As summer winds to a close, the hatch chase leads to White River

MEEKER — Late August brings a faint sense of ending, a pending culmination of a summer’s worth of intensity winding down into soft afternoons of slanting light amid shades of red and orange.

Since mid-April we’ve chased hatches, from the earliest Blue-winged Olives in Flaming Gorge to June’s salmonflies on the Gunnison and July’s near-dark explosions of Green Drakes on the Fryingpan.

In between there were clouds of caddis on the Animas River, midges everywhere on the San Juan and lots of Pale Morning Duns from the Taylor to the Colorado to the Roaring Fork and beyond.

Not to mention (so I will) the flotillas of ants and beetles and grasshoppers, most of which still are tempting trout and anglers across the state.

But the last half of August and the gentle segue into September brings something else, a reminder that all good things end and the fishing may never be as good as it is today.

Water levels are low and warm enough for bare legs even in the upper reaches of the White River below its exit from Trappers Lake. The White is down to 192 cubic feet per second, eminently wadeable and affording access to the best holes, the ones that always seem to be on the other side of the river, any river.

The Gunnison River has dropped to 460 cubic feet per second, still deep enough for a pontoon boat but maybe a bit bony for anything larger.

The Lake Fork below Lake City is a relative dribble at 100 cfs, although it’s better now after rains boosted the flow up from the 90 cfs of a week ago. Driving past the river last week, there were few anglers to be seen, even though at this level the river fishes well, even after a summer of hard pounding by the tourists attracted to the high-country beauty. There’s no place on the Lake Fork a decent wader can’t reach, except the miles of private land, of course.

Late-summer anglers will find a few hatches left, the last of the Tricos and some Blue-wing Olives come to mind, and terrestrials always are good to carry, particularly on those windy days such as last Sunday when a grasshopper “hatch” appeared each time the wind picked up.

That day on the White River was spent in shorts and wading boots, teasing browns and rainbows with dry flies that began with a size 14 Joe’s Hopper and steadily diminished in size until they were lost in the windy chop (the flies were lost, not the fish).

Clouds like explosions of gray steel wool drifted overhead, occasionally banging into each other with thunderous booms, foretelling the rain that was to come. A stiff southwest wind played havoc with the back cast but the front cast shot straight and true as if Lefty Kreh were holding the rod.

There still is plenty of public access on the White River, even though the popular Nelson-Prather fishing lease was lost a few years back. The Division of Wildlife and several landowners have joined to allow access points available to that general class of anglers Julia Child might have referred to as “servantless.”

The best known (which usually means most heavily fished) are the 2 miles or so of river at the Sleepy Cat Ranch, about 15 miles east on Rio Blanco County Road 8 and the Bel-Air State Wildlife Area a few miles farther on, just below the Lake Avery Dam.

But there are others, including the Wakara Fishing Easement off County Road 4 (the Hay Mesa Road) and even downtown Meeker, where it’s possible to fish good-looking water from the 10th Street Bridge up to the bridge at the east end of the city park.

“There’s good fishing there but not many people go there because they expect it to be crowded,” said Ellene Meece of the Meeker Chamber of Commerce. “I usually send people to our Web site, which lists all the places to go.”

The town’s attractive Web site (the make-over was finished three weeks ago, Meece said) lists lakes and streams with public access along with contacts and links to the Colorado Division of Wildlife, Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management sites.

Maps of the area, including a map of the spiderweb of country roads, also are available at

Meeker and most of western Colorado is gearing up for hunting season — archery deer and elk season begins this weekend — and many anglers are turning their attention away from fishing.

For those anglers not yet sated after a summer of temptations, there still are six weeks or so of prime fishing left.

The days, and the opportunity, are getting short.


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