Denis Peirce: Trophy trout at Pyramid Lake |

Denis Peirce: Trophy trout at Pyramid Lake


We are fortunate to have a world class trophy trout fishery a few hours drive from home in the Nevada desert, Pyramid Lake. It is the home of the Lahontan Cutthroat trout. The original strain of this cutthroat was thought to have been extinct since the construction of a dam on the Truckee River which cutoff access to their spawning areas 100 years ago. In 2001 some of these trout were identified in a stream in eastern Nevada. A breeding program was started and over the last 20 years this strain of cutthroats was reintroduced into the lake.

The world record Lahontan Cutthroat was caught in Pyramid Lake a century ago and weighed in at over 40 pounds. The reintroduced trout have been growing and fish in the 25 pound class have been caught in recent years.

I have fished Pyramid Lake numerous times, primarily in the winter when the water has cooled and the fish can be caught from shore. The fishing season runs from Oct. 1 through June 30. Trout fishing is closed during the warm water season.

I had the opportunity to fish the lake in mid October this year by boat. Jason Lai and Cal Harris invited me to join their party which was doing a multi day trip to the lake. By opening day most years the water is down into the middle 60 degree range. In mid October this year, the surface water temp was 60 degrees. Surprisingly this temp was the same from the top down to the 65 foot depth. A couple of days before I arrived, the winds were as high as 30 mph, which kept most of the anglers off the water. Winds create a current that moves the surface water across the lake. There is a resultant reverse current that in effect mixes the water. I am assuming that the top 65 feet were mixed and the coldest water down deep remained separated by water density.

Typically the good fishing in October is found deep. This year was no exception. There were a number of small water craft just offshore far enough to fish down to the 40 foot level. There were also a good number of larger boats on the water.

We started the first day going north from the Pelican Point launch ramp. Our destination was Warrior Point a couple of miles distant. The ridge of the point extends well out into the lake. It was obvious where it was, due to the surface turbulence over the underwater ridge. My guess was that the lake currents hitting the ridge were deflected up towards the surface. We caught fish on either side of the ridge. We did well catching fish in the 20 to 24 inch range trolling flies and spoons.

The quest at Pyramid is a trophy cutthroat. The size range of the fish at Warrior Point would have been a trophy at most lakes in the Sierra. But Pyramid Lake is in a class of its own and we were after bigger fish. The decision was made to cross the lake and fish “Hell’s Kitchen” — an area known for bigger fish..

The eight mile trip across the lake takes about 20 minutes depending on the waves mid lake, which can be significantly larger than near shore. Hell’s Kitchen has a steep shore line dropping to more than 100 feet deep not far off shore. There seemed to be more boats working this stretch of shore than anywhere else on the lake. There was a mix of trolling boats and anglers fishing vertically from drifting boats. There was a boat from Mammoth Lakes with fly anglers casting sinking lines. Once their lines got down to the 45 foot range they were hooking up regularly as well.

We trolled flies between the 45 and 60 foot range off shore enough to keep from hanging up on the bottom structure. We used big flies in the 4 to 6 inch range, thinking that big flies and big fish would go together. We were not disappointed. The largest fish of the trip was hooked on this combination. It was a 16+ pound cutthroat caught in the afternoon of the second day by Jason Lai. This was the largest fish from Pyramid Lake that I have personally seen landed.

Now that we are in the middle of November, the lake temperature is well down below the 60 degree mark. These temps will have the fish moving into the shallow shoreline areas where bank anglers can do well.

Pyramid Lake is on an Indian reservation and no Nevada State fishing license is required. A tribal day permit is required to fish here. It is expensive at $24 per day but the chance to catch a huge trout keeps bringing the anglers back. A Pyramid Lake fishing trip can be done in a long day from home and it can be rewarding.

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

Cal Harris with a typical Pyramid Lake cutthroat.
Photo by Denis Peirce
Sunrise launch on Pyramid Lake in Nevada.
Photo by Denis Peirce
Jason Lai trying to control a 16 pound cutthroat.
Photo by Denis Peirce
A well fed cutthroat trout from Pyramid Lake.
Photo by Denis Peirce

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