The Future of Pyramid Lake’s Lahontan Cutthroats

Casey Anderson of Pyramid Fly Co. organizes clinics for native youngsters and their households to get them curious about fly fishing, and acquire a extra vested curiosity within the Lahontan cutthroat fishery. (Matt Welsh picture)

This text was initially titled “The Paiute Fisheaters” within the  June-July 2020 challenge of Fly Fisherman journal.

The story of the Lahontan cutthroat is certainly one of survival, in opposition to all odds. They’re the most important of the cutthroat species. Naturalist Steve Raymond referred to as them “the final survivors of an historical race of tremendous trout.” The data, tales, and pictures help the concept these had been certainly the world’s largest true trout. The world report was landed at Pyramid Lake in 1925 at 41 kilos. a duplicate of that fish remains to be on show at Crosby Lodge. There have been even unsupported claims of fish within the 50- to 60-pound vary. These are trout so huge they don’t look actual—they appear like overweight caricatures.

Lahontan trout advanced within the tributaries of historical Lake Lahontan by the ice ages till about 7,000 years in the past, when the lake shrank to go away solely remnants. Lahontan cutthroat in these lakes advanced into a big predator species by preying on baitfish such tui chubs and enormous suckers referred to as cui-ui.

Pyramid Lake is among the remnants of Lake Lahontan, and it’s supported by the influx of the Truckee River. It’s the solely influx, and there aren’t any outflows. It’s the terminal level on this watershed. Sierra Nevada snowmelt flows out of Lake Tahoe, and runs north for 120 miles earlier than emptying into Pyramid Lake. This tiny watershed is sadly house to one of the tragic and academic fishery tales in American historical past.

The decline of Lahontan cutthroat started with the development of Derby Dam in 1905, on the Truckee River 36 miles upstream from Pyramid Lake. Derby Dam was constructed to divert water into the Truckee Canal. It diminished the stream of the Truckee River by 75 p.c, Pyramid Lake ranges dropped by 75 toes, and Lahontan cutthroat had been unable to bypass the dam to achieve their spawning grounds.

The fishery declined virtually instantly. A biologist from the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (USFWS) witnessed the final spawning run of the Lahontan cutthroat in 1938. He reported seeing virtually 200 fish averaging 20 kilos. Because the water slowed to a trickle from the dam, the final spawning run of the Lahontans was misplaced, and with it your entire species. The Pyramid Lake pressure of Lahontan cutthroat trout had been declared extinct in 1943. In simply 5 years, America’s race of tremendous trout was destroyed.

Within the Nineteen Seventies, Pyramid Lake was stocked with a special pressure of cutthroat trout from Summit Lake, Nevada, however these fish by no means reached the big proportions of the previous Lahontan legends. Within the Nineteen Nineties, a fish of 8 kilos was thought of a giant one.

Pyramid Lake's Giant Lahontan Cutthroat Trout
The Pilot Peak pressure of Lahontan cutthroat trout bears robust genetic resemblance to authentic Pyramid Lake Lahontans, which had been declared extinct in 1943. Might this newly found genetic pressure convey again the opportunity of 30- and 40-pound cutthroat? (Landon Mayer picture)

This all modified in 2006, when an authentic pressure of Lahontan cutthroat was situated in a tiny creek close to Pilot Peak on the Utah/Nevada border. A college researcher in contrast DNA from museum samples of the “extinct” Pyramid Lake fish with the Pilot Peak fish and located that they had been genetically related.

Through the use of these fish as broodstock for Pyramid Lake, the fishery has rebounded in outstanding methods. The typical dimension of the trout has ballooned upward, and fish close to 20 kilos at the moment are caught ceaselessly—one thing that hasn’t been seen in virtually a century. That success story is outstanding in and of itself, however there’s one other layer to the onion that makes it much more fascinating.

Northern Paiute Tribal Land

Pyramid Lake rests fully contained in the tribal lands of the Paiute individuals: They’re culturally entwined with this story on many ranges. The Pyramid Lake Paiute Reservation is house to the Northern Paiute individuals in any other case often known as the Numu or fisheaters. Traditionally, their lives had been tightly linked to Pyramid Lake and its fish—particularly the cui-ui. The identical dams that destroyed the Lahontan cutthroat additionally devastated the cui-ui.

With the creation of the Endangered Species Act in 1973, the cui-ui turned one of many first protected species. In flip, the Paiutes started an extended and protracted authorized battle to return water to the Truckee River and Pyramid Lake. They in the end gained one of many largest water-rights battles in historical past. Whereas the dam nonetheless exists, the Paiutes now get to find out the stream schedule and might guarantee there’s satisfactory water when the fish are spawning.

Derby Dam nonetheless prevents Lahontan cutthroat from spawning of their ancestral waters. However for the reason that Summit Lake pressure was launched, there was a joint effort from the tribal members and the Fish & Wildlife Service to revive cutthroat trout populations. Since that point, an “synthetic river” is created by pumping water and creating stream in a man-made spawning channel beneath Derby Dam. A pheromone is launched into the water to draw the fish, and as they migrate into the spawning channel they’re captured and separated by intercourse. The milt and eggs of the bigger males and ripe females are then manually extracted and stirred collectively. The fertilized eggs are hatched and raised in a hatchery for 9 to 10 months earlier than they’re launched again into Pyramid Lake. Almost 1,000,000 fish are stocked within the lake yearly.

It’s an incredible quantity of labor, and it’s occurred over 50 years to help the cutthroat of Pyramid Lake. The Paiutes have lengthy been the protectors of the lake, and with out their involvement and safety, this fishery wouldn’t exist right this moment. The group’s involvement is simply rising—tribal colleges convey the youngsters to take part, study, and watch the bogus spawning course of. The significance of the fish to the group is ever current, however fly fishers seldom get to see it.

The Paiutes have made certain the fishery exists, however only a few fly fishers who make the pilgrimage to Pyramid Lake have any thought. They typically have little interplay with the tribal group.

To fish Pyramid Lake, you do not want a Nevada fishing license, you solely require a tribal fishing allow. Barbless hooks are required, and there’s no bait fishing allowed.

There aren’t any licensed tribal members who’re fly-fishing guides. This creates an fascinating alternative to create jobs and put extra money again into the local people that has finished a lot to guard this fishery—one of many few fisheries on this world that’s bettering.

Casey Anderson of Pyramid Fly Co. is among the few fly fishers who has acknowledged the significance of the local people. He has placed on clinics for native children to get them curious about fly fishing, he has raised cash and bought tools for them, and helped them benefit from the unimaginable useful resource they’re so linked to.

One of many graduates of those clinics is Autumn Harry, who’s now an avid fly angler and likewise pursuing a graduate diploma in indigenous mapping strategies and restoration of indigenous place names. Anderson invited me to go to Pyramid Lake, as he knew of my involvement in Indifly, a nonprofit I helped discovered that focuses on creating alternative for indigenous individuals. I had by no means fished Pyramid Lake, so after all I jumped on the alternative.

New Alternatives for Pyramid Lake’s Lahontan Cutts

Pyramid Lake is a singular fishery the place the tried and confirmed technique is standing on a ladder and bombing casts on the market and slowly working them in. When it occurs, it occurs quick. There are hours of nothing, nothing, nothing, after which the entire conga line of oldsters standing on ladders hooks up with fish ranging in dimension from 6 to fifteen kilos. Which will sound like little ability is required aside from casting, however I might strongly disagree with that sentiment. Native anglers dominate when it comes to catching fish, typically placing higher casters to disgrace. As with most locations it’s the refined method changes in your fishing that make the distinction.

The fish and the lake are each outstanding, and stunningly stunning. I don’t know of wherever on the planet the place fly fishers have a respectable probability of catching a 10-pound-plus cutthroat trout surrounded by the snow-capped Sierra. It’s an incredible fishery, in contrast to some other I’ve seen, and after I realized the historical past and energy which have allowed it to exist right this moment, it made the lake much more fascinating and mysterious.

It’s straightforward to be optimistic when contemplating this fishery. The Pilot Peak pressure was launched solely 14 years in the past, and we now have already seen monster fish. Is it potential for them to proceed to thrive and produce Pyramid Lake again to the place 30- and possibly even 40-pound trout are lifelike?

A world-class and distinctive fishery that’s solely on tribal land, and exists solely due to the Paiutes’ perseverance is an incredible story. There may be additionally a chance to work with the native group to extend their involvement with the fishery and the anglers who come to go to.

At the moment nontribal members have entry to solely a few third of the lake shoreline. That leaves two-thirds of the lake and the decrease Truckee River itself that might probably be used solely by native guides. I’m a agency believer that every one begins with igniting a ardour for fly fishing.

It was nice to see Anderson at Pyramid Fly Co. take some time to ignite that keenness inside the local people. Hopefully that helps develop their curiosity and involvement. I might think about a fishing program on the untouched aspect of the lake that’s out there solely to anglers with native guides. Or might you think about being the primary particular person to drift the final 10 miles of the Truckee River, and goal 20-pound cutthroat trout in a river?

Oliver White ( is a companion in two fishing lodges within the Bahamas—Abaco Lodge and Bair’s Lodge. He travels extensively, internet hosting small teams in unique areas around the globe and within the American West.

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