Rebuilding the Beast

Revive Fly Fishing JournalLook for my essay - Rebuilding the Beast appearing in the Summer 2016 issue of Revive

 

Directions to Pyramid Lake

From Reno

From Reno/Sparks follow the Pyramid Lake Highway (State Route 445) north approximately 37 miles. Travel time is about 45 minutes to reach Sutcliffe. The bulk of the fishing access is found along the westside of the lake.

 

Fly Fishing Pyramid Lake 2016

Fly Fishing at Pyramid Lake Nevada before sunrise

I like walking into the bar at Crosby's Lodge for a couple of reasons. One, I can get my fishing license. And two, I can usually get an up-to-date, first-hand report on the fishing from the barkeeper. (Tawny works as a barkeep at Crosby's lives locally and fishes hard.) As I get to know Pyramid Lake, I've learned one important thing - the fishing turns on with strong winds.

Angler holding Trophy Summit Lake Strain Lahontan Cutthroat from Pyramid Lake in spawning colors.

The barkeep fished the early half of the week and did well. My buddies and I fished the later half of the week and didn't do well. The difference - the wind was blowing 30 MPH with gusts to 40 in the early half of the week. The three days we fished were clear, sunny, and not very windy. We stratched up some nice Summit Lake Lahontan cutthroat, but the periods between were long and quiet.

The Popcorn Bettle fly is a deadly pattern for Pyramid Lake

Probably no big surprise, but fish prefer overhead cover when cruising shallow water. And the wind generated chop churns up the shallows - pushing food down from the surface and pushing food up from the bottom. As Pyramid's Lahontans get into spawn mode, they move closer to the shore. They cruise pretty close to shore and can be spotted just as easy. On windless days, it's like standing over the largest aquarium in the greater Reno / Sparks area. Long lines of ladders with dudes throwing lures and flies don't much bother them. And throwing a popcorn beetle over a glass table-top lake, doesn't much bother them either (i.e., they won't eat it).

A flyfisherman hooks up with a hard fighting cutthroat trout on Pyramid Lake in Nevada

My prays for wind went largely unanswered for three days. Without any cover from the wind, we were left with basically one option - use the cover of darkness. That option produced the bulk of our hookups coming mostly before sunrise. We took full advantage of the few hours of little to no light in the morning. My buddy hooked a fish on his first cast in complete darkness which was a clear signal these fish were eating, but only when they felt safe.

Pyramid Lake Lahontan cutthroat trout with red spawning color

And in the last decade, Pyramid offers the angler the chance to catch a trophy size Lahontan cutthroat. Hatcheries at Pyramid and Walker Lakes raise strains from Summit Lake and Lake Heenan, but these fish don't grow large like the earlier native fish. All that changed in the past decade with a spawning of brood stock from Pilot Peak Lahontans.

A flyfisherman carries a ladder along shore of Pyramid Lake Nevada

Dr. Behnke discovered remnants of the thought-to-be-extinct Pyramid strain in a tiny creek near Pilot Peak along the border of Nevada and Utah. In 1995, USFWS biologists harvested eggs from Pilot Peak cutthroats and reared these fish. In 2006, they began stocking this strain in Pyramid Lake. Trophy sized Lahontan catches point to the success of this Pilot Peak strain. In late 2012, an angler landed a 24-pound Lahontan cutthroat, and several more 20-pounders have been caught since.