Northwest Colorado is well known for a wealth of public land offering outstanding hunting and angling opportunities. One resource that anglers often overlook is the White River.
The White starts as two forks in the Flat Tops Wilderness Area of the White River National Forest. The North Fork becomes fishable below the first falls downstream from the outlet at Trappers Lake. The stretch between Trappers Lake and the Himes Peak Campground is on public land and is reached from Meeker by taking County Rd (CR) 8 about 40 miles to Trappers Lake Rd. (FR 205). Take FR 205 south to the campground. The river in this stretch is narrow and steep consisting primarily of pocket water. Casting room is often limited and the surrounding terrain is marked by downed trees and steep inclines.
The angler who is willing to battle these obstacles will find an abundance of healthy brook, rainbow, cutbow and cutthroat trout ranging up to 16 inches.
The North Fork travels almost entirely through private land from the campground to just upstream of mile post 33 on CR 8. The river is open to the public from there to the national forest boundary at the Lost Creek Guard Station 3 miles downstream. This stretch offers plenty of nice runs and deep pools holding rainbow and cutbow trout along with whitefish.
It’s not uncommon to find fish 20 inches plus in this stretch. The river in this area also presents some challenges. The banks are sometimes steep and thick with vegetation. Some wading is often required.
After leaving the national forest, the North Fork again enters private land. The only public access between the national forest boundary and the confluence with the South Fork begins at the Rio Blanco County campground at the intersection of CR 8 and CR 14 at approximately mile post 24. This access continues downstream 0.8 miles to the picnic area at CR 52.
The South Fork originates approximately 10 miles south of the North Fork headwaters. The South Fork represents one of Colorado’s best kept secrets, offering 20 plus miles of public access. The upper sections of the river are protected by rugged, steep terrain with no trail. Further downstream, the river meets the South Fork Trail (FT 1827). The best way to access the South Fork Trail is via CR 8 to the town of Buford, south on Newcastle Rd (CR 17) about 1.5 miles then east on the South Fork Rd (CR 10). The South Fork Rd goes through the South Fork Campground and ends at the trailhead parking lot.
The stretch of the river just downstream from the campground and parallel to the campground is on public land and can be productive; however, the best fishing is reached by hiking the South Fork Trail. The trail is relatively easy and well-maintained as it follows the river approximately 15 miles in the scenic Flat Tops Wilderness. Anglers will find a mix of pocket water, riffles, long runs and deep pools holding brook, rainbow, cutthroat and cutbow trout along with some whitefish. Fish that are 18 inches and up are a regular occurrence. Some of this water is buffered by thick brush and wading is often necessary.
Just downstream from the campground the South Fork enters private land. The Oak Ridge State Wildlife Area (SWA) is the first public access point downstream from the South Fork Campground area. The fishing access in the Oak Ridge SWA consists of the Bell-Aire Unit, which is just north of the intersection of CR 17 and CR 10; the Lake Avery Unit, which is after the confluence at the intersection of CR 8 and CR 10, providing access upstream from the bridge over the river; the Sleepy Cat Easement, which is about 1.5 miles downstream from the Lake Avery; and the Sleepy Cat Ponds. Public fishing is permitted on the north side of the river for 1.5 miles from the Sleepy Cat easement to the ponds. Parking and river access are available at both sites. These sections of the river are known to produce some very large trout.
Closer to Meeker, the Wakara Ranch Access is reached via CR 8 east from Meeker about 5 miles then west on CR 4. Public fishing is permitted downstream from the bridge. The Meeker Pasture SWA provides public access along CR 8 at about mile marker 2. A Colorado Parks and Wildlife sign on the south side of the road marks the site. The town of Meeker also offers public access from the Circle Park Bridge in Meeker City Park near Fourth Street downstream to the bridge at 10th Street.
West of Meeker, the White River travels almost entirely through private land. This section of the river can be accessed by boat, but the water is too shallow to navigate at times during the year. The river begins to change from a cold water to a warm water fishery as it moves toward the Utah border. In addition to some large brown trout, anglers will find catfish, bass, northern pike, walleye, sunfish, bluegill, bullhead, perch and crappie.
By David Schwartz
NWCO Hunting Guide