Colorado: Flat tops Wilderness Area
Derby Creek-Island Lake Loop
Best time to go: July through September
This is a backcountry loop trip that is perfect for 3 or 4 nights. It covers some very
diverse fishing waters, from small streams rushing through steep ravines, to meandering, lazy creeks, beaver ponds, and
high mountain lakes.
It's located in Colorado's Flat Tops Wilderness Area. One advantage of the Flat Tops, is
that, as the name suggests, they are a big plateau. So, once you make the initial hike up to the top of the plateau,
the elevation gain is moderate, and the vistas are incredible.
Map: Trails Illustrated #122, Flat Tops NE, Trapper's Lake
Getting there: The trailhead is located at Stillwater Reservoir, near the small town of
Yampa. Get to Yampa, drive through town, and take Bear River Road (#7, then #900, then #159) all the way to the
terminus at Stillwater Reservoir.
Go South along the Eastern end of the dam, following the North Derby/Hooper Lake trail. The
trail goes almost due South, and you can clearly see the obvious notch that you are heading for. After a long climb,
you finally pop up over the top of the notch. Keep following the North Derby trail (#1800) past Hooper lake (or you
can camp here if it's getting late or you're feeling lazy.)
If possible, continue on South toward the trail junction North of Road Lake. This section
of the trail has some beautiful small stream fishing and terrific beaver dams.
|Junction of Island Lake and Indian Cliffs Trails
|Beautiful streams and pools in this area.
At the junction of the Island Lake trail and the Indian Cliffs Trail, cross
the North Fork of the Derby creek and head West on the Island Lake Trail. (Or you can camp here and explore the beautiful
waters of North Derby Creek)
The next portion of the hike is mostly hiking and not a lot of fishing.
Follow the Island Lake Trail, South, then West. The vistas here are beautiful, and you're likely to see herds of elk.
Pass the rather uninspiring Mud Lake and Muskrat Lake, and press on to the junction of the Island Lake trail and Middle Derby
Trail. Just past the trail junction, the Island Lake trail intersects the Middle Derby Creek. This is a terrific
spot to stop and camp. Good campsites are available just off the main trail, overlooking the creek, or you can go upstream
a ways to a spacious outfitter's camp overlooking a huge beaver dam complex.
|Beaver Dam Upstream from the trail
|All those white specks in the picture that look like snow is a giant hatch coming off
The fishing here is sublime. Middle Derby tumbles downstream at a
moderate grade, and has huge beaver dam complexes and lazy meadow fishing upstream. Don't be in a hurry
to leave. Fish late, get up early, and fish some more.
|Middle Derby Creek
|Just Upstream from the Intersection of Island Lake Trail and Middle Derby Creek
The next section of the hike is short and sweet. Cross the Middle
Derby and follow the Island Lake Trail up a steep grade to Island Lake. It's not a long ways, so you can fish Middle
Derby in the morning and still make it to Island Lake in time to fish in the afternoon.
|Fish On at Island Lake
Island Lake has lots of possibilities. There are submerged boulders
along the North side that shelter fish. The South West side of the lake has some relatively shallow, sheltered areas,
and the lake's outlet. Fishing in this part of the lake and the outlet stream is worth the bushwhack it takes
to get there.
I have never fished the other two lakes above Island Lake, but they certainly look worth
From Island Lake, follow the Deer Lake Trail North to the Bear River Trail.
The trail North of Deer Lake is a bit faint at times. Keep an eye out for big cairns. This section of the trip
has some of the best wide-open mountain vistas anywhere in Colorado.
When you reach the Bear River Trail, follow it down as it drops steeply
into the canyon. The area around the aptly named Mosquito Lake, and the Bear River are prime water. If you aren't
too anxious to get back to civilization, a camp here will provide you with a last sweet opportunity for some great fishing.
From this point, it's an easy jaunt back to the reservoir and your car.
Google Maps Link to Stillwater Reservoir.