Flat Tops Fishing Report (9/9/20)

Friday September 11, 2020 comments

Flat Tops Fishing Report (9/9/20)

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.

Mother nature finally granted us a reprieve from the heat this week, but we have not received as much moisture as other parts of Colorado. With Labor Day weekend come and gone, we are into what is typically a quiet time in the Flat Tops. Summer vacations are over and hunters have yet to arrive in significant numbers. This is a great time to visit us in northwest Colorado. The late summer scenery is spectacular and you are not likely to cross paths with many other anglers. Most days you will have a lot of water to yourself.

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. At multiple locations along the river, you will find 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 action on the North Fork slowed a tad this week. We expect things will pick up over the next several days with cooler temperatures and a decrease in angling pressure. PMX (#12-#16), stimulators (#12-#16) and PMD foam post emergers (#16-#18) are our recommended dry patterns. Below the surface, we suggest BH zug bugs (#16-#18), red copper Johns (#16-#18) and prince nymphs (#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 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 might be our favorite water in the Flat Tops this time of year. The fishing is outstanding and the fall colors along the trail are something else. Stimulators (#12-#14), hoppers (#10-#12), Amy’s ants (#12-#14) and caddis patterns (#16-#18) are good bets for brining fish to the surface. BH pheasant tails (#16-18), BH zug bugs (#16-#18) and BH golden-ribbed hare’s ears rubber legs (#16-#18) are good patterns to bounce along the river bottom.

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 in the Flat Tops Wilderness. If you love dry fly fishing and are not concerned with opportunities for hero shots, Marvine Creek is an ideal destination. 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.

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.

We continue to see mostly slow days at Trappers Lake. Over the next several weeks, the cooler nighttime temperatures and decreased fishing pressure should provide the conditions for some excellent fishing. The cutthroats should begin cruising the shoreline in search of easy meals. You are likely to see fish feeding on caddis and mayfly hatches as well as terrestrials. For dry flies, we recommend elk hair caddis (#16-#18), BWOs (#16-#18), black gnats (#16-#18), Adams (#16-#18) and Amy’s ants (#10-#14). Hare’s ears (#16-#18) and pheasant tails (#16-#18) are effective nymphs and scuds (#14-#16) are always a good option.

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 water temperature cools. 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. Shamrock Lake has been the better fishery over the last couple of weeks. Virtually any dry fly pattern (#16-#18) is likely to draw the attention of an aggressive brook trout.

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. The action has picked up again at West Lost with a few nice brook trout taken. PMX (#12-#14) and caddis patterns (#16-#18) are producing on the surface. Lower in the water column, scuds (#16-#18) and red copper Johns (#16-#20) are generating some action. 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.

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.

*Please note that this will be our last report of the year as we prepare for hunting season.