Bruce Ajari: Shore anglers catching endangered cui-ui at Pyramid Lake
This April while fishing the south end of Pyramid Lake we caught a number of cui-ui and#8212; a fish on the endangered species list that was once very important to the Pyramid Lake Paiute Indians.
The cui-ui (Chasmistes cujus) is a large sucker fish endemic to Pyramid Lake and, previous to the 20th century, Winnemucca Lake in northwestern Nevada. It feeds primarily on zooplankton and possibly on nanoplankton, such as algae and diatoms. As we found out, it also feeds on other fish and aquatic insects in the lake that our flies imitate.
I thought they got much larger than the maximum size of male cui-ui at approximately 53 centimeters (21 inches) and 1.6 kilograms (3.5 pounds), while females reach approximately 64 centimeters (25 inches) and 2.7 kilograms (6 pounds).
Cui-ui typically live about 40 years, but the fish do not reach sexual maturity until at least 8 years of age. The cui-ui is not only critically endangered, but is also one of the few surviving members of its genus.
The cui-ui is potamodromous, and will attempt to ascend the Truckee River to spawn in mid April. If inflow is insufficient to permit this, the cui-ui may attempt to spawn in Pyramid Lake, but generally with little success due to the salinity of the water. Water releases from the Boca and Stampede reservoirs are currently (as of 2004) timed to assist the spawning run, except in drought years.
These releases are critical to successful spawning since low warm flows at the Truckee River delta are inhospitable to upstream migration of adults. Several hatcheries are maintained by the Paiute nation to ensure that such a situation does not impact the long-term viability of the cui-ui. These measures have greatly increased cui-ui populations, although it is still listed as an endangered species.
This year if fishing the south end of the lake, you have probably noticed the large number of cui-ui that are being caught by shore anglers. As I mentioned above, many fly anglers have taken cui-ui this season at locations such as Howardand#8217;s and Dago Bays. Perhaps the numbers have rebounded significantly, because we have never caught so many of these fish before.
What I found interesting was just how quick these fish were to taking the fly. I even had some chasing the fly down into shore where I could see them from my position on a ladder. They act much like a Lahontan in that we even took them on the Pyramid lift. This is a technique of letting the flies pause near the end of a retrieve, just before re-casting.
Because they are an endangered native species and important to the Paiute Indians in a symbolic way, there is a zero-kill policy on them. They have a hard steady pull, but tire quickly, unlike a comparable sized Lahontan cutthroat trout.
If you happen to catch one of these while trying for cutthroat at Pyramid, try not to touch them. They have a thick slime that carries a particularly strong odor. This is something that your fishing partners will not appreciate on the long ride home.
and#8212; Bruce Ajari is a Truckee resident and regular fishing columnist for the Sierra Sun and other area newspapers.