Big Red escapes again at Pyramid Lake
Special to the Nevada Appeal
I hooked him at 3 in the afternoon on Jan. 6. As an ardent Pyramid Lake angler, I have been pursuing this fish known as Big Red for more than 35 years. I guess I should explain that Big Red is not just any old fish.
Big Red is that beautiful male Lahontan Cutthroat trout that is the trophy fish of Pyramid Lake. He is the standard that all other fish are measured by. Big Red is a fish that is more than 30 inches long measured from the head to the fork in the tail. Any fish shorter doesn’t qualify as an official Big Red. As weight goes, most cutthroat trout more than 30 inches will also weigh more than 10 pounds, so Big Red also is a 10-pound fish. Anyone who has fished there for more than a few days has seen someone down the beach catch and land this fish of magnificent proportions and release him back to fight another day.
Big Red has eluded me all these years. In the last three seasons, since I retired from the Nevada Department of Wildlife, I have been able to increase the time I spend in pursuit of Big Red. With each passing year, I put in more time casting from the shores of the lake and each year I am humbled. I have come so close to catching Big Red, so many times.
I have studied the fly patterns that work the best. I’ve got boxes and boxes of flies and keep tying more all the time. I have mastered the double haul and on occasion, with a nice wind, I can repeatedly cast two big flies 100 feet. If you have fished Pyramid Lake a long time, as I have, you, come to understand that this big desert lake favors no one. Big fish here are doled out the same way Nevada’s slot machines award jackpots, strictly by chance. I have seen the best anglers get skunked after fishing all day, while watching a novice angler fish for 15 minutes and hook up to Big Red; make a million mistakes; land him; throw him in a gunny sack and head for the taxidermist shop. That’s maddening!
The success rate drops even more in January when water temperatures drop into the low 40s, the fish activity slows almost to a standstill. However, the fish that are caught, typically are trophies.
That is why on the 6th of January I found myself on Wino Beach on the east shore of the lake. There was a slight breeze from the north and I had caught a couple of trout in the 21 inch size class fishing through the day. I was casually casting and retrieving my wooly bugger and beetle combination when the line stopped with about 40 feet of line out.
I had fished the same area for several hours and was surprised to feel a solid resistance. Then the line began to spin off my Okuma reel and I knew I had either hooked a fish by the tail or I really had Big Red. There was a rush of adrenaline as I struggled to get my slack line on the reel. Then there was only the feel of the power of this fish as he tried to head for the middle of the lake. He made two good runs to my left, taking line out to 90 feet. On the second run, I worked him back to within 25 feet. There, out in front of me, he was just a foot under the surface where I could see his mass, twisting and head shaking as he tried to free himself from the beetle with a stinger in the side of his big gaping mouth. I estimated the fish to be at least 27 inches long and maybe as long as 32 inches. Big Red was almost within my grasp. Finally, he made another run, this time to my left. Out at about 60 feet, the tug on my line disappeared and Big Red was gone. No broken line, no broken knot-he just came unhooked and swam away. I was happy to have seen him and heartbroken to see him go.
Since that day, I have fished the big desert lake another three days and have caught nothing, not even a bite. I did see an angler catch a similar big fish near sundown at Pelican Point. I had my camera in hand as he worked a monstrous cutthroat into the shore where his brother waited with a net. The angler was using a spinning reel and was taking his time getting the fish in. It was clear he was experienced at playing trophy trout and wasn’t going to horse the fish in. Then after 10 minutes of play when the fish was within 10 feet of the landing net, he came off and was gone. The angler threw his hands up in the air in disgust.
I said to him, “At least you got to see him. I bet you would probably have let him go, anyway.” He had to agree with me and his brother exclaimed, “Can, you believe it? Our wives can’t understand why we have to keep doing this.” Believe me, I can.
– Mike Sevon, retired from the Nevada Department of Wildlife as a fisheries supervisor in 2006 after serving 36 years. During this time he became intimately familiar with the Nevada outdoors. He is an ardent hunter and fisherman who photographs Nevada and the eastern Sierra’s in his pursuits a field. His photos can be viewed at mikesevonphotos.com.