Pyramid Scheme

Studies have shown that adults over 65 should avoid using ladders around the house as they are a significant cause of serious injury. Fortunately, no studies have proven that any serious injuries have resulted from using ladders in lakes, or at least one lake. Pyramid Lake is on many angler's bucket lists for the giant Lahontan Cutthroat that live in its icy waters and for the unusual practice of casting from atop a ladder. While it may seem odd initially, the practicality of using a ladder becomes evident when one wades out to their armpits and climbs out of those icy waters to cast. From this elevated position, one can cast farther and stave off hypothermia.

Pyramid Lake is the largest remnant of ancient Lake Lahontan, which once stretched from southern Oregon to the southern Nevada border. At its peak, approximately 12,700 years ago, the lake had a surface area of over 8500 square miles and a maximum depth of around 900 feet, where Pyramid Lake is today. Located within the Paiute Indian Reservation east of Reno, Nevada, the lake covers 112,000 acres with a perimeter of 71 miles. It is approximately 27 miles long and 11 miles wide.

In addition to its historical significance to the Paiute Indians, the lake has attracted anglers who came to fish for the large Cutthroat Trout that inhabited the lake, including Clark Gable, who enjoyed fishing in Pyramid and died nearby while filming a movie in the area. 

In 1905, the construction of the Derby Dam reduced the inflow of the Truckee River into the lake and significantly impacted the spawning habitat for Lahontan cutthroat. By 1939 the Lahontan cutthroat became extinct in Pyramid Lake due to fish passage issues at the dam.

Fortunately, in 1979, a remnant population of the original Pyramid Lake Cutthroat trout was discovered in a small brook on Pilot Peak on the Nevada /Utah border. Currently, the Paiute Tribe has taken over the hatchery production and added another strain of Lahontan Cutthroat from Walker Lake, another remnant of Lake Lahontan, south of Pyramid.

This would not be my first visit to Pyramid Lake; I had fished these waters in 2018 with some success, but in planning this year's visit, I did not receive any good intelligence to tell me exactly where we should start fishing, so I went with what I knew, and used GPS coordinates from my last visit. I was told that the water level was much lower and that particular beach was not fishing very well, but I knew it had a good camping situation, and we had to start somewhere. We arrived to find that, indeed, the water was shallower where I had fished before, so we drove on up the beach until we found deeper water and the perfect camp spot.

We made camp, had a late lunch, and started to rig up our 7 wt. rods. There are several techniques popular on Pyramid Lake for fly anglers; one is Balance Leeches or Chironomids below an indicator or stripping various streamer patterns on a fast sinking line. Since Jennifer and I do not have the patience to sit and watch a bobber for hours, we rigged up Rio Outbound lines with fluorocarbon leaders, bead-head Buggers with a Popcorn Beetle trailer. The Popcorn Beetle is a local phenomenon that does not resemble anything found in the natural world. A white foam back over a chartreuse chenille body tied on a heavy wire hook makes for a simple but fairly effective pattern in Pyramid Lake. Fished behind a sinking fly on a sinking line, the Beetle tantalizingly rises and dives when stripped in, triggering a strike from cruising fish.

Once the sun dropped behind the hills in the west, we waded out, placed our ladders, and climbed up to begin casting. We watched as a few fish rolled on the surface nearby and had a few fish actually swim by Jennifer’s ladder. Optimism encouraged our casts, and on one retrieve, a fish grabbed my fly and started toward deeper water, only to release me before I could descend the ladder. After one other encounter and a few more cruisers, it was time for dinner.

Back in camp, we dined on Good To-Go meals with a slice of homemade sourdough as we warmed up by our new Ignik FireCan. We enjoyed the quiet solitude under a starlight sky and finished the evening with Stroopwafel S’mores before turning in, optimistic for the day ahead.

Weather plays a big part in the success or failure of fishing expeditions to Pyramid Lake. While camping under blue skies in windless conditions was pleasant, it adversely affected the fishing opportunities. Fish are more wary under a mirrored surface, and normally, wind is your friend, rippling the lake and providing cover for cruising fish. 

Morning dawned clear and cold, with only a light breeze from the west at our backs. We waded out to our ladders and began the day. As I unhooked my Popcorn Beetle, I noticed a knot in the tippet just an inch above the fly. The product of casting two flies of different weights on a long leader. I clipped off the fly and retied it to my tippet, then stripped off line off my reel and made a long cast into the glowing sunrise.

I allowed the line to sink for a few seconds and started my retrieve. On my fourth or fifth strip, an aggressive grab from a good fish started peeling line off my reel. Before I could descend the ladder, I was deep into the backing, and the fish showed no signs of slowing. I made for the beach and started to chase the fish up the shoreline as the backing was quickly melting away. Finally, with only 20-30 yards remaining on the reel, the fish slowed, and I made some headway on regaining the line. In the morning glow, I could make out my fly line slowing returning as I gained on the big fish. 

Once the fly line came through the tip-top guide, I called to Jennifer, and she climbed down from her ladder and joined me with our net that had been lying on the shore between our two ladders. Soon, the fish was netted, a few photos were taken, and it was carefully released. Our optimism soared as the sun still hadn’t cleared the mountains to the east.

We fished until our stomachs called for breakfast, and the sun was harshly reflecting in our eyes. Enjoying the beautiful weather, we hung out in camp, only climbing our ladders when a southeast breeze brought ripples on the water. The rest of the day was spent simply enjoying the peacefulness and beauty around us while sipping an icy margarita and watching the Pelicans make laps up and down the lake.

Evening found us back on our ladders, optimistically casting in the fading light. Again, we saw several fish cruising the shallows but failed to impress them with our offerings, even though we had started to experiment with other patterns. Darkness ushered us back to camp, and as before, we sat by our little fire pit, enjoying the warmth of the dancing flames and celebrating the day with another Stroopwafel S’more before crawling under the wool blankets in our comfortable Four Wheel Camper. 

Sleeping outdoors, especially on a comfortable queen-size bed with real sheets, blankets, and pillows has little resemblance to the camping I’ve been accustomed to in the past. Someone somewhere coined the phrase “Glamping” and I do believe this is a more descriptive term for the type of accommodations we now enjoy while heading out on our angling adventures. As the temperature dipped to the low 30s, I simply opened the app on my phone and fired up the diesel heater. During the day, when the weather was warm, I fired up the instant hot water, and we each took showers in the privacy of the fold-out shower stall bolted to the outside of the camper. Yes, I think Glamping is a more appropriate term.

After a good night’s rest and never lacking optimism, we greeted the next day on our ladders, watching cruising fish break the mirrored surface or slip past our ladders. Suddenly, Jennifer came tight to a fish in close, and I could see she was trying to get a good hook set. The fish throbbed the rod tip a few times; then, the line went slack. I knew she was as devastated as I was, but there was nothing to do; the fish was gone. We fished until breakfast called, then tidied up the camp and started packing up our gear. While not a raging success, our visit to Pyramid was nevertheless quite memorable for the fish we saw, the one we landed, and this beautiful area's wonderful solitude. I don’t think we’ll be waiting 6 years for our return to Pyramid Lake. Finally, Griz was packed, and it was time to point the hood south towards Utah and our next adventure. Stay tuned…

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