The pyramid of Pyramid Lake.
Pyramid Lake is a small remnant of one of the many giant lakes of the Pleistocene Era that covered much of the now arid West.
Hard to believe it now, but at the end of the last ice age giant mammals roamed the shore of Pyramid Lake. Giant trout swam there as well.
Giant condors graced the sky in the Pleistocene era. They did not leave contrails.
The giant Columbian (non-wooly) Mammoths , sloths, and camels are gone.
Janene is glad the giant Short-faced Bear is no longer around Pyramid Lake.
The giant ears of jackrabbits still listen for giant saber-toothed cats around the giant lake.
Amazingly, giant Lahontan Cutthroat trout still swim in Pyramid Lake. I came to try to catch one.
Janene and I had just spent a week in Death Valley, so Pyramid Lake was conveniently on the way home back to Boise.
The Pyramid Lake Paiute Reservation is but a small remnant of the lands where Paiutes once lived. Unbeknownst to them, their ancestral lands were cursed, being loaded with silver and gold. In 1860 it was the Paiutes’ turn to be victims of the usual sad story of the American West: miners kidnap and rape Indian girls, Indian men retaliate, miners retaliate and get their butts kicked, and then finally the Army shows up to permanently displace the Indians. Another horrific chapter in America’s “Manifest Destiny.” The Pyramid Lake Paiutes ended up with little useable land, but at least they got the lake.
This sad story and much more is told at the small buy lovely tribal museum and visitors center. The Paiute ancestral lands were spread across much of Nevada and parts of Utah. The Paiutes had no central government, but consisted of numerous small bands of about 100 members, each with individual leaders.
Born in about 1830, Numanga of the Pyramid band had worked several seasons as a young field hand for the Mission Fathers in the Santa Clara Valley of California. By 1860, when the Paiutes gathered to discuss the ever growing encroachment by whites, he alone advised against war. He knew of the vast resources the Paiutes would be up against.
“They will come like the sand in a whirlwind and drive you from your homes. You will be forced among the barren rocks of the north, where your ponies will die; where you will see the women and old men starve, and listen to the cries of your children for food.” War broke out anyway, and he was right about the outcome. Numanga died of tuberculosis, a white man disease, in 1871.
With the coming of “civilization” the Lahontan Cutthroat fared about as poorly as the Paiutes. Weighing up to 60 pounds, fresh trout was popular table fare. Their spawning grounds were cut off by dams, and their waters diverted for crop irrigation. By the 1940’s the Lahontan was extirpated (locally extinct) in Pyramid Lake and its native waters.
Anticipating the approaching doom, early biologists took baby Lahontans and transferred them to other waters around Nevada. They inbred with other trout, but these impure strains still reached 5-10 pounds, so they became the basis for popular fisheries in several western lakes, such as Washington”s Omak and Oregon’s Mann lakes.
These impure Lahontans were missing the genes for giant size. But they retained the ability to thrive in high desert lakes and their high pH alkaline waters.
Until the 1970’s the pure strain of original Lahontans was thought to be lost. But a biologist studying the tiny trout in a tiny stream on the Utah/Nevada border thought they looked like the originals. In the 1990’s geneticists used the DNA from preserved 100 year old museum specimens to prove they were one and the same.
Living in a tiny creek on the slopes of Pilot Peak the Lahontans could find enough food to survive and reproduce, but they could never grow big. However, once brought back to Pyramid Lake their genes for size could kick in again. They are now propagated in a hatchery on the Paiute reservation. Natural spawning is still constrained by a lack of water and habitat.
Headlines like the one above are a serious turn on for someone like me with a background in biology, fisheries conservation, native fish, and a love of fishing wild places. In my world it would be the basis of a Hollywood movie. But I’ve probably already gone into way more detail on the Lahontans than most of my readers care to hear about. For you fishheads still with me here who want more detail, check it out at: Lahontan Cutthroat rediscovered
Big fish in big numbers draw big crowds from the Great Lakes to Alaska.
Pyramid Lake has its own nutty style of combat fishing. Anglers stand on stepladders to get out to deeper water. Also this way they don’t have to stand chest deep in freezing water all day.
Pyramid Lake has more ladders than a Home Depot store.
Ladders on standby while the anglers take a break.
Pink ladders for girls, of course.
Locals here take their ladders very seriously. These ladders are custom designed fishing machines.
I had to make do with a tiny ladder. Janene was embarrassed to be seen with me so equipped.
My fishing pal Steve makes an annual pilgrimage from Boise to Pyramid Lake each year. Thanks to his scouting he knew this rocky point was the current hot spot. And he knew that we had to get here at 3AM to find room for our ladders. Yes, three fucking AM. And even then we weren’t the first to arrive. Ladders in place, we then we got to lay on the bank for hours, guarding our spot, waiting for sunrise fishing time.
But it paid off. After about ten minutes, even with my wimpy ladder, I was the first to catch a fish. A nice trout by most standards, but at Pyramid Lake this size is considered a baby.
Steve, with his bigger ladder, soon caught a bigger fish.
These fish fell for Steve’s super-secret chironomid fly. Chironomids are a family of non-biting midges that live in the muddy bottom of lakes.
The fly imitates a chironomid larva like this one. Hard to believe trout can get so big eating such little bugs, but they do.
The larva eventually hatch into an adult. They look a bit like mosquitoes.
Steve has thirteen years on me, but he does not lack for fishing stamina. Others took breaks, Steve kept casting. I was not about to leave the master’s side. My first fish came about 6 AM, my next about 6 PM. It isn’t easy playing this hard.
There were lots of Lahontans caught this day.
“Catch and release” fishing it is called. But with big fish it is “catch, photograph, and release.”
Grip and grin is what the hip young anglers call it. And hipster anglers like to pose with the rod balanced on one shoulder.
But unlike the hipsters with day jobs, we oldsters get to fish anytime we want. Bring it on.