One of Colorado’s greatest and most remote wilderness experiences is found in the Flat Top Wilderness Region, the state’s second-largest wilderness area. Amazing guided hiking, fly-fishing, and multi-day wilderness adventures are available from Colorado Wilderness Rides and Guides in the Flat Top Wilderness. The Flat Tops, which range in elevation from 8,000 to 12,000 feet, have expansive lakes, pure rivers, high plateau ranges, and breathtaking landscapes.
The Flat Tops wilderness also provides some of Colorado’s greatest ribbon cutthroat trout fly fishing in high alpine lakes and streams for experienced fly fishermen as well as beginners. If you are interested in flat tops wilderness fishing, continue to read this article.
Fishing at the Flat Tops Wilderness
On Colorado’s Western Slope, in the counties of Garfield, Rio Blanco, and Eagle, there are more than 235,000 acres of secluded mountains and woods that make up the Flat Tops Wilderness. Its most well-known natural feature is Trappers Lake, the second-largest natural lake in the state, which is surrounded by flattop mountains and fed by the North Fork of the White River.
Because of the work of Arthur Carhart, a landscape planner with the US Forest Service who started promoting the conservation of the region in 1919, Trappers Lake is referred to as the “Cradle of Wilderness.” The Forest Service abandoned its development plans for the region and forbade further development in light of Carhart’s surveying report. As a result, Trappers Lake became the first unofficial “wilderness area” in the country. Trappers Lake became a part of the Flat Tops Wilderness Area in 1975 after the Wilderness Act of 1964 made it possible to declare parts of the natural world free from human habitation.
Even though it is located in a remote wilderness region, hikers, campers, and fishermen still use Trappers Lake. Anglers are permitted to keep brook trout, but after capturing a cutthroat, they must release it. The renovated lodge, which is located just beyond the wilderness area’s limits, has a basic shop, fifteen cabins for guests to stay in, and kayak and paddleboard rentals. The 5.3-mile Carhart Loop Trail around the lake and other paths to the summits of neighboring flat top peaks are all maintained by the Forest Service, along with roughly 100 campsites close to the lake.
You will have the chance to enjoy some of the greatest backcountry fly fishing in Colorado, whether you choose to stay in one of our charming historic cabins at the main lodge or set out for a far-flung wilderness camp. There is more water to explore than you could ever fish in a single trip thanks to the approved area of more than 150 square miles and the use of our amiable horses and mules to reach the most isolated regions.
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Outdoor camping at Flat Tops Wilderness
Consider relocating to one of our wilderness fishing camps if you want for an even more distant vacation. These campgrounds provide anglers access to the most inaccessible river portions or high alpine lakes. We take horses to camp, where your camp host and chef will welcome you. Fishing is done on foot from there. For fishermen who would rather not ride a horse out and back from the main lodge each day of the trip, this is also a nice choice.
You will get into the saddle for the ride out to camp after we load your personal belongings and fishing equipment onto our reliable pack horses and mules. You’ll be welcomed with a comfortable wall tent upon arrival, as well as the cook tent where we’ll provide filling meals for the length of your stay. We’ll offer big, comfy beds and pads; just bring your own sleeping bag. There will be a pit toilet and latrine tent next to the site.
You’ll get a cooked breakfast in the cook tent every day of the journey. Depending on where the camp is, you’ll next go on foot to fish the river or a neighboring mountain lake. We’ll make you a nice meal in the evening, and you’ll have plenty of time to unwind and take in your isolated, forest surroundings. Our packers will show up on the last day of the excursion with the pack animals and saddle horses for the return journey to the main lodge.
3 things to keep in mind with flat tops wilderness fishing
Although it’s not tough to fish these high-country waterways, choosing the appropriate flies may really make a difference. Here are three recommendations for your next outdoor excursion. In the Flat Tops Wilderness Area, the fishing season has started. As we approach the end of July, Colorado’s historic spring and early summer rains has created excellent fishing conditions.
Anglers should anticipate excellent fly fishing in the late summer because to the abundance of lakes with clear, chilly water. Since the water has warmed, fish have become more active and voracious. Fish are cruising opportunistically around the shorelines, taking advantage of worms, scuds, and early mayfly hatches now that the cutthroat spawn has finished.
At High Elevations, Hatches Arrive Later
It’s crucial to understand that main hatches occur later on rivers at higher altitudes than they do on rivers at lower elevations if you’ve never fished in a high-country wilderness region. For instance, blue winged olive hatches (BWO) are frequent through March and April on many of Colorado’s famous rivers, but they don’t become particularly heavy in the high country until June and July. On many waterways at lower elevations, caddis hatches start in May, but at higher elevations, they may not hatch until the middle of July. On untamed rivers, stoneflies may not hatch until as late as August. Hornets and terrestrials are the only constant. However, the terrestrial fishing usually becomes better later in the summer. High-country cutthroat and brook trout will take hopper patterns at any time.
Have attractors and specific patterns handy
Wilderness water fishing isn’t very sophisticated, but the fish may sometimes be shockingly finicky. You could often fish a Yellow Humpy all day long and catch a ton of fish. The difference between having a good day and a terrific day may be made by being better prepared to match the hatch.
A little BWO pattern, such as Spark Duns, Parachute BWOs, or Parachute Adams, is what fisherman should bring right now. Caddis patterns will also start to work in the coming weeks. Foam caddis or standard elk hair caddis are also suitable options. Bringing a few attractor patterns like Stimulators, Wulffs, Humpies, and Amy’s Ants is also advised. My personal favorites when it comes to terrestrials are Moorish Hoppers, PMX patterns, and Hippie Stompers.
Choosing a nymph is typically easy. Don’t forget to research mayflies, caddis, and stoneflies. Pheasant Tails and other varieties of mayfly patterns are crucial. Caddis pupae and larvae are both beneficial (Buckskins and Graphic Caddis are two of my favorites). Princes and Iron Sallies, two tiny stonefly nymphs, are also efficient. Additionally, you’ll want to have a couple effective attractor nymphs on hand. Worm, Copper John, and Hare’s Ear designs are also fantastic options.
Wooly Buggers, Thin Mints, and other little streamers are effective while fishing alpine lakes. On most lakes, celibates and midges are also prevalent. A Hare’s Ear followed by a Tungsten Thin Mint may often be a lethal combo.
Do not be afraid to alter your setup
Change things up if your setup or fly selection isn’t bringing in fish. It is pointless to keep hitting the same flies in the absence of success. Change your rig often until you discover one that works.
Anglers often prefer to maintain covering more water rather than switching flies. The latter should often be done more frequently. It’s time to switch the bugs before trying new fish if you’ve tried your flies on a few fish with no luck. Don’t forget to change depth in addition to changing flies. Pay attention to where in the water column the fish are feeding.
What is it like to enjoy Flat Tops wilderness fishing?
We anticipate returning to fishing in the Flat Tops Wilderness Area every spring. Although fly fishing is enjoyable wherever it is done, there is nothing quite like doing it in a remote wilderness region of Colorado. Small streams to high alpine lakes all have untouched fish populations and unrivaled landscapes.
However, it might be challenging to know where to start for someone who has never traveled into the wilderness in quest of trout. We will provide a three-part series on fishing Colorado’s backcountry regions during the next several months. The varieties of water and where to begin will be the main topics of this first essay. Access and fishing advice will be covered in the next article. The third installment will cover recommended gear and flies.
There are several alternatives available for fly fishing in Colorado’s wilderness. Our wilderness regions provide a variety of fishing opportunities, which is one of their best features. One such example is The Flat Tops. You might decide to concentrate on fishing in beaver ponds, alpine lakes, or tiny streams. Each has unique requirements in terms of methods, benefits, difficulties, and possibilities.
Brook trout often rule the roost in Colorado’s isolated, tiny streams. They also contain native cutthroat trout in certain locations, such as here in the Flat Tops. Small streams often have brookies that only reach a maximum height of 10 inches. In contrast, cutthroats have a maximum length of 14 inches in streams in the mountains. These confined waterways provide swift and thrilling action for eager trout, despite the fact that the majority of the fish remain tiny. Anglers may test their prowess by casting in confined places and navigating challenging drifts. But don’t worry, there’s no need to obsess about complicated fishing techniques. On a good day, it may seem like you land a fish on every throw since these trout are not often choosy.
Fishing at the Beaver ponds
Beaver ponds are a common sight in Colorado’s wilderness regions, and they provide ideal trout habitat. The many bug hatches that take place on the quiet waters here during the summer attract brookies and cutthroats. In beaver ponds, trout often grow to higher proportions due to these simple food sources. The compromise? It may be quite difficult to approach these fish since the water in beaver ponds is sometimes gin-clear. You know you’ve gone too far when you approach the water’s edge and witness fish skittering to the other side of the pond. In fact, fishermen shouldn’t feel foolish casting covertly from behind vegetation as they stomp near the water’s edge on their hands and knees. On a warm day, a little cloud cover may really assist. There are, however, few experiences more thrilling than casting a dry fly into a beaver pond and seeing a trout break the surface, so do what it takes to get your fly out there.
The high altitude wilderness regions of Colorado are also dotted with lakes, some of which have sizable populations of native cutthroat trout. Fish in these lakes may range widely in size depending on their food, depth, and other factors. However, the fact that many of these waterways are not under pressure often makes room for bigger fish. A wonderful day on the lake may result from their readiness to attack, especially given how seldom they see an artificial fly. Casting on remote lakes may sometimes be challenging due to wind and adjacent trees. However, the activity may be quite lucrative for those who are ready to make the journey to these alpine treasures.
Regardless of the sort of water you’re searching for, it could be a good idea to consult with Forest Service employees or other knowledgeable locals who are familiar with the region. Some alpine lakes and streams will provide greater prospects than others, despite the fact that some of them seem attractive. To find bodies of water, we also advise utilizing Google Earth and topographic maps. Beaver bonds, which might vary from year to year, are a case in point. A view on Google Earth may be more current than what is shown on a map.
Fishing tiny, headwater streams and alpine lakes might be one of the most straightforward activities. The majority of fly designs will get bites from fish that are often not under pressure. However, it never hurts to observe hatches carefully and find out what the fish are consuming. That may sometimes mark the boundary between a good day and an amazing day.