Small flies hook big fish at Pyramid |

Small flies hook big fish at Pyramid

Mike Sevon
For the Nevada Appeal
Mike Sevon/For the Nevada Appeal

Fly fishing for trophy Lahontan cutthroat trout is in full swing right now at Pyramid Lake. If you haven’t tried fishing Pyramid yet this year, it’s time. Given the cool spring this year, the fishing should remain hot for another three to four weeks.

Shore anglers have been pursuing trout with flies here since the fishery made its comeback in the early 1950s. According to Bill Griswold, one of Pyramid Lake’s oldest anglers, Art Champagne may have been the first angler to fish for the big cutts with a fly rod.

Champagne observed cutthroat trout at the south end of the lake, cruising the shallows early one morning sipping flies off the surface. Before the advent of modern fly rods, Champagne rigged up his bamboo fly rod with a dry fly and hooked into some bragging size fish.

Today, legions of fishermen eagerly wait for spring when the cutthroat trout move into shore to feed. A unique fishery has developed where anglers wade into the lake up to their waist, climb up on makeshift ladders and cast out beyond the shoreline dropoffs with assorted flies. Up until about six years ago, the typical flies used at Pyramid Lake were wooly worms.

These flies are large, measuring more than two inches long and imitate small minnows or large dragonflies. Wooly worms, or wooly buggers, still account for some of the lake’s biggest fish. In the past years, more anglers are turning to small flies to fool big fish.

This technique relies on the fact that midges make up more than 70 percent of the food available in the alkaline lakes of the West, and Pyramid Lake is no exception. Midges spend most of their life cycle in the mud bottoms of still waters. Prior to becoming adults, the immature midges squirm out of the lake bottom and wiggle their way to the surface. At this point in their lives these tiny bugs are very susceptible to becoming fish food. Trout cruise through the shallows and swallow hundreds of these midge pupae with little effort.

One of the first anglers who capitalized on using small flies for big fish at Pyramid Lake was Tom Loe, a fishing guide headquartered out of Crowley Lake, Calif.

Loe was used to catch big rainbow and brown trout by suspending midge patterns a foot or two above the lake bottom in the muddy bays of Crowley. It was a technique worth trying at Pyramid Lake and significantly improved catch rates. I first observed Loe using this technique at Pyramid Lake in 2007.

It was maddening to stand on shore and watch Loe and his fishing partners catch fish after fish. Loe freely shared his information with anyone along the shore, including myself. Today most of the hard-core anglers who fish the lake are set up with a separate rod so they can do some indicator fishing when they tire of casting the big, heavy wooly buggers.

Here’s a recipe for success if you want to try indicator fishing. Most anglers use a 9-foot, 6-inch weight rod with a floating fly line and start with a 9-foot leader tapered to a 3- or 12-pound test tippet. You will want to visit your local fly shop and pick up a selection of midge patterns, pheasant tails, copper johns, snow cones and zebra midges and any other patterns the fly shop folks recommend. The fly shop staff knows what is working and will give you good advice. Most of these flies are found in sizes that range from size 10 down to size 18. I like to have a good selection in each size and in a variety of colors.

The flies are suspended near the lake bottom by attaching a floating indicator. You will need to pick up some indicators that will be tied to your leader to suspend the flies. The most popular indicators used today are Thingamabobbers and screwballs. I like to use screwballs as they don’t slip down the leader when you are casting. Your indicator is placed 9 feet above the bottom fly to begin with. Typically two flies are used and the distance between each fly varies from 1 to 2 feet. The bottom fly is attached to the bend of the hook of the top fly using a clinch knot.

If you venture to any beach on the west shore of the lake you will observe anglers using this technique. Respectfully watch those who are catching fish and imitate what they are doing. If you are fishing off the tufa rocks common along the shoreline, you won’t need waders. If you fish on a shallow beach you will need waders and a ladder to get out to the dropoffs. Most casts in this type of fishing are short, less than 50 feet.

You want to cast your indicator into water along the edge of the lake past the shoreline drop off. If there are fish cruising in shallow water, they will see you, and chances are you can’t catch a fish you can see. It’s an act of faith to cast out to water where you can’t see to bottom of the lake. That will put you in the zone where the water is around 10 feet deep and that’s where you will catch the big fish.

I caught my first 30-inch cutthroat trout in April using this technique and a size 14 red copper john. Give indicator fishing a try at Pyramid Lake.

Big Red is waiting for you.