Pyramid Lake and its ever changing conditions and seasons.
By Rob Anderson
Hey everyone, Rob here. I have been a fishing guide at Pyramid Lake for over 20 years. It has been incredible to work at such a magnificent place. Over the past 20 or so years I have kept a close watch on the lake and everything about it. What I have observed is a pattern that is hard to overlook. A pattern that has changed the fishing and the fishing conditions almost on a yearly basis and has turned Pyramid into a different fishery than it was 20 years ago.
In this article I will explain everything you need to know as an angler coming to fish Pyramid Lake in the future. This is the most important article I have done about the lake since I did an article some years ago about the new strain of Lahontan Cutthroat Trout that was introduced in 2006.
A starting point
Let’s take a trip back in time. 20 years ago. It is the years just after the events of 9/11. Pyramid Lake has not yet reached celebrity status as it has today. The three hatcheries that supply Trout to Pryamid Lake are running full capacity and pumping out between 1 and 2 million trout for the lake each year. The lake is full of cookie cutter Trout between 17-22 inches. Although there are a lot larger trout in the lake, most of the fish caught resemble the last one. It is a huge accomplishment to catch a Trout over 10 pounds and it is the ultimate goal of every Pyramid angler but most never attain this goal. The Summit Lake Strain of Lahontan Cutthroat Trout are the only trout in the lake, they are plentiful and very easy to predict. Although catching these fish can happen anytime of the season, March and April are the two target months to really stack up the numbers and have a chance at a 10 pound fish.
During this period of time is when we also started fishing nymphs and midges like the Maholo Midge at the lake. We were having so many 30-50 fish days during March and April. Word was getting out fast and eventually indicator fishing at Pyramid would take over for most anglers. The Summit Lake Strain would come into the shallows around the hatchery and stay there until they ended up in the hatchery stream or until the spawn was over. Sometimes these fish would roam the area for two months. This put a high percentage of the trout in the lake in shallow water and easy targets for the hundreds of ladder fisherman at the lake. As a guide I went 4 seasons without getting skunked with clients during this period.
There is so much history at the lake dating back to fly fishing in the late 1960’s with fast sinking fly lines that were homemade or altered to fit the fishing style of the lake. This history also has put a thought into a high percentage of fisherman at Pyramid Lake over the past 50 years. MARCH – APRIL, APRIL – MARCH. This idea still persists today in the minds of most Pyramid Lake anglers. Listen to me here – Pyramid Lake is different now. March and April are not the only months to come to the lake. As a matter of fact, there are three months during the season that we prefer over either of these months in today’s fishing.
Let’s dive into the reasons why for a minute
During the period before the introduction of the Pilot Peak Strain back in 2006, almost all the fish in the lake were raised at the main hatchery at the lake which included the artificial spawning stream that the fish would swim up and get trapped for a month or even two and eggs and sperm would be collected for the next seasons stocking. Not only was this process easy and provided enough eggs to put over a million fish back into the lake each year but it also conditioned these fish to do the same routine year after year. Thus 30-50 fish days during the spawn in March and April. During this time, it was not uncommon to see fish roaming in less than a foot of water and it was possible to see hundreds of fish cruising right in front of the ladders every day. This was also a great time to catch the 10 pound fish simply because of the large amount of fish within casting distance of all the anglers. This went on for so many years that most of the anglers to fish Pyramid Lake would only come to tha lake during March and April.
This mindset is still present in today’s Pyramid Lake, March, and April. Up until a couple years ago there were still enough Summit strain trout in the lake that the March and April decline in the fishing was not evident except for the most observant and seasoned anglers.
Back in the early 2000’s the hatchery program at the lake was spitting out up to 2 million fish per year. The lake was loaded with Summit Lake Strain LahantonCutthroat Trout. This is about the same time that we started Indicator midge fishing. We were having huge days with our clients. 200-300-400 fish in a day for a group outing at the South Nets Beach where the fish would get so stacked that if you could not catch them, you would eventually snag a cruising fish just due to the numbers of fish cruising the shallows. Sometimes to a point where we would have to strip our flies really slow and only use one fly to not snag so many fish.
With the introduction of the Pilot Peak Strain Lahontan Cutthroat Trout in 2006, the hatchery program would soon go through some major changes. For the first few years the addition of the new fish would have a minimal impact on the lake. Almost all the hatchery efforts were still targeting large numbers of Summit Strain fish. It was not until about 5-6 years later that the results from putting this new fish in the lake would take shape. The result – Huge fish, fast growing fish, more veracious fish and not soon after fish being caught in the 15-19 pound class with some fish reaching over 20 pounds. In November of 2013 my largest fish to date was caught weighing almost 25 pounds. The math? It took this fish no more than 7 years to reach this massive size.
The new Plan
The decisions after by U.S. Fish and Wildlife was to concentrate more efforts into this new strain of fish which by now had been determined to be much more closely related to the Pre- Die off Lahontan Cutthroat than the prior. The lake was void of trout for a few years in the 1940’s and the hatchery program had to start from scratch with the Summit Lake strain fish from Oregon. This fish now is known to not be the original strain.
The excitement was building around this new fish and the amazing growth rate. Why? Because as these fish reach a size large enough to chase minnows, that is exactly what they do. This creature is way more veracious than the previous and the minnow population in the lake better watch out. This mindset changed the thinking of the stocking program with idea that too many fish meant the demise of the Tui Chub minnow population.
So, the decision has been made to cut back on the number of trout put in the lake each year, and also the decision to use two of the three hatcheries for the new Pilot Strain and only one hatchery for the old Summit Strain. Add in the fact that U.S. Fish and Wildlife takes a high percentage of fish and puts them in other waters now means that the stocking program at Pyramid Lake is now running at about 20% capacity compared to the early 2000’s and the fish population in Pyramid Lake has been declining every year for the past 15 or so years but the number of fish over 10 pounds or over 15 pounds is growing yearly.
This plan seemed to be working. In the years leading up to Covid the fishing in March and April was so good. The huge decrease in Summit Strain fish population would not be felt by the anglers until about two years ago. As the Summit Strain fish would show up in the spring to spawn in shallow water it would also pull in some big numbers of huge Pilot Strain fish. In 2019 our guide service caught over 300 10 pound plus fish. We do a lot of guided trips at the lake, but this number is still amazing. We had one angler catch 10 fish over 10 pounds in one day.
The New Fish
The Pilot Peak strain of Lahontan Cutthroat Trout does not act like the Summit Lake Strain. Their habits are different. They do not show up in numbers to run up the hatchery in March and April. They do not spend as much time in front of the shore anglers fishing from ladders in the spring. For a few years there were plenty of these fish in the shallows in March and April, today with the massive decline in Summit Lake fish, the numbers of fish in front of anglers in the spring might be 10% of what it was in the early 2000’s.
The new fish is much more interested in chasing bait. They spend much more time in deeper water and are almost always found around the Tui Chub minnows. As the years went by after the introduction of the Pilot Peak strain, we started looking for new ways to target the individual species. The lake is almost 100% blind fishing, so this took a few years to figure out a new way to fish the lake. Question? How do we find these fish? Answer – find the minnows.
The Tui Chub Minnow Location
If you were a minnow and you lived in a lake with 20 pound massive predators trying to eat you, what would you do? Hide, yes try to hide. Stay in numbers for safety. Go where the trout are not.
This is exactly what the Tui Chub minnows had to do. Not only have we had to find the fish, but the minnows have had to find where the fish are not. Logical. The advantage – the minnows can live in water with less oxygen than the trout. This lone fact was the key to targeting the largest fish in Pyramid Lake.
Now that we have a better idea of the location of the minnows, we could come up with a plan to find the fish. What I mean by that is location and also the important thing, – Time of Year –
Being a local and spending time at Pyramid during all 12 months of the year, it did not take long for us to realize that the time of year when the minnows are not in 200 feet of water is in the summer. The problem is the lake is closed to fishing in July -September. The three easiest months to find the minnows and the trout. The minnows in the lake had figured out that the very warm surface temperatures of the lake in the summer months do not hold enough oxygen for the trout and they could come up into the top 10 feet or so of the water column and have some safety.
Solving the problem
We have always fished Pyramid from opening day on October 1st until the closing on June 30th. Now we were going to have a new focus and look for new ways to target these fish. As the water temperatures warm in the spring months usually starting in Late March or early April, the spawn would go into full swing. Tons of fish around the hatchery and in shallow water. As the spawn would come to an end each year the fishing would get really difficult in late April and most of May and on to the end of the season. But that was all shore ladder fishing. The fish are just not in shallow water anymore once the spawn is over. We would have to wait until things change.
By mid-May the water on the surface is really warming up into the high 60’s. The minnows make their yearly migration from the depths of the lake to the surface for the summer and will stay there until early October or when the water starts to cool and provide more oxygen near the surface. The new hiding spot. We actually spent a couple of years fine tuning our methods and the results have been eye opening for our guide service and our clients.
What we found out is that as the minnows come into the shallow water for the summer the fish also move with them. But the oxygen in the warm surface temperatures is a problem for the trout. So instead of simply chasing minnows all day and night, the trout stage themselves in a little deeper water in the next thermocline where the water is colder. Usually in more than 20 feet deep. From here they can move in and out of the minnows or catch the stray one here and there.
For the last 6 or 7 years we have been able to extend the spring season all the way until the last day of fishing on June 30th. Check out the video we made of our last two days of fishing this past June on our YouTube channel Bucket List Fly Fishing We are now running a lot of guided trips in October, May-June and it is this time of year now that our clients are having the most success.
Make sure your volume is on!!!!!
The future of the fishing
Assuming that the stocking program is not in for any drastic changes, Pyramid is going to continue to have a shift in the time of year that is the most productive for catching a giant Lahontan Cutthroat Trout. Or any trout for that matter. The lake is losing its fish population on a yearly basis, and it is now a Trophy fishery only. If you are looking for any numbers of fish at all then October, May and June are when you want to come to the lake.
We are taking big steps this season to educate anglers of the “New Pyramid Lake”. Not new to us but for the vast majority of the Pyramid fishermen, this is. We have scheduled two Outings in October this season.
October 6-8 and October 13-15
We have been doing these early season outings since we figured out the new fishing pattern to catch giant trout. These outings are a great way to spend a couple of days with our guides on the water at a much discounted rate. For more information click on the link or give us a call at 775.742.1754 to reserve a spot or ask questions.
Our guide service continues to be on the leading edge of everything Pyramid Lake. Our focus on educating anglers to come fish with us in October, May-June is not new to us. It all started back in the early days of there even being any fly fishing guides at Pryamid Lake when we started introducing the Pyramid Fishing to Indicator Nymphing and Midging and the inception of the Maholo Nymph and Midge back in the early 2000’s.
We have a bunch of new news again this year including.
• updated Ladder Rental program streamlining our pickup and drop off service at the lake,
• All-inclusive trips include staying on the beach with your guide during your guided trip.
• Trailer/camper rentals for stays right on the beach at the lake.
• New additions to our fly selection and leader selection on our online store
We are always available for a chat. Who does not like to talk aobut fishing? Give us a call anytime or text – email as well. Give us a chance to show you how to fish Pyramid Lake in the “off season” hahahaha. And we will show you a completely different looking lake and a time of year when you can fish in your shorts. 😊