Making its headwaters in the Flat Tops region, the North Fork of the White River branches at Trappers Lake, and a short distance away lies the South Fork.
These branches rejoin the main flow of the river at Buford to form a freestone river that winds its way through valleys of hayfields and pastures.
If you're looking to see the Flat Tops Wilderness for yourself, and you want to catch some beautiful rainbows, browns, cutthroats, and cutbow hybrids, the White River is the place to go.
In addition to the trout that roam the waters of the White River, there are numerous whitefish that populate the White River as well. This plenitude of fishing does come with certain risks however: bears also come to the river to fish and eat their fill along the banks.
Be aware of your surroundings at all times, and take appropriate precautions for handling whatever the Colorado wilderness may have in store for you. If you decide to camp near the South Fork, you also need to strictly observe and obey all rules and regulations for camping and food storage in order to maintain your own personal safety while fly fishing in the White River region.
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There is no shortage of access to the main flow of White River along Highway 13 and County Road 8, especially near the towns of Meeker and Buford. The South Fork in the Flat Tops Wilderness Area is the place to go for a more wild experience, and is accessible from the South Fork Campground.
Access to the 20 miles of South Fork is by trail that is relatively level and stable enough to hike. The only caveat about hiking South Fork is that the banks are overgrown with willow trees in numerous places, so navigating the trail can require some patience to access the river itself. Once you get in the water you’re in the clear, but you may have to wade a short way to find a suitable place to make your exit.
If you prefer smaller streams, North Fork is a great place to explore. The North Fork is narrower and shallower than other sections of the White River. You can access the North Fork via Rio Blanco County Access of County Road 8 and County Road 14, the latter of which is unmarked so you’ll need to keep your eyes peeled. You can also take 205 near Trappers Lake to access the North Fork, or hike from the lake itself.
The White River yields the best fishing between the spring and fall seasons, with the mayfly hatch being the prime season to get out on the water to take advantage of the feeding frenzy. Midges hatch year round here, so if you decide to make a winter trip make sure you are prepared for midges.
If you plan to visit in the spring or summer, take care to book your campground or accommodations early, as the mayfly hatch is the busiest time of year on the White River.
Midges, mayflies, caddis, and stoneflies are the biggest hatches throughout the year, and if you are fishing in the summer you may want to pack some terrestrials as well.
Recommended fly patterns for the White River include:
- BWO (Green Olive #16-24)
- Pale Morning Dun (White/Yellow #14-20)
- Golden Stone (Yellow/Tan #8-14)
- Yellow Sally (Yellow/Tan #12-18)
- Parachute Adams
- Purple Haze
- Pats Rubberleg Stonefly
- Beadhead Prince Nymph
- Rubberleg Stimulator
- Missing Link Caddis
- Chubby Chernobyl
- Mercury Baetis
- Beadhead Pheasant Tail Nymph
- Hemmingway Caddis
- Beadhead Caddis Larva
- Daves Hopper
Waders are a must for fishing the White River early in the season, during summer you can wet wade. A 9-foot 5-weight fly rod is recommended for the main stem, and a 3- or 4-weight rod for the North and South Fork. A tapered 9-foot leader, with tippet size 3X to 5X to match the flies you are throwing, is pretty standard.
There are a few fly shops and lodges that publish a White River (Colorado) fishing reports. A few to check out are listed below.
Standard Colorado Division of Wildlife regulations apply to the White River. This means a bag limit per day of four fish of any species, with no more than two trout exceeding 16 inches in length. Many anglers have reported that there are some extremely large rainbows and cutthroats to be found in the waters of the White River, so meeting the length requirement for trout should not be an issue anyway. Take special care when wading not to disturb the riverbed more than necessary, as it is everyone’s responsibility to preserve the quality of the water in the White River.
The nearest airport to Meeker is Yampa Valley Regional Airport, which can be easily accessed from Denver International Airport. Accommodations are available in Meeker at numerous inns and hotels, and there are bed and breakfast places in Meeker and Buford where you can enjoy your visit to the Flat Tops when not out on the river fishing.
The North and South Fork has public campgrounds for those who don’t mind roughing it, and there are also hunting and fishing cabins for rent in the area as well. Don’t forget to check on vacation rentals in the area too, as sometimes you can get an unexpected bargain on a ski rental in the off season.
Ken is an avid fisherman of 40+ years who loves to explore. He created DIY Fly Fishing to help encourage and assist the average angler to get out and find new places to fish.
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