Pyramid Lake – Renewing an Old Acquaintance

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Posted by Dan Blanton on 2013-03-24 17:36:53

Pyramid Lake, located not too distant from Reno and Sparks, Nevada is famed for its huge Cutthroat trout, long-lived and some reaching weights exceeding 50 pounds. They are not the original strain that evolved in the highly alkaline waters of this barren desert mere – once a massive inland sea burgeoning with massive cutthroat trout.

A single dam, blocking the spawning areas on the Truckee river, placed decades ago wiped out the original strain of trout within a few years. A very close relative was found, I believe, living in a small stream or tarn and a stocking program began, now run by the local Indian tribe whose lands surround the lake. The fish are back! They’ve actually been back for quite a number of years. I first started fishing the lake in the late 60s with my fly-fishing club, the Fly Casters of San Jose. We held fishouts on the lake almost every March through the 80s. I fished the lake at least a couple of times a year until the end of the 70s; followed by a couple of trips with various pals including Ed Marcillac of the Santa Cruz fly fishing club in the early 80s.

This lake is also well known for another unusual thing beside its massive trout: Shore-anglers most often, but not always, fish from ladders and specially constructed platforms, many with swivel seats, carried out many yards from the beach to stand or sit upon to keep them higher out of the water and much farther from shore in comfort – at least more comfort than standing chest deep in frigid water, ice often forming in the guides.

Back in “the day”, we never fished from ladders or even stood upon milk cartons. We wade-fished thigh to chest deep and we caught plenty of fish. There’s always a better way to do things though and someone (I don’t know who) came up with the ladder idea which has rapidly evolved into the seat-platform for lack of a better word. The platforms are heavy though and you’d better have the arms and back of a Sherpa if you want to carry one any distance – especially if the surf is up. These are rigged with stripping baskets, rod holders (for at least two rods) and landing nets. Some I’m sure have drink holders.

I’m not going to carry one of those rigs a hundred yards off the beach in waves tall enough to surf though. My new ladder is just fine, although I did take several waves over the top last week while standing on the third step, filling my stripping basket and getting my buff soaked and sunglasses fouled. Thank god I had my rain jacket zipped to the chin. That was the worst day of our recent trip – at least the first half of the day anyway - the wind howling and the waves breaking over most of the ladders and platforms, with only few exceptions.

I hadn’t fished Pyramid lake in more than a decade, probably closer to two decades and I was thrilled when Ed Marcillac invited me to join him, another old friend, Gil Santos and one of their pals coming out from the east coast (for the seventh season), Al Montello. It was actually the week-long fishout of the Santa Cruz, California fly-fishing club. We stayed at Crosby’s Lodge in one of several very nicely appointed trailers that would sleep up to 8 people, I believe. Ed and Gil only book four into their trailer which gave each of us a bed to sleep in and a bed to pile our significant pile of “stuff” on. This made it very nice.

We cooked our own meals in the well equipped kitchen – ate like royalty; and probably gained a few pounds each during the week. Man, can Ed, Gil and Al cook – although I did OK with a Cornish hen dinner when it came my turn to be chef.

Anyhow, we fished 6 days and during that time we all, plus just about everyone in the club, caught plenty of fish – some managed a lot of fish, raging in size from a couple of pounds to nearly 15-pounds. Gil’s largest cut weighed 9-1/2-pounds; I photographed a splendid 14-1/2-pounder landed by Travis Wilmoth of Reno Nevada which ate a size 10 midge pupa fished under an indicator. Steve (sorry didn’t get the last name), current club president scored a 10-1/2-pounder on a nymph. One of the things I learned, which we didn’t know back in the 60s and 70’s is that these Pyramid cuts love size 8 to 10 midge nymphs fished under an indicator or stripped on a long (15-foot-plus) leader without a bobber. I watched Ed Marcillac land several nice fish stripping a midge on a long leader, floating line, minus the indicator. One of the best fish he hooked that way took him long into his backing before a knot slipped (fluorocarbon) ending the contest and breaking Ed’s heart. Knots have to be carefully tied when using Fluoro.

The two top rods in our group of four were Gil Santos and Al Montello. While they landed and released fish caught stripping the traditional woolly buggers and floating beetle patterns on sinking lines, they caught profoundly more fish on floating lines using indicators and a brace of midge nymphs suspended about 4-1/2 to 5 feet below – flies separated about 18 or so inches.

Ed and I did OK, getting our share. I managed at least 4 nice fish a day with my best day producing nine fish out of 13 hooked. I lost two very large fish when the bloody hook bend opened. The fly I was having the most success with wasn’t the newest hot “Midnight Cowboy” but rather an old pattern originated by Reno-based, Pyramid vet, Roger Iveson. Roger and his buddy took many Field & Stream winning fish on that fly back in the 70s. It was a black and orange dressing that I just call the “Halloween”. I figured the fish probably hadn’t seen it in awhile. Well, they slammed it and I took most of my fish on it. The other producer for me was the all chartreuse foam beetle. Others did well with the chart/white foam beetle. Harry Petrakis Santa Cruz club member and superb angler, was ripping them one after noon on the white/chart beetle and black bugger. When you’re hot you’re hot!

All and all, it was a great six days of fishing; I learned a lot of new tricks and proved the old flies – at least one of them - still had its charm. The best part of the trip was the wonderful camaraderie shared by all. I had been missing that interaction for quite some time.

It was great getting reacquainted with that marvelous old dessert lake and her wonderful cutthroat trout; I can’t wait to do it again.

Thanks Ed, for inviting me to join you, Gil and Al. It couldn’t have been better.


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