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This blog is all about fly fishing for native trout. On it I cover trip reports, fishing tactics, conservation, the latest news about native trout species and much more. This site provides a companion to my web page Nativetroutflyfishing.com.


Friday, July 8, 2022

High Desert Angling: Part 1 - A Bumpy Road

 Day 1: Friday July 1st 2022:  This year I wasn't sure whether I would be able to pull of a road trip for native trout. While great, changing jobs also meant entering summer without much in the way of vacation time. However, I when I looked at my schedule I realized I could pull away for a native trout adventure over the long 4th of July weekend and better yet my cousin Derek was also able to join. While I went after the Westslope Cutthroat subspecies last year, this year I decided to focus my attention on the Lahontan subspecies as well as Bonneville Cutthroat. However, with a day less to work with than last year's trip, this trip was packed very densely with little room for error or tough to find trout.

The disadvantage of the 4th weekend as always is that it seems like everyone else is trying to get out of town on adventures as well. Even with taking a half day to leave early, the traffic getting out of the Puget and over the Cascade Mountains was horrible. Luckily leaving early gave me enough of a buffer that I was able to arrive at Derek’s place in the Tri Cities right as he got home from work. This got us back on the road quickly and the traffic on our second leg to Boise was not bad at all and we arrived at our hotel 10pm to rest up before hitting road in the morning.

Off to a slow start

Day 2: Saturday July 2nd 2022: As often happens with the prospect of new native trout on the horizon, I had trouble sleeping. As such I was up at 3:30AM well before my alarm and decided to just go ahead and get ready for the day. This put us on the road again by 4:30AM and on our way to Utah and our first trout of the trip. The first trout we were targeting was the Pilot Peak strain of the Lahontan Cutthroat Trout. These Pilot Peak fish are unique as they were the last of the original Pyramid Lake Lahontan Cutthroat Trout known for being the largest Cutthroat Trout in the world. These fish had been stocked in the Pilot Peak range long ago and forgotten about until they were rediscovered and later reintroduced back into Pyramid Lake. With these fish being so special I had always wanted a chance to visit the place where they had been found and see if I could catch and photograph one. 

The first challenge with these Pilot Peak Lahontan Cutthroat was just getting to them. Part one was 40 miles of dirt road, with the last couple miles to the creek being exceptionally rough and pushing my RAV 4 to its limit. Given how rough the road was, I didn't want to push my car past its limit so we decided to walk the last bit into the stream. First we had to find flowing water. 

The start of the long walk into the mountains

Given the recent drought, when we first came to the stream bed it was dry. Not too far upstream the creek started flowing, but it was some time before it looked large enough to possibly hold any fish. However, even at this point there were several challenges to deal with. First the stream was extremely brushy so it would be challenging to do anything but dap a fly on the water. Second every open patch of water had several spider webs over it making stealth near impossible. 
Ready for the start of our native trout adventure

Derek and I worked through a stretch of the stream that I had been told held a decent number of Cutthroat with not so much as a sign of fish. After that, we decided to split up and I went another half mile upstream while Derek worked the stream below. After covering a good stretch of stream with not so much of a sign of fish and the day starting to wear on, I decided to head back downstream and see if Derek had any luck. 

A rare piece of holding water on the stream

As it turned out when I found Derek, he had just managed to catch a beautiful 12” Cutthroat that was holding in a small pool. Apparently he had spotted the the fish and cast to it, only to get his fly getting stuck in a spiderweb and have to fish jump out of the water to try to grab it. While the fish didn't get the fly on that cast, Derek was able break the spider web, land the fly on the water and managed to get the fish to eat and caught it.

Derek's big fish - a Pilot Peak (Pyramid Lake) Strain Lahontan Cutthroat

After Derek caught his fish, I redoubled my efforts but despite covering another 1/2 mile of the creek that only thing that I was able get the attention of was a small snake that spooked and swam across the creek on one of my casts. Given that we had a long drive to our next stream and that there was no sign of any additional fish, it was time to hit the road. 

Looking out over the Bonneville salt flats

Part of our need to get a move on was that we were going to meet up with my friend and fellow native trout enthusiast Steve MacMillan from Nevada, at the next stream and we still had a very long drive down to Bonneville Cutthroat country on the eastern edge of the Bonneville Basin. As with the Pilot Peak stream, we were in for another long stretch of dirt roads to get to our destination. However, we made surprisingly good time and ended up beating Steve by about an hour, although I suspect that the Pacific/ Mountain time zone difference was lost in translation and at play.

Miles and miles of dirt road

Once linking up with Steve, we made for the Mountains, which were a monolith of granite rising several thousand feet out of the salt flats. The country was a mix alpine and desert, with prickly pear, pine, birch, juniper and willows. As is typically of this thirsty country, we found a very small creek threading through a tunnel of vegetation. Luckily the creek was much larger then the Pilot Peak stream and finding good holding water didn't take long. I decided to start out with my trusty Royal PMX and Lighting Bug dropper setup and started working the water. It didn't take long to find a Cutthroat and I was finally on the board with another subspecies of Cutthroat off my list. Steve and Derek also got their fish in short order and we each started working the stream for additional fish.

A small Bonneville Cutthroat Trout

While it didn't take long to find my first fish, the stream was certainly a challenge due to the vegetation and additional fish were hard earned. However, I managed to land two more and lost a number of others over the course of a couple hours before Steve had to head back home.

The valley along the stream

After Steve headed off, Derek and I decided to hike up the road and explore further upstream. Upon hit the water, I lucked into a series of pools that were relatively open and easy to reach. This was where I struck pay dirt. As I approached the first hole I spotted a couple of trout holding just in front of a root wad. A well placed bow and arrow cast resulted in an immediate rise and a quickly landed fish. The next fish took a bit more work and rose to the fly 6 times before I finally managed to hook up and bring it to hand.

A beautiful Bonneville Cutthroat Trout

Continuing upstream each pool held several more Cutthroat, which were more than eager to rise to a dry fly and did so with reckless abandon. The topmost pool looked to be the deepest and most likely to hold a bigger fish. Sure enough as I approach, I spotted a nice Cutthroat and several small ones holding in the pool. A well placed cast got the attention of the big fish first and I managed to hook it. With limited room to run, I was able to bring the beautiful 11” Cutthroat to the net in short order.

A productive stretch of the stream
A beautiful Bonneville Cutthroat to end the day on

After getting my large Bonneville, I managed to catch the two smaller fish as well, before Derek and I decided that it was time of cap off the long day and set up camp. While the trip had gotten off to a bumpy start, between Derek and I we did document both of the fish that we were after and headed to bed with hopes that streams the next day would be as productive as our Bonneville Cutthroat stream had been.

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