By Aaron Kindle Trout Unlimited staffers and Field and Stream writer Kirk Deeter ventured into the White River Basin last week for the Best Wild Places field tour. TU and Field and Stream partner for Best Wild Places to highlight some of the best places across the nation to hunt, fish, and enjoy the outdoors and to examine the issues related to conservation in those areas. After heading down to the Dolores River Country earlier in the summer, it was time to head for the White.
Along with Kirk Deeter, TU staffers in attendance were Chris Herrman, Colorado Plateau Land Protection Coordinator; Brian Hodge, Yampa/White Basin Project Coordinator; and myself, Aaron Kindle, Colorado Field Coordinator. The three of us were amply prepared to give Kirk an earful about the various public and private land issues of the basin.
The first day started out with some logistics but quickly progressed into some fishing on the main stem of the White River just after the North and South fork meet. We fished a Colorado Parks and Wildlife property right off the road. Upon arriving at the river, we immediately spotted feeding trout and the tour had officially begun. All of us caught a few rainbows and browns. The weather was spectacular and the camaraderie was already building. We all knew we were in for a few days of fishing, learning, and enjoying some spectacular country. After a great dinner that night and providing Kirk with an overview of the basin we were ready for day two.
Trappers Lake on the edge of the Flat Tops Wilderness was our first destination on day two. After a short walk to the lake, we were greeted with large cutthroats cruising the shores. Within minutes of arriving, everyone had a fish on the line. The fish were if nice size – all in the 14-20 inch range - and everyone was enamored by the beauty of this pristine lake. During this portion of the tour we talked about the various threats facing the roadless areas surrounding the Flat Tops Wilderness including HR 1581, insufficient provisions of the Colorado Roadless Rule, and the pending 10th Circuit Court’s decision on the 2001 Roadless Rule. These roadless backcountry lands are critical to maintaining the wild and primitive character and the fish and wildlife in the area including the largest elk herd in N. America and hundreds of coldwater streams. The White River National Forest is also working through and Oil and Gas Environmental Impact Statement and we talked at length about the need for protecting key habitats and fish populations when and if drilling moves into the upper White River Basin.
On the way to our afternoon destination we had the pleasure of meeting up with Jeff Hastings, a TU staffer that works in the Driftless area of the upper Midwest. He and a buddy came clear from Wisconsin to the White River basin to elk hunt, as they have for the past five years. It was great to hear about his hunt and meet a fellow TU’er. The afternoon found us fishing to the south on the South Fork of the White River. This stop gave Chris Herrman a chance to talk more about working on conservation easements with private landowners, the advantages of the easements, some of the hurdles to protecting these areas, and what more can be done. The lower section of the South Fork is mostly privately owned and TU is working with private landowners in that type of setting across the basin to keep their lands productive for fish and wildlife. Brian Hodge also took this chance to provide an overview of the restoration projects he is planning in the basin and the state of the fishery. Kirk Deeter landed the fish of the day, a beautiful 18” cutthroat in a nice hole along a cliff wall.
Stay tuned for Part II of this amazing trip!