North Fork Big Sandstone Creek - Segment No. 1


Little Snake



Even though the stream is dominated by brook trout today, the primary purpose of the filing was to maintain adequate base flows for native Colorado River cutthroat trout. The purpose of any water right is not so much to change the amount of water in the stream today as it is to protect an interest in existing flow patterns for future use. Though there are no specific plans today, having enough water in this stream and others like it will maintain the opportunity to reintroduce native cutthroat trout in the future if and when that decision is reached. The various flow levels filed for are intended to address habitat needs for spawning in the spring, maintain growth rates in the summer, and minimize winter mortality. Channel maintenance and flushing flows that provide long-term habitat by cleaning riffles, scouring deep pools and keeping the stream banks from encroaching (narrowing) were not filed for. The state engineer has ruled that the state’s instream flow law does not allow flows for these habitat needs. Status of the filing: A public hearing was held in Baggs on March 10, 1997. The State Engineer approved the water right on April 28, 2006. The Board of Control has not adjudicated the water right.
Before the fur traders arrived in the very early 1800’s, beaver were widespread in the mountains and foothills of the Sierra Madres, and Colorado River cutthroat trout were abundant in their numerous ponds. The early trappers were pretty thorough in their removal of beavers and as they disappeared, so did their ponds that provided critical habitat for the native trout. Early fish managers introduced non-native trout like brook trout to fill this void and met with great success. Brookies readily adapted to the many small streams running off the mountain and are abundant throughout the Sierra Madres today including the North Fork. Though abundant, don’t expect to catch many fish bigger than about 10 inches long, as this small, cold stream doesn’t have the potential to produce fish like that. But if you’re looking for an out-of-the way stream to spend a day or two on and get a feel for what the landscape looked like over 100 years ago, there are few better destinations.
From the north section 12 line downstream to the confluence with Big Sandstone Creek.
From the town of Encampment go approximately 23 miles west on Highway 70 to the junction of Forest Service road 801 (the Deep Creek Road). Turn north and go about 7 miles to the junction of Forest Service road 830. Turn right on this road (heading northeast) and go about 3 miles to Forest Service Road 874 where you turn off to the right (east). Though you can drive the remaining 5 miles to the stream on this abandoned 4-wheel drive road, the last couple miles are definitely 4-wheel drive caliber and you may want to make this part of the trip on an ATV, by foot or in someone else’s truck!
In 1879 at his camp located not far from the North Fork Big Sandstone Creek, Thomas Edison formulated the ideas that later resulted in what we now call light bulbs. The landscape today is much the same as it was in the late 1800’s and ambitious anglers can still enjoy pristine solitude along this small headwater stream that gurgles through dense timber and moss-covered boulders.