Monday, July 6, 2009

The Flat Tops Wilderness

Typical Flat Tops Country

June29-July2, 2009

The Flat Tops Wilderness is one of my all-time favorite places to camp and fly-fish. Its remote, rugged, wild, and less visited than most. This year there has been abundant rainfall - it has rained almost every day this spring. The trails are muddy and sometimes a bit difficult. The plus side of mud is good tracks - you can see who (or what) has been on the trail before and after you, assuming one knows his or her's own boot print. The usual critters where there again this year (deer, elk, bear, coons, skunks, etc) with one exception - I never saw a mountain lion print this year. However, rumour has it that the large "dog" prints on the trail were actually wolf prints. The old lady up at the cabins swears she had wolves round her house on a couple of occaisions early this spring. I googled "wolf print" and gave them a good look in comparison to dog prints, and I am still not convinced the prints on the trail were wolf, That said, I am not convinced otherwise either. Regardless, I never saw a wolf.

I realize now that I never take pictures of the trails into my favorite river. I take lots of river pictures, but in truth, the trail makes just as big an impression on me. It's the trail that must be hiked in to the real good fishing - the farther you hike away from the campground, the better the fishing. Two miles..OK...three miles...pretty decent...four miles in - fabulous fishing. Anyhow, the trail is always on your mind - what to pack-in, what not to pack, how much time to hike in/out, and at some point every year the question comes up - do I give up catching nice fish to beat the storm that is brewing, or, do I keep fishing and risk getting caught on the wrong side of the "boulders" at sundown. The "boulders" is a term some of us use to refer to the mountain top full of big boulders and rock that must be negotiated to get back to the campground. If the storm has lightnin, and they usually do, you don't want to be caught on the "boulders" with an aluminum frame backpack (like mine) and a fly-rod tube sticking up in the air (not to mention a bald head). I got caught on the wrong side of the boulders once. The lightening show was spectacular - actually striking some of the rocks on top of the mountain. I was wet cold and it was after dark when I stumbled back into the campground where Alan and crew were already organizing a search party. Amazingly cool since I had only met them a couple days before.
Anyhow next year, I am going to take many pictures of the trail to document its various sections: up hill to deep pools, narrow/muddy/buggy/flat, nice meadow, open aspen meadow, uphill to boulders, "the shoots", uphill again, straight and narrow, open meadows, and finally the cabins (at 5mi in). After four or five days hiking this trail, it leaves its imprint on you and you get to know it well. This year, the wild flowers were amazingly bright and colorful.
One man gathers what another man spills. So far I have found a Henckles knife at MeadownLake CG (very nice!) and a book on Colorado wildfires which I found on the trail.
The river was high this year but I found some good fishing including one day that was nothing less than inspirational. Here are some pictures from that day.

A nice fat cut-bow (rainbow/cutthroat hybrid).

This rainbow was a 19 incher.

Another cut-bow.

Another couple cut-bows.

The river was high and fast due to all the rain. It was hard to get good drifts with the dry flies I like to use. Also quite difficult to land a big trout as they usually run straight for the current. So, you have a choice - use 4 or 5 lb tippet and catch many fewer fish (fly doesn't drift as naturally), or use the lighter 3lb tippet and hook more fish, but lose some flies when the big ones take off on you. I lost quite a few flies...
Of special note this day was "the log". As I worked my way up the river I saw a big tree which I was too lazy to negotiate. On the other side of the tree was a real nice piece of water where I knew some trout would be hanging out.

Casting into this sweet draw from below the log, it became apparent that hooking a nice sized fish would be difficult if not impossible to land. About the time that thought went through my mind, I got a powerful strike from a medium sized rainbow. He of course headed into the current and downstream. I thought I'd lose him and my fly, but I worked him as best I could and eventually, with my rod and on the upstream side of the log, actually netted the fish underneath the log on the downstream side. I hope you can visualize this. Anyhow, after netting the fish for some reason I started laughing out loud as I was quite amazed I pulled it off. I ended up catching 3 more the same way until a whopper didn't feel like playing my game, took me downstream, and popped the orange stimulator off my line. So, I eventually got what I deserved, but it sure was great fun for awhile!

I had to string up this rainbow (just under 20") to revive it after a classic well fought battle. He lived, and I had a Kodak moment.


Anonymous said...

mike--happened to stumble accross your blog while researching the Flat tops area. I live in Indiana but try to get out to CO once a year to camp/fish. I've been into the Mandell Lakes to camp--what a beautiful spot. I've never done any river or stream fishing in the Flat tops--are you at liberty to divulge your favorite campsites or rivers in the Flat tops?

John Ramsey

Anonymous said...

wtf? that fish you strung up is dead. BOOO!!!

the_fitzman said...

This is Mike and I assure you that the fish shown in the picture did indeed live. We had a long and hard fought battle and the water was very swift. By the time I landed the fish, it was completely spent - and so was I. I put the fish on a stringer while I got my act together and kept the fish in a good spot of the river for a good 10-15 minutes. I can assure you when I released that fish, it was very much alive.

Why would you take the time to leave such a negative comment when you have no clue as to the facts?

Anonymous said...

Mike-believe it or not I have not been out to FTs since prior to my 2009 comment. Would like to do 2-3 night trip late June--any suggestions re trip/destination for good fishing--any advice would be appreciated

the_fitzman said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Micah Osborne said...

How are the mosquitos in late June early July?

the_fitzman said...

Hi Micah - I think you have to be prepared for mosquitoes and bugs at all times if you're an outdoors person. I carry a small pump spray container of Deet repellent. It doesn't take much, works great, and I have had the same container for a few years now. Be sure to wash your hands well after application. I usually use the sand/gravel in a stream - or grass and dirt if there is no water around - to wash my hands. If you don't like Deet based products, there are other decent products that work well and also come in small containers. Bugs have never kept me from enjoying the great outdoors and they should not prevent you either. Have a great summer!

Anonymous said...

From Iowa and planning a backpacking trip to FTW next month. I plan to do some fishing but I do not fly fish. Any comments on types of lures or artificial bait?
Thanks, Jess

the_fitzman said...

Hello Jess - I have to admit I stopped spin fishing many years ago, and mostly fished for bass down south. However, I did see a spin fisherman at a high mountain lake in the San Juans just slay some trout with a very small Mepps spinner (including a 3+ lb brook). Sorry I could not be more help, but I am sure you will have a great time in the FTW. Hopefully, you'll see a Moose!

Anonymous said...

Hi! Love the information. Thank you! My cousins and I are taking a trip to FTW next week. Unsure where we want to start and end up though. So many options! We love fly fishing those flat streams. Any recommendations?? Thank you!!

the_fitzman said...

Hello Anon - I think just about any FTW highland lake you hike into would have fish - of course figuring out the size and quantity is the fun part! ;)