I had a business trip a couple of weeks ago to Reno, Nevada. I had a Tuesday meeting in San Francisco, followed by a Thursday meeting in Reno, with nothing to do in between. I pulled out my Business Traveler's Guide to Fly Fishing the Western States and found that Reno is close to a place called Pyramid Lake, which is world famous for giant Lahontan Cutthroat trout.
(This book is actually a pretty useful and fun guidebook, and I highly recommend it to the traveling fly fisherman.)
According to the guidebook and what information I could glean on the internet, the Lahontan Cutthroats are really big trout, with specimens of 20+ inches pretty common. I've never caught a trout that big, so I was pretty psyched up to catch a really big trout.
I packed my 8 weight rod, big Lamson reel, and fast sinking fly line I'd bought for steelheading (which I still haven't done yet.) I called ahead of time and mail-ordered a dozen flies from the Reno Fly Shop so I'd be armed with the appropriate flies for my little expedition. Pyramid Lake flies are as gaudy as a casino show-girl. They are all neon and hot pink and bright purple and sequins and glitter. They also have some really big hooks, which I doubt that the Colorado brookies I'm used to catching could even get their mouths wide enough to swallow.
One of the things that the guidebooks and other information on Pyramid Lake all mentioned was the tradition of fishing with step ladders. The lake has a long, wide, shallow bottom, and folks use step ladders to allow them to cast further and reach the deeper drop-offs which is pretty far from shore. I own a step ladder, but couldn't figure out how to get it into my carry-on luggage, so I figured I'd just have to count on the power of my graphite 8 weight to get my fly out where it would do some good.
I'd never been to Reno before. In the time it took me to find my hotel (after getting a bit lost in my rental car) I pretty much saw all of the city I think I will ever wish to see.
The morning of my trip to Pyramid Lake, I woke up early and immediately checked out the weather report. Partly sunny, temperatures in the mid 30's, snow in the afternoon, and an Extreme High Wind Advisory. "Drivers of high profile vehicles be advised that wind gusts over 70mph can be expected." Dang!
I was hoping that when I got to the lake that there would be less wind, but that was not the case. There was a pretty steady 20+ mph breeze blowing, with intermittent gusts much stronger. The lake itself is set in an almost lunar landscape, with only dead tumbleweeds and grey gravel and very little color. The water was deep blue with wind generated whitecaps.
Casting was a real chore in the high wind. With the wind at my back, I could get the line to go forward, but the backcast was a real challenge. With a floating line, I would have just roll-cast and not bothered with the back-cast, but with the fast sinking line, it was pretty difficult to get off a decent roll-cast. I ended up side-arming the back cast to keep it as low as possible, and arching up the forward cast high to take the fullest possible advantage of the wind. Even so, I managed to smack myself with the fly more than once, and embedded the hook in the back of my head. I had a heavy pile hat on, which I was really grateful for, as it took the brunt and I only got pricked as opposed to having to dig the big barbed hook out of my scalp.
I didn't see but two other fishermen all day. I also didn't catch anything. The high point of the day was snagging my hook on an underwater obstacle, which would temporarily give me the impression that I might have caught a fish. I actually found myself "playing" the snag for a while, having come to the conclusion that this was likely my only excitement.
Actually, I did have some other excitement provided by the lake itself. One of the areas I fished involved a bit of a hike. I wanted to get to a place where few people had fished, on the hope that this was where all the big canny cutthroats would congregate. There was a high bank with no slopes, so I had to climb down to the water. In fact, I slid down, as the bank was composed of a layer of very slick wet clay over a harder clay surface.
Once I got out into the water, I found that I didn't have enough traction with my boots to walk back up to the shore. Even with studded soles, I just slid. I could walk sideways, or deeper into the lake, but couldn't walk up the slope to the shallows.
I ended up walking parallel to the shore for about a quarter mile until the composition of the lakebed changed to a less slippery material and I was able to get back up out of the water and onto dry land again.
All told, I spent about 6 hours fishing.
Next time I'm in Reno on business and have an extra day to spend fishing, I'm heading for the Truckee river.