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Spring madness at Pyramid Lake

By Jon Baiocchi
03/22/14 –Spring-time at Pyramid Lake in Nevada is known for fantastic and productive fishing off the many beaches, as Lahontan Cutthroat are gearing up for the spawn, and roaming the shoreline in huge pods. I’ve never fished the lake in spring, so with an invite from Pyramid Lake Fly Fishing Guide Service, I took the opportunity to expand my horizons and learn even more about this lake, and the ancient trout.

Long before the sun rises, the ladders begin lining up at the North Nets. Photo by Jon Baiocchi.
Long before the sun rises, the ladders begin lining up at the North Nets. Photo by author

Joining me that day was my good friend, mentor, and longtime Tahoe – Truckee guide Frank Pisciotta. Frank and I do not fish Pyramid that much, though with all the pictures of these huge cutthroats being caught in the last year, it has gotten our attention. Our day started out early leaving Truckee at 5:15 a.m., and arriving at the North Nets access area as the sun was just starting to rise over the eastern skyline.

Frank Pisciotta keeps his balance while battling a large Cutthroat trout. Jon Baiocchi
Frank Pisciotta keeps his balance while battling a large Cutthroat trout. Photo by author

Even with these warm days we’ve been having, it was cold out at 26 degrees. Rob Anderson, our host, provided us with ladders and we quickly moved them into position just shy of the drop off, where the fish like to cruise. There were already 22 ladders in the lineup, and within a few hours that number would increase to 48!

Our rigs for our first session was the indicator set up, with two flies hanging six, and eight feet below, one fly just off the bottom structure, while the other a few feet above. The hot flies today were size 10 Maholo nymphs in red and wine colors. These flies feature a holographic tinsel abdomen that glow and get the attention of hungry fish nearby. Conditions were perfect, and one important element that can make a great day at Pyramid was in effect. The wind was blowing into the shore from the north east; this provides a current and draws fish into the shoreline. Many long time anglers of Pyramid track wind patterns days before a fish out, and calculate which beach they are going to fish depending on which way it blows. The wind is your friend, and it means everything.

Your average "cookie cutter" fish from Pyramid Lake. Photo by author

Before Frank even got into position, I started to catch fish immediately with three solid hook ups. The action was hot for the next couple of hours, and by lunchtime I had caught and released 17 cutthroats. The key to fishing the indicator rig, and why I was so successful, was mending the fly line up wind so the flies sat motionless in the strike zone. If your flies drag through column from being pulled by the wind current, pushing on your floating fly line, they rise and become ineffective. There is more to it than just a “heave and leave it” bobber presentation. Mending is everything, it’s a lot work, but it keeps this style of fishing from becoming boring.

 Rob Anderson's Maholo nymph is a deadly fly. Jon Baiocchi
Rob Anderson's Maholo nymph is a deadly fly. Photo by Rob Anderson

Rob is a great host and known for his fresh hot lunches on the beach for his guests. On today’s menu was venison shish kabobs with caramelized onions and peppers, wrapped in a soft flour tortilla with a creamy chipotle sauce, and fresh cut lime juice. What a pleasure it was to devour such a flavorful meal while sitting in the comfort of a nice chair, while exchanging ideas on tactics for the second session. The beach life is part of the allure to Pyramid Lake.

 Carl Nosek with a 10.3 pound Cutthroat. Photo by Rob Anderson
Carl Nosek with a 10.3 pound Cutthroat. Photo by Rob Anderson

We mounted the ladders again and the action was pretty good, but at 2 p.m. an afternoon bite began to explode. I used the same rig as the morning session, the same flies, receiving the same results. It was so insane! I caught and released another 12 fish in the next hour, and had others on that just came unbuttoned. One fish I hooked into was one of the monster cutthroats ranging from 10-20 pounds. When I hooked into this animal it immediately peeled line off my reel at an incredible rate of speed, while heading out into the middle of the lake. I was worried, as I was well into my backing hoping all the knots would hold. The way this fish fought was so different than all the others I had hooked into, I had very little control, this fish owned me. After about an 8 minute battle, and doing everything right, the fly just popped out of its mouth and I was left with a limp line. Though I did not get my glory shot holding it, it was an amazing battle, and one that will keep me coming back to Pyramid Lake.

 Teamwork: Rob Anderson and guest with a beautiful 15.5 pounder. Photo courtesy of Pyramid Lake Fly Fishing.com

Teamwork: Rob Anderson and guest with a beautiful 15.5 pounder. Photo courtesy of Pyramid Lake Fly Fishing.com

I quit fishing at 3:15 p.m., 30 fish to the net was good enough for me. My catch today were mostly Summit strain fish, and a few Pilot Peak fish ranging from 19-26 inches, with the bigger ones at 5-6 pounds. The spawning colors these fish have are amazing; they don’t call the males “Big Red” for nothing. This was easily my best day ever at Pyramid, and it was so much fun! There is also quite the social scene at the Nets, and long time veterans know each other on a “first name” basis. They’re all characters, and I was fortunate to have met a few of these anglers, and gain some insight from their vast experience on the lake. As the sun was setting to the west my face glowed, and all those hooks ups began to sink in. What an awesome day!

If you have never fished Pyramid Lake, now is the time to be there. The next month is one of the most productive times for anglers to be successful. If you’re new to the lake, or want to learn more about the techniques and tactics, hire a guide! It really can make a difference. I’ve compiled a list of the best licensed fly fishing guides at Pyramid Lake below, each one of these guides has a particular specialty to share, and can shorten the learning curve of this ancient inland sea.

Rob Anderson, Pyramid Lake Fly Fishing Guide Service, Doug Ouellette, Calvada Fly Fishing Guide Service, Jay Clark, Jay Clark Fly Fishing, Matt Koles, Gilligan’s Guide Service and Arlo Townsend, Arlo’s Fly Fishing Services

For additional information about fishing, lodging, RV spots, food and more about Pyramid Lake, visit the Crosby Lodge website or call 775-476-0400.

Jon Baiocchi has been fly fishing and tying flies since 1972 and is a California licensed fly fishing guide, published author, educator, innovative tier and public speaker has given fly fishing presentations to clubs and expos around the state. Jon operates Baiocchi’s Troutfitters guide service in Northeastern California where he has a reputation as a hard working guide who has been trained by some of fly fishing’s best known master anglers. He can be reached at BaiocchisTroutfitters.com.

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