I will admit, my job is pretty cool. Last year I spent a couple of weeks in Colorado, and over the next two months I will be spending about four weeks in California. The best part about working in these Western states you might ask, the weekend fishing vacations that I naturally tie into the tail end of these business trips. My class ended around 2:00 PM this past Thursday in downtown San Francisco, and I rented a car and made my way towards Kiene’s fly shop in Sacramento, CA. Overall one of the coolest fly shops I have ever been in, and definitely the largest selection of bugs anywhere. Got the essentials in Sacramento including food, flies, batteries for my headlamp, Trout Bum by Jon Gierach, and was on my way to the largest desert lake in North America.
Arrived at Pyramid Lake, about 35 miles northeast of Reno, NV, around 10:30 PM to a closed general store, quickly realizing there would be no fire tonight to keep me warm. This alkaline lake is covered in beaches from the northern most part all the way down south, where I spent the majority of my time. Not only do these beaches make for some excellent fishing (the ones having deep drop offs often just feet from the beach), they also provide some of the coolest camping I’ve ever experienced. Advice – Whenever you only have room to pack either a tent or a sleeping bag, go with the bag, especially if there is a remote possibility temperatures will be dropping to the low 40s with wind. I, on the other hand went with the tent, and proceeded to freeze.
I woke up the next morning around 5:30 AM, enjoyed the beautiful sunrise making its way through the surrounding mountain range, and headed to the camp store. Pyramid Lake is located on the Paiute Indian Reservation and all activities, law enforcement, etc. is run/regulated by the Paiute’s and not the Feds. I got my tribal permits for fishing and camping for the next two days and headed down to the water. The majority of the morning was spent trying to figure out where to fish, how to fish, and what to fish. It was a challenge, and though I have done a solid amount of still water trout fishing, this was unlike any type of fishing I had ever done before. The lake itself is 30 miles long and 188 square miles in size. White caps are common here as the winds blow at ferocious speeds, making it difficult to fly fish as you might imagine. A popular technique for fishing Pyramid Lake is by means of a step ladder, which helps the angler get a height advantage over the water (very nice when fly fishing). It’s a productive way to fish as anglers wade out from the beaches until they reach the drop off, where they get on their ladder and begin casting beyond the drop. An interesting approach, but it makes sense as this is where the fish cruise. I stayed away from the ladders and fished the beaches with ledges closer to the shore.
Intimidation, frustration, and helplessness are words that come to mind after my first day on the water. We all know the feeling and it’s not a very good one at that. What do you do in these situations? It’s quite simple, you watch people who know what they are doing and try to imitate their technique. If you are lucky, persistent, and polite often times they might even give you a few pointers. I ended up fishing the next two days with a couple of guys who in the fly world are considered professionals. One guy took a particular liking to me and appreciated the amount of miles I had put in to get to this world class fishery. His name was Jeff, a guide and lifelong fly fisherman/conservationist out of Mammoth, CA. I can honestly say that this guy was probably the best fisherman I have ever seen and hands down the sexiest cast I’ve ever laid eyes on (a right handed Lefty Kreh if you will). He was the man and gave me a few pointers and was excited to help me land my first Lahontan Cutthroat. He must have landed over 20 fish to my 0 throughout the day, as I helped him land several fish in the 4-7 lb range. After fishing all day without a bite, I called it quits as the sun began to set behind the same mountains that it rose from, nearly 13 hours ago. Frustrated as I was, this was not the first time I had been skunked on the water. That’s why they call it fishing and not catching.
I experienced a much more pleasant night of camping the second night including a large beach fire, hotdogs, and IPAs. I woke up on Saturday morning with a new attitude and feeling refreshed. I had the confidence that was much needed to succeed at such a fishery and was certainly lacking the day before. I arrived at SandHole beach at sunrise and landed my first two Lahantons within the first two hours of daybreak. The overall satisfaction I experienced from the first fish was like no other. From the indicator shooting to the depths of the lake, to the bend this monster of a fish put in my rod, to finally beaching him and holding him in my hands, I can’t say which part got me the most excited. But I can say, that it was a feeling I hadn’t felt in a long time. Holding a beautiful 24 inch Lahontan Cutthroat with such vibrant colors and large, sharp teeth for the first time was one of the highlights of my fishing career. I was on cloud 9, and the skunk was off my back. It was time to head back down to Popcorn beach and tell my new friends how I faired to the north.
What I didn’t know was that I was about to experience one of the best/most rewarding days of trout fishing I’d ever had. I spent the rest of the day fishing the same stretch of water, and boy did it pay off. The cutthroats cruise up and down the shoreline all day in search for food and also proper spawning grounds. The spawn, pre, and post is the best time to catch these fish as this is the only time of the year the fish are close enough to shore. There are NO small fish in this lake. Literally the smallest fish I saw in two days was 16 inches. Anyways, just like all trout, they eat a variety of critters including baitfish, beetles, suckers, midges, and various other nymphs. I fished a variety of flies but most productive for me were Mahalo, Zebra, and Root beer midges in sizes 10 and 12. Yes, I know those are ridiculously large midges, but so are the fish. Pretty typical to standard nymphing I have done in the past just with a much longer leader (indicator to bottom fly was anywhere from 8-12 feet).
I have been chasing cutthroat trout in alpine lakes throughout Colorado and the West for nearly a decade now. They are hands down my favorite species of trout, and always will be. I am very fortunate to have had the opportunity to fish such beautiful and quality cutthroat fisheries, but I can easily say Pyramid Lake tops them all. Prior to this trip, I could count on one hand the number of cutthroat I have caught reaching 20 inches. In one day at Pyramid Lake I caught 10 fish over 20 inches and 2 coming in just under. In 1925, the world record cutthroat trout was pulled out of Pyramid Lake, an astonishing 41 lb, 39 inch fish (that’s over l lb per inch…for those of you keeping track). Needless to say, the sky is the limit at this fishery and my goal over a lifetime is to land a 10 lb Lahontan Cutthroat before it’s all said and done…