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by Scott Keith

TCO News

My first time out to Pyramid

by Scott Keith

My first time out to Pyramid

by Scott Keith

I’ve always wanted to see Pyramid Lake. I’d heard about it as a kid, read about it, and seen photos of the Native American residents, the unique rock formations, and those giant Lahontan Cutthroat Trout. Pyramid is the end of the line for the Truckee River, while Lake Tahoe is its primary source. They are tied together by the Truckee River, moving down about 120 miles from the high Sierra into the great basin of Nevada.

I fish the Truckee River often these days, yes, even in January, either solo or with a friend. We usually approach one of many spots that are easily accessible from Glenshire Road, Hirchdale, or at one of the many pullouts down canyon off Highway 80 towards Reno. Yet the trip out to Pyramid had not presented itself until recently when Miles at Trout Creek tossed out an invite, “Hey, I hear you haven’t fished Pyramid yet. Let’s go Thursday.” And just like that, it was upon me and it was happening. “Bring your gear, I’ve got a rod for you. Get your Pyramid day license from the Paiute tribe online.” Easy enough.

Miles and his brother Austin, shop co-owner Scott Ferguson, and his son Tyler and I all met at the Hirschdale exit at 5:30am. Dark and cold, separate cars for each group – a reality of our shared adventures during this complicated year. Our plan was to make a day of it, that’s the best way I’m told, if you can make the time. Get there early, an hour before sunrise, and stay late, an hour after sunset. It’s about 70 miles to the lake from Truckee, about an hour plus 15 down highway 80 to Pyramid Way in Sparks, then just follow that east to a selected spot.

Sunrise at Pyramid Lake Fly Fishing

Our convoy into the basin before sunrise was smooth, and I was filled with warm anticipation and excitement for what was ahead. A new adventure within my favorite hobby. We drove steadily towards the lighter shade of sky, due east into Pelican Point. Although no other cars were on the road with us, we arrived to find many others parked down towards the lake, selecting their spots to cast into the sunrise. I was surprised to see so many already lined up and fishing. Some on the rocks, some on those infamous ladders that interrupt the natural beauty laid out in front of us.

We each take on our routines to gear up and adjust each rig for the morning strategy: 6 and 7 weight rods with floating lines, 8-9 feet of tippet below the must-have ‘Jaydacator’ indicator, a dark balanced leech at the bottom with a midge about 2 feet up. “We’ll start with that, dark sky dark leech,” says Miles, “ and we’ll switch it up as needed.”

Pyramid Lake Fly Fishing Sunrise fisherman on Shoreline in January

As we walk a short distance down to water’s edge, we spread out naturally, maybe 40 feet apart, and begin the fishing. “How’s your roll cast?” Austin asked me. The spot we picked was just below a rock wall of significant structure, so overhead casting was out, which was fine. A roll cast here was smart, and after a few tips from Austin, the line was shooting out into the zone from the borrowed switch-style rod. Not soon after my initial casts, Tyler, the other Pyramid rookie, was on a fish. Bent rod, taking line, oh my. Since we all use pinched-barb hooks, a fish on the line does not mean a fish in the net. “Keep stripping, keep the pressure on!” I heard one of the brothers call out. Tyler worked for what seemed like a half hour, but it was more like 10 minutes. With help from his dad, the elusive Lahontan bent into the extended handle net. “Nice one, 10 pounder plus some!” The day was looking promising.

Pyramid Lake Fly Fishing Tyler Ferguson's first cutthroat trout January 2021

I did not leave my post during Tyler’s catch. I was focused, and ready for another to find my fly. “They tend to move in packs, or schools, you know. When one person lands one, others have a greater chance to land one at the same time. It goes in waves.”  I guess that made sense, at the lake. But that was not the case this time. At least not for me. My roll casts were good, out into the zone, and the calm water with the rising sun made it easy to see my Jaydacator floating in the distance.

 It’s a waiting game of sorts at Pyramid. You generally stay in your designated spot for an extended period, roll casting after your indicator has naturally moved back towards the shore, out of the zone. Waiting and watching for the take, a slight drop of the floating mark, or a more obvious grab can happen if their moving fast. I soon realize that this is a different kind of fly fishing than what I am accustomed to. On the river, we are constantly moving up or down the water, searching for the fish. At Pyramid, the fish basically are the ones moving about and I find myself hoping they run into my dangling flies. I stand. I sit. I take my eyes off my line to see what others are doing. The guy to my left has a great roll cast. He’s not a rookie. Can he tell that I am? My group to the right of me has settled down after Tyler’s fish to prepare for the next one. Hours pass, the sun is up, things are quiet and we’re not seeing much action from the line of anglers in the distance. Miles announces, “Time to move on and head to the north.”

I’m eager to move to a new spot and see more of the famous old lake. As we each drive out of the Pelican Point area and back onto the main road, I think more about the first half of this day and the comparisons to fly fishing in Truckee. It’s the sounds. In Truckee, there is always an ambient noise that is hard not to notice. There are natural sounds like the tumbling river and the wind through the trees. And then the inescapable sounds of civilization like the freeways, the trains, planes, and automobiles. At Pyramid, there is none of that. It’s quiet on this day, with no wind and no trees of significant size, all is very still, compared to Truckee.

Pyramid Fly Fishing for Lahontan Cutthroat Trout standing on rocky shoreline 

It’s around noon and we park near Monument Rock. More campers, and a couple of casters that Miles recognizes. Seems like he knows everyone out here. Instead of starting a new session, our group starts to make lunch. This is a total bonus and a welcomed treat after a long morning of standing, watching, waiting. “Seemed like tacos would be a good call today.” Miles had made a batch of carnitas and Scott Ferguson brought a camping stove and all the supplies. Plus guacamole. I had a cooler full of drinks. We sat in the sun, a clear and warm day, not the usual for January. I sat and enjoyed the camp scene. I was thankful, realizing that most of my fly-fishing experiences are not really about the fish, as much as the time on the water, in a beautiful place, with friends, making memories. 

I grew up fishing on Donner Lake with my mom and dad, trolling for rainbows and kokanee. We had various fishing boats over the years, the last one named ‘The Rivet Rider’ by my friends who wanted me to have a ski boat but was limited to a dressed-up aluminum water transporter. It worked, for fishing. Together with long Dave Davis Trolling set ups with a live worm hanging of the end, we caught a lot of fish.

 Old Donner Lake fishing boat

We didn’t catch any more fish at Pyramid in the afternoon. Tyler had the one, a great one, and that was all the salty lake had to offer that day. Maybe it was too clear, too calm, the fish were down, and they were not finding our enticements. Yet the day was a complete success by every other measure, and a reminder that it’s not about the fish. Many stories were told, new memories were made with friends, and I am more eager to get back out to Pyramid and try again soon. Thank you Miles, Austin, Scott, and Tyler for a great day.

Scott Keith, Trout Creek Contributor

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