Located a hour northeast of Reno, Nevada, Pyramid Lake offers trophy class fly fishing for the unique strain of Lahontan Cutthroat Trout or as many call them “Salmon Trout.” Made more popular in recent years with the booming of social media especially Instagram, the cutthroat trout in the lake can reach up to 20 pounds, with some anglers claiming some fish to be in the 30 pound range. I was lucky enough to spend a couple days here exploring the renowned trophy trout fishery.
The lake is fed by the Truckee River, which is the outflow for Lake Tahoe. Pyramid lake has no outflow therefore the salinity of the water is ⅙ that of sea water (similar to the Great Salt Lake). In the early 1900’s the Derby Dam was built on the Truckee River near Reno, threatening the lahontan fishery as the species were unable to spawn. By 1939, the Lahontan Cutthroat Trout species became extinct due to the lower water levels in the lake and the inability to travel upstream to spawn.
40 years later a researcher by the name of Dr. Robert Behnke discovered a small population of fingerlings of the Lahontans in a small creek on Pilot Peak (near the Nevada/Utah border). Someone had dumped the unique strain into the creek in the early 20th century and somehow the species was still populating. After successful reintroduction efforts into Pyramid Lake in 2006 the fish are thriving. If history holds to be true since these fish are only 10-15 years old they are only going to get bigger.
The unofficial record from the early 1900s is around 60 pounds and an official record of 41 pounds. Since the reintroduction anglers have been catching many fish in the 20-30 pound range and are hoping that these fish will only grow larger in coming years.
There are two main productive fly fishing techniques at Pyramid the first technique is nymping and the second technique is stripping streamers. I found the nymping to be very productive for myself during the bright sunny times of day and when there was bad weather the streamer fishing was very good.
The nymphing setups are quite simple. A long 9-12 feet of a tapered leader and tippet material (specs are detailed below) are used. Currently, the regulations allow for two barbless flies to be fished at the same time. (Always make sure your barbs are crimped, rangers are present all the time). I tie on the first fly and then add a few feet of tippet and then my second fly. Some of the anglers use a european setup with tag ends tied off and the flies tied on the tag ends. This works well with the balanced leech patterns but I found myself tangling this rig, especially in the wind. Then, I will add a 1 inch sized “Airloc Strike Indicator” that I set anywhere from 5-9 feet away from the first fly, depending on the current conditions and specific area that I’m fishing. Many anglers don’t use indicators as you can add more movement to your flies. I liked using the indicators because it helped me better identify strikes (sometimes it would be a couple hours in between strikes). The fly selections for nymphing is a variety of larger chironomids in the size 6-12 range (red, black, silver, blue), balanced leeches in a variety of colors and some other specific pyramid lake patterns.
For stripping streamers I have outlined below the specific line, leader, tippet setups below. Since the lake does not have much structure and most of the bottom is sand. Flies are best fished at the bottom of the water column as these fish cruise the bottom looking for food. Wading out into the lake to your waist or standing on a ladder is must when stripping streamers. After making the cast, I recommend waiting and letting the flies get all the way down to the bottom before retrieving them. The retrieve speed can vary from faster to slower depending on the water temps, but I do recommend stripping the streamers back to your feet.
The first fish I hooked on a streamer was at my feet as I was beginning to pick up. I was so surprised it snapped my 15 pound test tippet within seconds. As for fly selection a variety of classic wooly buggers work good as well as booby flies and beetles. I found the bite to be good in the early mornings right as the sun came up as well as in the late afternoons. Night fishing is prohibited on the lake, you can begin fishing one hour before first light and keep fishing one hour after light. Always be sure to check the current regulations.
From my experience fishing the lake the standard rods that anglers used are a single hand 10 foot 7 or 8 weight or a two handed 11 or 12 foot 6 or 7 weight switch rod. Personally, I think the two handed rod is extremely easier to handle and cast all day than the single handed rod. It is also very easy to switch out tips to change depths or switch to a floating tip. The specific rod I was using was a Loop OPTI NXT 7110-4. I would highly recommend this rod as it made the casting effortless and enjoyable.
Line, leaders, and tippet:
- Standard floating line like the Rio Intouch Rio Grand or Big Nasty (Something with a shorter fatter taper makes it a little easy to cast the long leaders).
- Rio Powerflex Plus 9 foot 0X leader
- Fluorocarbon Tippet 0x-3x, I mainly used 2x when I was nymphing
- Full sink sinking line like the Rio Intouch Outbound Short Sink 6 280-350 grains
- Versileader with a slow sink like 1.5 ips or a standard monofilament leader (15-20 pound test)
- Fluorocarbon tippet 12-20 pound test, these fish aren’t to tippet shy.
- Stripping Basket (For streamer fishing this is a must)
- Ladder!! (If you don’t have room for one, many of the fly shops in town rent ladders)
- Warm clothing (the lake can be very windy and wet) I recommend grabbing a few pairs of latex gloves to keep the hands nice and dry.
The easiest way to get to Pyramid if you are not within a driving range is to fly into Reno and rent a car. You can purchase fishing licenses online ahead of time and then pick them up at a few different locations. I recommend checking out Crosby’s Lodge and Store to get your license and grab a few flies. Crosby’s is located in Sutcliffe which is the little town located right on the lake. You can also purchase a camping permit here.
Camping regulations are pretty loose on the lake and I would recommend it if you have your camping gear. Check in with the ranger station or pyramid lake regulation book for specific camping details. A lot of people also prefer to stay in Reno as there are a lot of lodging accommodations and many of the hotels are casinos. If you are short on time and don’t have room to bring your gear there are plenty of fly fishing guides and guide services. Do keep in mind that the fishing season typically for Pyramid is October 1st-June 30th, with October, November, March and April to be the most popular and productive times of year to fish the lake.
Pyramid Lake is one area in the U.S. that every fly angler should have on their list to check out as there is nothing like it in the U.S. Who doesn’t want to catch a 20 pound trout on a fly rod?