The EcoAngler Report

Planning to fish Heenan Lake? Get scientific based angling intel in The EcoAngler Report - Heenan Lake.

The EcoAngler Report - Heenan Lake

Detailed information on Heenan's Lahontans along with detailed maps of where to fish and statistics to help time your trip can be purchased here.

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Heenan Lake

Look for my article on Heenan Lake in the September/October 2015 issue of Southwest Fly Fishing

Southwest September 2015 Fly Fishing Magazine Cover

If you are planning a trip to Heenan Lake, then take note of the following: the lake opens for fishing on the Friday of Labor Day weekend and closes on the last Saturday of October (unless it falls on October 31st, then it's the Saturday prior). During that period, Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays are the only days anglers are permitted to fish.


Fly Fishing on Heenan Lake 2014

Calm waters on Heenan Lake before the afternoon winds start.

If you had your ear to the ground, then you've been hearing rumblings about big Lahontans this fall. Pyramid Lake continues to generate the bulk of those rumblings. And rightly so, given the success of the new strain of Pilot-Peak giants now roaming that water (e.g., a 21 pounder caught this week at Hell's Kitchen). (While fishing Heenan, another dude fishing within hear-shot couldn't contain his excitement about Pyramid and went on about how well it fished just days before.)

Lahontan cutthroat trout broodstock typical size for Heenan.

OK, the selfish part of me prefers all buzz and media spot-light stay on that bigger lake near Reno. Heenan is a pond compared to Pyramid. Pyramind's size can absorb the resulting fishing pressure when the-word-is-out - Heenan not so much. When 10 cars are lined up outside the gate to Heenan at 6AM you need to scramble. 30 anglers on Heenan, all focused on specific areas, gets cramped pretty quick.

Lahontan cutthroat displays intense spotting and gold color

OK, if you didn't hear the rumblings, you probably made the connection. A full parking lot, crowds of anglers - fishing must be pretty good at Heenan. My single data-point confirmed it. Even with an absolute quiet start to the day, I had a good finish and landed several over 20 inches. That's why I go to this lake year after year. Some years, I catch one or maybe two good cutthroat over six or so hours of fishing. And that's enough juice for me to come back.

Drought and Algal Blooms

So why did Heenan fish so well this year and what happened to all the algae from last season? I have a theory, and our severe drought is at the core of the argument.

First off, what triggers huge algal blooms on Heenan? Heenan Lake's surrounding watershed contains nutrient rich soils. Heenan traps much of these nutrients from run-off (this is a key point). Being a smaller lake without much depth, algal blooms go off. Now, enter a prolonged drought...

Anglers troll along Heenan Lake under blue sky.

The well below average of rain and snowpack in the Central Sierras created little to no run-off events. The same events needed to deliver the nutrients which drive the algal blooms in the lake. In a nutshell, in multiple years of drought,I believe the lake's nutrient load goes from a surplus to a deficit (a concept all American's are familar with).

Pushing this theory further up the food-chain might also explain the much improved "bite" at Heenan. It goes something like this - with far less algae, the aquatic invertebrates depending on that as a food source also decline. Which would be the case for scuds who graze on the thin film of algae. Going one more step up the food chain would be the impact to the resident cutthroat looking to feed off those invertebrates. With less food sources in the lake, I would imagine the Lahontans would turn a hungry-eye on any object resembling food - including the fly you tied the night before you drove to Heenan.