Fishing a world-renowned lake
April 20, 2006
Each spring I remind everyone about a real treasure that we have in the desert of northern Nevada.
Pyramid Lake sits on the Paiute Indian Reservation approximately 33 miles northeast of Reno on state route 445. It is home to the threatened Lahontan Cutthroat Trout. Prior to the building of Derby Dam on the Truckee River, these trout would make spawning runs up the Truckee River similar to spawning runs of Pacific Coast salmon. Fish in excess of 30 pounds were seen in the river in remarkable numbers prior to Derby Dam’s construction.
After construction of the dam, the spawning runs grew smaller and eventually ceased in the 1940s, causing Pyramid Lake Lahontan to become extinct. They were eventually reintroduced and they have been managed for the recreational fishery.
Because the original Pyramid Lake fish is considered extinct, a new record for these fish has been established. Todd Bayless, a fly fisherman from Susanville, caught a 24-pound-12 ounce Lahontan Cutthroat Trout on Feb. 27, 2005 at Pyramid Lake. The fish stands as the modern day Lahontan Cutthroat Trout record in Nevada.
Pyramid is a large lake, with about 69 miles of shoreline. The lake itself is about 27 miles long and between four and 11 miles wide. It has one inlet at the south end of the lake where the Truckee River enters. There is no outlet. The water is fairly alkaline, at a PH of 9.2, which is about one-sixth as salty as the ocean.
Having fished this lake since the 1970s, I can honestly say that the fishing here has dramatically improved over the past five years. This is due to some very good management practices by the tribal fisheries people. Also, last winter and this one have really filled the lake with water, which certainly helps the fishery.
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Other factors that have helped improve the fishing include the fact that no bait fishing is allowed (only artificial lures or flies), the introduction of the slot limit and the recent plantings of fewer fish.
One other item that goes overlooked is the fact that many more anglers are now practicing catch-and-release fishing. This allows the good fishing trend to continue by keeping more fish in the water than on someone’s table or freezer.
The slot limit and the planting of fewer fish have really had a major impact on bringing this lake back into a true trophy trout fishery. The slot limit requires that anglers release fish less than 16 inches and between 19 to 24 inches. They are permitted to keep two fish 16 to 19 inches, one of which may be 24 inches or longer. This allows fish of prime spawning age to be saved for the purpose of passing on their gene pool.
Fisheries personnel and regular lake anglers were noticing a period when they were catching good numbers of fish, albeit the fish were very skinny. As a result, Pyramid Lake fisheries introduced fewer fish the past several years. What happened was a tremendous increase in population of the prime forage fish, the tui chub, which in turn translated into tremendously large Lahontan Cutthroat Trout.
I have noticed that fish in excess of 24 inches are now common. We have seen more fish in the 10- to 12-pound range caught this season than in any other season I can remember.
It is a pretty remarkable place. If you have never fished it, you are certainly missing a terrific opportunity.
Lahontan’s spawn in the springtime ” March through May ” and congregate around the town of Sutcliffe in an area called the Nets. Fishing during the prime month of April is not for those seeking solitude. Anglers will stand in a line that stretches as far as one can see in both directions. All of them are there hoping for a chance to catch a trophy fish.
Because the weather this year has brought so much moisture, the lake has risen considerably. So much that fishermen are often abandoning their normal practice of fishing off ladders or milk crates in favor of just wading or fishing from shore. Look for this trend to continue as the water is anticipated to rise even more in the coming year.
If you get the chance to fish this lake, do so. It has been called one of the top 10 lakes to fish in the world. It is easy to see why when a 20- to 22-inch fish is considered small by Pyramid Lake regulars, and catching large numbers of them in not uncommon.
If you plan on going, you will need a reservation fishing permit, which will cost you $8 per day or $51 for the season. These can be purchased at either the Pyramid Lake Store on the way in from Reno or the Ranger Station at the Marina in Sutcliffe. A store in Nixon also sells permits, but does not open until 10 a.m. and has been known to run out.
The season runs from October 1 through June 30. Fishing from a boat will cost you an additional daily fee or seasonal fee the same as the fishing permit. Fishermen using pontoon-style boats should take note that a boating permit is required with the use of any watercraft with oars. The rangers have been writing many tickets this year for the lack of a boating permit!