly purist, you should pack some PMX (#12-16), stimulators (#14-#16) and Amy’s ants (#12-#14). Maybe throw in a hippie stomper for good measure (#10-#14).

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 enjoy hooking small brook trout on dry flies, Marvine Creek is a great choice. The brookies are not picky, fishing pressure is light and the bugs are plentiful. You might hook into an occasional healthy cutthroat or rainbow, but netting a monster 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.

If you love dry fly fishing and don’t concern yourself with posing for hero shots, Marvine Creek is an ideal destination. A good presentation with any dry fly will likely be rewarded with a rising brook trout. Stimulators (#12-#14), yellow sallies (#14-#16) and elk hair caddis (#16-#18) are our flies of choice.

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 are looking for information on a specific lake, which you do not see listed here. Feel free to get in touch with us and we will tell you what we know.

Last week’s cooler temperatures brought some good days on Trappers Lake. We saw some excellent action on black ants (#14-#16), renegades (#14-#16), Goddard caddis (#14-#16) and scuds (#16-#18). The wind is prone to pick up after noon at Trappers and die down near dusk. The best fishing opportunities tend to happen before 10AM and just before dusk.

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 are not having any luck at Trappers Lake, we suggest you make the short hike up the Little Trappers Trail #1814 to Coffin Lake or Little Trappers Lake. Both lakes can be finicky, but Coffin holds some large cutthroats.

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. We are not seeing a lot of fish in the net at Big Fish. Big Fish is something of an enigma. If you are fortunate to arrive when the bite is on, you might hook into a sizeable cutthroat.

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-#20) 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. Not much new to report on Skinny Fish or McGinnis. We are not hearing many anglers return with success stories. A caddis pattern (#16-#20) or Adams (#16-#18) in the early morning or evening might provoke a rise, but all we can guarantee is some wonderful scenery.

West Lost Lake can be accessed via multiple trails that connect to the West Lost Lake Trail #1103. Fishing early in the day and near dusk has been a solid approach on West Lost. Caddis patterns (#16-#18), parachute Adams (#16-#18) and beetle patterns (#14-#16) are producing fish. West Lost Lake is a short walk or ride from Deep Lake, Dines Lake or East Lost Lake. If you are 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.

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 reports from the lake are also mixed. You are most likely to have success with caddis patterns (#16-#20) early and late in the day.