Possibly the best winter trout fishery available to anglers in our area is Pyramid Lake Nevada. Pyramid is the terminus of the Truckee River flowing from Lake Tahoe and it is the home of the Lahontan Cutthroat Trout (LCT). The LCT were the native trout in this drainage that have been supplanted by other trout species in the Truckee River and surrounding lakes. Pyramid Lake has no outlet and is an alkaline lake which precludes other trout species becoming established in the lake.
The fishing season reopened Oct. 1 and this year has produced more double digit trout than any year in recent memory. In fact two fish over 20 pounds have been landed so far. The story behind the resurgence is interesting.
In the 1800s and early 1900s LCT were fished commercially in Pyramid and Tahoe. In the same era agricultural water diversions destroyed the spawning access of the original strain LCT. By the mid 1940s the Pyramid cutthroat was thought to be extinct. Since this era the cutthroat population in Pyramid has been maintained by hatchery production of the Summit Lake strain of cutthroat different from the original. The record Pyramid Lake LCT caught in the 1930s was well over 40 pounds. There are tales of much larger fish reaching 50 pounds caught in earlier days. The Lake Tahoe record is 31 pounds.
In the 1970s biologists in Utah were searching remote mountain watersheds for native cutthroat trout. They came upon a population of cutthroat in Morrison and Bettridge creeks flowing near Pilot Peak along the Nevada border. Ultimately the DNA of these fish was matched to the DNA of museum specimen Pyramid cutthroats confirming that pure strain Pyramid LCT still lived.
It is believed that this “Pilot Peak” population began between 1900 and 1910 when eggs from Pyramid cutthroats were hatched and transported to remote fishless streams in Nevada. These fish remained isolated and could not interbreed with other trout.
The National Fish Hatchery in Gardinerville, Nev. introduced a breeding program for these fish. The first planting back into Pyramid Lake began in 2006. At this time the hatchery maintains a 3,000 fish brood stock. Each fish is tagged and identifiable so that selective breeding can maintain a scientifically diverse population.
They have been reintroduced into Pyramid Lake as well as other waters in their original range. Nevada has planted them in Lake Tahoe so that the original fish can be caught in the lake. The greatest success has come from Pyramid Lake where they do not have to compete with other trout species.
These “Pilot Peak” strain LCT reaches sexual maturity later than their cousins and devote more of their early energy to growth. They are able to reproduce after 3 to 4 years. They can live up to 16 years. These trout also show an early propensity to eat minnows giving them another growth advantage. They have been measured growing by little more than half a inch per month.
It is the success of the scientific community in locating the isolated original strain and propagating it, that is the key to the resurgence of the 20 pound cutthroat in Pyramid Lake. What remains to be seen is, will the 41 pound lake record be broken. We are still in the early stages of the revival of the historic cutthroats of the Truckee drainage, and the future looks bright. You might want to upscale your tackle for your next trip to Pyramid Lake.
Denis Peirce writes a fishing column for The Union’s Outdoors section and is host of “The KNCO Fishing & Outdoor Report,” which airs 6-7 p.m. Fridays and 5-6 a.m. Saturdays on 830-AM radio. Contact him via his website at www.fineflies.com.