Back to Blog Published: April 26, 2024

Flat Tops Fishing Report (8/18/23)

The end of summer is just around the bend. The kids are returning to school. A hint of fall is in the night air. Thankfully we still have a good couple of months left for fishing the lakes and streams of the Flat Tops.

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’ll find several locations along the river with informational kiosks showing maps and details of public fishing access opportunities. 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 of the White receives heavy fishing pressure and bugs are diverse and abundant. Long leader and light tippet are rarely needed 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.

Heavy rain is in the forecast, so we expect to see the North Fork pick up a tint for a few days. The low, clear flows should return by the weekend. A dry/dropper rig is the way to go once the water clarity returns. Be sure to use enough tippet between your dry and dropper to get good depth. We recommend an Am’s ant (#12-#16), stimulator (#12-16), hippy stomper (#8-#12) or PMX (#12-#16) for dry a pattern. For droppers, you’re best going with a BH zug bug (#16-#18), San Juan worm (#12-#16) or a BH psycho prince (#16-#18). To get some quick depth on your bottom fly, add some weight or tie on a bead head pattern.

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.

We don’t expect the rain to impact the clarity of the South Fork as much as the North Fork, but we will likely see the flows come up for a day or two. When the flows return to normal, expect to find larger fish holding in deep runs and close to the bank. You’ll find plenty of smaller trout feeding near the surface in quiet water, but don’t expect anything over 10 or 12 inches. PMX (#12-16), BWO foam post emergers (#16-#20), stimulators (#14-#18) and Amy’s ants (#12-#16) are producing on the surface. Lower in the water column, BH hare’s ears (#16-#18), BH pheasant tails (#16-#18) and rubber leg copper Johns (#16-#18) are our recommended patterns.

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.

If it’s in your fly box, give it a shot. A good presentation on Marvine is more often than not going to draw a strike. 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 your best options 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 steady action at Trappers Lake. We hope that trend will continue into the fall. Your best options for dry flies are elk hair caddis (#16-#20), PMDs (#16-#20) and Adams (#16-#20). If you’re not seeing any action on the surface, try to get some depth with a BH olive woolly bugger (#10-#14) or BH scud (#14-#16). Beetle and ant (#14-#16) patterns are always worth a shot as well.

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.

Access Lake of the Woods via the Trappers Lake Road and Lake Of The Woods Trail #2263. The slow trend continues at Lake of the Woods. We won’t likely see that change much until the cooler temperatures arrive in 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. Good bug spray is recommended.

Big Fish Lake is accessed using the Big Fish Trail #1819. Big Fish has been hit and miss over the past week, which is often the case. We’ve received a few reports of large fish taken, but a frustrating day is just as likely.

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. You might also hook into a tiger trout at Mirror Lake.

Skinny Fish Lake is accessed via the Skinny Fish Trail #1813. Skinny Fish is firmly entrenched in the summer doldrums. Aquatic vegetation is setting in and we’re not hearing of many successful outings. You might see some action in the evenings with caddis patterns (#16 -#20) or an Adams (#16-#18).

West Lost Lake can be accessed via multiple trails that connect to the West Lost Lake Trail #1103. The reports from West Lost Lake continue to be hit and miss. Fishing close to dawn or near dusk 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.

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.