Updated: Nov 17, 2021
Just as I was FINALLY able to scratch golden trout off my list after many failed attempts to catch them, a new target emerges: lahontan cutthroat. If you're looking for a story of overcoming intense obstacles to catch a once-in-a-lifetime trout, keep looking. Spoiler alert - I didn't catch shit.
Earlier this year, we began putting together a plan to fish Pyramid Lake on our annual Halloween fishing trip. The idea formed after good buddy Derek visited Pyramid in spring and roped in some gnarly fish. We couldn't let him have that all to himself, so we plotted our visit and sat on the trip until autumn finally arrived. We booked flights, rental cars, and accommodations months in advance. I tied 50+ flies for the three-day trip, all different varieties of the most recommended patterns for this specific place. I made us all 11' switch rods to assist in big bank casting, and even bought a Halloween mask to wear in my grip n' grins. Guess that will have to wait another year before making its debut. As far as I could tell, we were prepared beyond the requirements to catch a big cutt. There was only one factor that stood in our way, everyone's least favorite factor: weather.
I checked the weather religiously leading up to our departure. At first, we were optimistic that some inclement weather would roll in, which makes for great bank fishing at the lake. Unfortunately, the weather looked warm, sunny and calm. This is probably the only time I will complain about weather like that. Undeterred, I loaded up my bags on Thursday morning and set out for the airport.
I met up with Dave at the airport and we boarded our flight to Reno around mid-day. Upon arrival, we snagged our rental car and set out to pick up provisions. A quick trip to Walmart filled up the trunk with everything you'd ever need for a weekend of fishing with the guys. We met Derek and Wyatt at Pyramid Lake Lodge a bit after sunset and settled into our cabin. The space offered 5 beds with an additional fold-out stashed in the closet. The kitchen came fully-stocked and the bathroom was surprisingly spacious. Dave frisbeed a pizza into the oven not long after our arrival and we settled in for the night, talking about the massive trout we stood a chance to catch.
The gentle, loving sound of 4 people's alarms barking at the moon greeted us at 5:00 AM. The coffee pot was purring before the lights turned on, but I was eager to get to the lake. We munched on some quick breakfast bites before loading up the cars with food and drinks (enough to sustain us for the day) and hit the road by 6:30. You can fish Pyramid Lake from 30 minutes before sunrise to 30 minutes after sunset. We arrived at our first spot and unloaded our gear. Guess who was the only one to not bring a headlamp?
The lake was glass as the sun snuck its way to the horizon. Lumen by lumen, the landscape revealed a stunning desert hill backdrop to a massive lake with some of the most interesting rock formations I've seen. I took some moments to snap photos before chucking some line in the water.
The guys and I started chucking line around 7:00 AM, and spent the next couple of hours watching bobbers sit on a mirrored surface, praying for any movement. Our fly selection was mostly balanced leeches and chironomids, and the occasional streamer to mix up the palatte. We all knew the calm waters weren't ideal for this approach; when dangling flies under a bobber, natural wake tends to add movement and life to these flies. Calm water, no twitchy. Still, we added the occasional pop to our lines in hopes of animating our offerings.
After some hours of anticipation, we began to realize the grim nature of our situation -- here we are on a hot, sunny day with no wake. Any trout activity wouldn't be found on the banks, but instead further off-shore in the deeper water. High atmospheric pressure keeps fish low, and we were fishing a textbook high pressure day. But hey, at least we had some beers.
We ended up packing up from our spot and bouncing around to some other beach areas that day. Our luck was feeling a bit lost in translation, and by the time sunset rolled around, only Derek had a fleeting take to show for it. We bounced back down the road towards our cabin, feeling a bit deflated. But tomorrow's a better day, right? Right?
The same echo of alarms rose our group early in the morning and I made us some breakfast burritos before shooting out the door. Our starting spot was a different beach than the day before, a spot where we saw a stocker truck unloading the previous afternoon. We joined a couple other groups along the bay and set our hearts on getting a fish to shore. As we looped our lines out as far as we could, the group next to us started to hoot and holler. Our heads all shot their way in unison was we watched the group bring in a half-decent fish. We also saw the rods they used -- spin rods. The sight of the gear hit me in the heart. There's no way to cast a fly rod as far as a traditional spin setup. Were we totally screwed today too?
After some time, we began to move beaches again. The shuffle between spots wasn't encouraging, but at least the scenery was stunning everywhere we went. After some more hours of bobber watching and beer drinking, the sun began to set behind us. At this point, we were back at our original spot and I was giving my all to the lake. I switched between sinking leech rigs and pulling streamers, but no one was turning an eye. We ended up heading out with no takes, no fish, and next to no hope. The weather was whooping us up and down Pyramid. It's hard to change the weather, unfortunately.
My flight home was scheduled for mid-morning on Sunday, so I snagged a ride from Dave nice and early. He, Derek, and Wyatt still had another day of fishing. As I boarded my flight a couple hours later and looked out the window, I noticed the trees swaying in the distance. Huh. That's weird. I forgot wind even existed prior to this point. I boarded the plane feeling, admittedly but not proudly, defeated. Thoughts of how the golden trout sent me into a frenzy snuck back into my mind. Will I go through the same thing with these Lahontans? Apparently the answer is yes -- for now.
As I jumped off the plane and went to grab my bags, my phone began buzzing with notifications. One in particular caught my eye as I watched the menu grow.
Dave sent a photo to Float Gang.
No. Nuh uh. Nope. Not opening that.
I flung the notification open and to my bittersweet delight, Dave sent this photo to our Instagram group.
I was stoked that at least someone had caught a fish! Mid-reply, another came through:
Ha ha, awesome. Now Derek's on the board. I guess that wind really helped.
At this point, and for a very brief, fleeting second. I quit fishing cold turkey. But the decision was reversed as soon as I looked back at the effort put in to catch those fish. The buzz was high in the chat, and I couldn't ignore that. The trip turned successful, and I quickly learned that every fishing expedition deserves at least three days. We live, and we learn.
All three of my friends caught amazing fish the day I left. And while I'm sure I could spin a tale of how the weather just wasn't ideal or how if I stayed I would have hooked into a lahontan, I am still so happy to see them make the trip memorable. This is a key lesson, if not the most important lesson any angler can learn. You will not catch fish on every trip. It's good to be okay with that, because if you're only going fishing to catch fish, you're missing the mark on fishing entirely. I was fortunate enough to spend two full days at one of the coolest places I've visited. Even better, I was joined by some amazing company, and we grew the roots of our annual tradition. I'd pay full price for that alone.
Fish on, my friends.