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Old 06-22-2012, 11:01 AM
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Default Exploring the Flattops

I hiked up to a high lake in the Flattops Wilderness yesterday with my setter and labrador. I wanted to check out a stream coming into a lake to see if the cutthroats spawn there. I looked at it a little a couple years ago and it had nice smooth gravel runs and it looked good for spawning, and since this year the snow is gone early, I decided to check it out more thoroughly.
Of course I had to pack in my waders, boots, tube and fins in case I wanted to fish the lake, so I ended up with around a 25 or 30# backpack! I wasn't sure my 69 year old legs could handle it, but just in case I called my friend and told him if I wasn't back by 9:30 that night to call the posse.
Started out from the trailhead at 6 am. It was light by then but the sun hadn't come down yet and it was pretty cold going up the valley along the stream. I got to the lake by 8 and the water was perfectly clear and like a mirror with a couple of pair of goldeneyes and a pair of mergansers resting out in the middle. The sun had come down by now and the west flank of the lake was brightly lit, the entire slope covered with the gray, sun-bleached flagpoles that had up until a few years ago been living trees. I had watched one night that summer as some of those trees exploded in flames I had guessed went up 300 feet into the air. Now, here and there were clumps of spruce which had somehow survived that holocaust and were providing seed for the new forest.
I went up and began making my way up along the stream coming into the lake. It was slow going as the place is full of old beaver dams and channels hidden by vegetation. I had to watch my step for sure. A broken ankle or getting stuck in the mud was not a good thing.
Turns out the stream runs through a flat beaver meadow laced with old beaver dams and provides some of the best trout habitat I have ever seen, with crotch deep holes and undercut banks that go so far under that a steelhead could rest there without being seen. It has moderate current and a nice gravel bottom with crystal clear water. The only problem is, there doesn't seem to be any trout! I couldn't even kick anything out from under some of the cutbanks. No sign of any spawning either even though cutthroat spawning should be underway and it seemed like perfect spawning habitat. Pretty strange.
I did come across a very shallow pond with about 6 small brookies. When I approached they disappeared into a hole in the bottom. I went over and looked and it appeared to be a spring hole that went down and then curved back under into the dark. I couldn't see either the brookies or the bottom. There was another hole nearby and looking in all I could see was black. I stuck my 9 foot rod down up to my armpit and still couldn't find the bottom!
I started thinking about the "beaver tunnels" I had stepped into earlier, got a little dizzy, and decided I better get back to the lake. This beaver meadow was spooky as hell.
Back at the lake I decided to fish in waders and use my favorite searching pattern, the brown trout jig. I fished it on a 10' fast sink tip line. After about half an hour I nailed something big that liked to do a lot of head shaking. After getting it up it turned out to be a 19" Brook with a girth of 12"! I continued to fish off that point and in about another 5 minutes I landed that girls sister! They were identical in size! I had just bested my 15" Brookie record by 4" twice in five minutes! Altogether I landed another 15" Brookie, as well as a 15", a 17" and an 18" cutthroat in beautiful spawning colors, with its underside dripping in blood red. I had numerous 13" brookies bumping my fly, some of which I hooked and lost and a few of which I caught. I don't know why this happens with this fly, but it is frequently the case, especially with smaller fish.
I came to this place with the idea of answering some questions and left with only more questions! Why were there no trout in the stream above the lake? Did those two spring holes connect with the large unexplored cave system between Glenwood Springs and the South Fork? Did the brook trout spawn in the stream in the fall? Looks like I will have to make another trip toward the end of September to find out! The problem with that is that bow hunting for elk may get in the way.
Oh, and another nice thing about this trip: I was the only car at the trailhead.
I was reminded of the guy in Florida who sold his used boat to a Haitian. When the guy warned him the boat wasn't fast, the Haitian responded, "Doan hov to be faas, mon. Jus Quuiiiet!" The pace was not fast and it was definitely quiet up there in the Flattops yesterday.
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Old 06-22-2012, 11:44 AM
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Default Re: Exploring the Flattops

Sounds like a nice day.

what's a brown trout jig?
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Old 06-22-2012, 02:27 PM
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Default Re: Exploring the Flattops

1/80 or 1/100 ounce size 10 or 12 jig hook with a sparse brown marabou tail, brown chenille body and a palmered brown or dun hackle. Can be used as a streamer or nymph under an indicator. Works well in both streams and lakes.
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Old 06-22-2012, 02:38 PM
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Default Re: Exploring the Flattops

Well done!!! Still fishing the backcountry at 69. Well done, indeed.

The Flat Tops is one of my favorite places to hike & fish in the state. There are so many out of the way places to wander around in the Flat Tops, one could hike for a dozen summers and never see and fish it all. I've lived and hiked in Colorado for twenty years now, and it took reading Osthoff's book before I discovered the Flat Tops. I've caught some amazing cutthroats up there, but I've never tangled with any brookies above 12". Those backcountry brookies in the 15"+ range you caught would be considered some world-class catches!

From your descriptions....I think I know the lake you may be talking about. I've hiked past this particular lake many times on the way to other waters and I have seen some nice brookies in the lake and stream system but I've always by passed it. May have to go check it out again
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Old 06-22-2012, 09:40 PM
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Default Re: Exploring the Flattops

Congrats on the great trip into the Flattops and the great fish that were caught!
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Old 06-22-2012, 11:21 PM
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Default Re: Exploring the Flattops

There is hardly anything that beats a good adventure! Thoes brook trout have to be spawning somewhere as do the cuts. If there is ample gravel in the lake bed near short they will use that.
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Old 06-23-2012, 01:56 PM
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Default Re: Exploring the Flattops

Ard, I will be looking for the Brooks in the crick this fall, although there is gravel along the lake shore.
There was a fire here a few years ago and it may be that the ash washed into the stream has destroyed the aquatic insect populations. Like I believe I said, this thing is a mystery!
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Old 07-10-2012, 02:30 PM
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Thumbs up Re: Exploring the Flattops

Great to see you've enjoyed my favorite wilderness in Co.
I spent last week there, partly at Trappers and then 4 nights up top. Would love to share what I know about the lakes in the area off line, not sure how we hook up, but I have spent most of the last 15 years taking backpack trips into that wilderness
I will have to assume you went in on the west side since the burn hit that area and burped over to Island lakes, but no serious damage on the east side, etc.
Upper Island appears to be stocked regularly, but no significant population of larger fish due to pressure from the 4x4 access at Crescent lake only a mile over the hill. Shingle appears to be in need of stocking, no fish seen.
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