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Written By: Mike McNeilly, April 15, 2014
Location: Pyramid Lake,
There is no other way to describe Pyramid Lake than what I stated in the title of this article. It really is the best trout fishery on the planet Earth right now. Did I need to specify “Earth?”
It seems redundant. Anyhow, if you are reading this magazine, you must know how good this fishery has been. In every issue of the Fish Sniffer, you will see mention of giant trout being landed. In fact, it’s better than it ever has been since the completion of Derby Dam.
There’s a lot of science that goes into the background of this fishery, and although I am familiar with it, I don’t have time to describe it in great detail here. The bottom line is that when Derby Dam was completed on the Truckee River, the native Lahontan Cutthroat of Pyramid Lake shortly thereafter went extinct.
Since the time that those fish went extinct, there have been many imposters planted in the lake. It started with N.D.O.W planting “Cutbows,” (rainbow x cutthroat hybrids).
Later on, cutthroat from Walker Lake were planted with minimal success. Cutthroat from Independence Lake also were tried with minimal success. Finally, fish from Summit Lake, Nevada, were planted with relatively high success.
These fish were planted from the late 70’s through the current day. They were raised in the Paiute Tribal Hatchery right on the shores of the lake, and they sustained a world class fishery for a long time. They grew to a very respectable weight of 24lbs 12ounces, and they often exceeded 10lbs.
Then a monumental discovery was made that indicated that some of the relic population of the original cutthroat that inhabited the lake had been planted in a small stream near the Nevada/Utah border. The stream, Pilot Creek, was originally barren and hadn’t been stocked since.
For almost a century these fish that had once inhabited the giant lake had been evading extinction by being stocked in a little tiny creek. Genetic testing was done. The results were compared with museum specimens and concluded that these “Pilot Peak” fish were indeed the original inhabitants of Pyramid Lake.
USFWS Plants Pilot Peak Cutthroat-Angler Backlash
With a world class fishery already installed at Pyramid Lake, it was seen by many anglers as a colossal mistake by USFWS to plant Pilot Peak fish into the lake.
I unfortunately was one of those guys, and now I can sit down and eat some serious crow. The feathers are getting stuck in my throat as I type this. To be fair, the first few years of Pilot Peak reintroduction were bleak indeed.
We caught a bunch of long skinny silvery fish that were utterly unremarkable. They were easily identified by being adipose clipped and sporting either a yellow or green plastic tag near their dorsal fins.
It didn’t help that the Summit Lake derived fishery was flourishing at the time of the initial stocking. All you needed for evidence was to go into Crosby’s Lodge and look at all the photos of big Summit Lake fish in the 10-15lb range.
Then, in the 2011/2012 angling year, the fishery took a big nose dive and very few big Summit Lake fish were caught. The Pilot Peak fish were relatively absent from the catches as well, and the ones we were catching were more of the long skinny silver fish that showed little promise.
Anglers rightfully began blaming the introduction of the Pilot Peak fish for the decline of the Summit Lake fishery. Oh, if we only knew what the future would hold for those Pilot Peak fish that were “ruining” the lake.
In January of 2012, a huge Pilot Peak Cutthroat was caught. The fish was 19.5lbs and bigger than any other fish caught in the lake since 2005. The fish had grown from 8” to 19.5lbs in a mere 5 years. Hmm…, could there be more of them out there?
Alas, that 19lber was just the tip of the iceberg; and what a hulking iceberg it is. By the fall of 2012, a whole lot of those long skinny silvery Pilot Peak fish were beginning to show in the catches. The funny thing is, they were still long, but they were no longer skinny.
It seems that when they hit 28-30” long, they started growing wider and getting much heavier. They now were 30” long and 10-15lbs. The likelihood is that they reached a size to become extremely efficient predators of the lake’s main forage fish; Tui chub.
Unlike the Summit Lake fish that evolved in a lake that is devoid of baitfish, these fish evolved with Tui chub in a relationship that is analogous to that of wolves with elk or lions with zebras. In other words, they are remarkably efficient hunters for their preferred prey species.
With the lack of an efficient predator, the lake’s chub population had boomed, and these “new” fish have found a lot of low hanging fruit. This fishery is on the up and up, and we haven’t seen the peak yet.
A friend of mine, Peter Thompson, recently landed a 25lb 4 ounce Pilot Peak fish. When I talked to Peter on the phone, he said, and I quote, “That record won’t last for long. It might be broken in 2 weeks.” I tend to agree.
How Can You Capitalize on this Bonanza?
Get out here! That’s the key. You need a line in the water to score. As I write this article, we are 2/3rds of the way through the season, and the clock is ticking. The ladder/bank fishing has been prime. Meanwhile, the boat guys have been having a tougher go of it; which is common in the spring.
The bank fishery will continue to flourish through about early May, although the best fishing will be over by the end of March. The bulk of the big Pilot Peak fish are showing in the southern portion of the lake where they were initially stocked. Fly fisherman and guys tossing jigs and spoons on spinning rods are presently doing the most damage.
If you love stripping streamers for bass or stripers, this fishery is for you. If you don’t fly fish, you can still get in on the action by tossing ¼ ounce black marabou jigs. I have also caught quite a few on ½ ounce Kastmasters this year.
If you don’t want to stand on a ladder all day, and you prefer to fish from a vessel, you still have time this season. May and June often see some great boat fishing and very light crowds. Most guys are up in the Sierras chasing much smaller trout by then.
If you see a guy fly fishing from a rickety platform held together by hose clamps and JB Weld, and hooking himself on the back with his back cast, that’s probably me. I’ll be out there searching for a new world record. It’s there for the taking.
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