My first trip of the year to Pyramid Lake

There is something about this lake that just tugs at my soul. The last remaining remnants of old Lake Lahontan that has been around for over 80,000 years and still to this day looks very prehistoric to me. It just feels like every single time you visit this lake you are part of its ancient history and this gives me chills throughout my whole body, and of course the fishing is pretty special too.
My trip started by myself leaving Riverside on Wednesday, March 24th and making my 9 hour journey up through the beautiful Sierra Nevada mountain range with my destination being just 30 miles northeast of Reno, Nevada. This is where the great Pyramid Lake awaits all fly fishermen wanting to catch a 10, 15 or 20 pound trout on the fly. On my scenic drive up the beautiful Sierra Nevada Mountains I noticed this year we have a great snow pack and this is great news for all of us fly fisherman for the fast approaching opening season coming up in the end of April.
I arrived at 1 a.m. to the greeting of 40 mph winds, which were blowing me all around the road on the way up starting in the Mammoth Lakes area. I quickly set up my bed in the front seat of the passenger’s side of my truck and fell fast asleep. At 4:30 a.m. the outside window knocking awoke me and my friend Ernie Walsh invited me into his trailer to find another great friend, Greg Sano, wiping the sleep from his eyes. The first words out of his mouth were, “you woke me up when you arrived” and for that I apologized and was greeted with a cup of hot coffee and a hot sweet roll. We were about to embark on our journey for the day of fishing Pyramid Lake from ladders.


Mornings at Lake Pyramid always start with a 4:30 a.m. wake up call, coffee and breakfast and out the door before 5 a.m. to get to the beach you want to fish. You must get to your spot and set up your ladder before everyone else gets there before you do. We start fishing one hour before sunrise and throw a shooting head with a woolybugger as the point fly and a beetle pattern as the attractor fly at the beginning of the shooting head. The beetle pattern floats and the shooting head holds it down close to the bottom and as soon as the beetle is stripped in, stopped and allowed to float towards the surface, that is when the Lahontan Cutthroat attack with all their fury! The strikes are very jolting and will straighten out your arm at times. Once the light is high enough a lot of us switch over and start indicator fishing with many different patterns. We fish midges, PT’s, Copper Johns and Stillwater worms that are very shiny and very colorful and bright. Indicator fishing has become a very deadly way to present the fly to the trout. We use 15 pound tippet for the shooting head applications and 10 pound tippet for the indicator applications. We fish both ways throughout the day but I prefer to fish with the shooting heads early and late in the evenings and indicator fish the middle of the day.

First day of fishing was in winds of 20 to 30 mph but we were very lucky that the winds were coming in from the northwest, which was almost directly from our backs, and this helped us with our casting. The winds swirled and changed to almost every direction as it sometimes does at Pyramid but stayed pretty constant from our backs. Fishing was very good throughout the day and I ended up with 22 fish, 6 stripping and the rest on the indicator.

Day two, much of the same, wind about the same speed and direction, fishing was a lot better for me. Early morning stripping was going well, but I could not keep the fish on the rod. First hour, 15 fish hooked on the strip but only 6 of them brought to the net. Indicator fishing went well all throughout the day and at times was very fast paced. Around 4 p.m. Rick Pruix showed up and waded out into three foot waves and to his surprise, started hooking fish immediately on a size 12 Red Copperjohn Nymph. We both continued to hook fish after fish and the waves and the wind continued with bad intentions. It became so rough out there that Rick was knocked off of his ladder and decided to call it a day after landing 12 fish in just over 90 minutes of fishing. Of course I stayed out and as the evening drew near, the fishing became better and better. I hooked 8 fish in a row while stripping and ended the day with a whopping 54 fish to the net.

Every one left me on the beach by myself with the exception of my friend from Idaho, Bruce Smith, who is a very fine fisherman and caught 32 fish that day. We talked about the day of fishing so long that the people I was staying with feared something had happened to me and came back looking for me. They were not very happy that I didn’t check in with them to let them know I was okay. This was poor judgment on my part and I should have realized that this lake is very dangerous and people drown there all the time and should not be taken lightly. I apologized and returned to the trailer to fall asleep and await the next days adventure at the great Pyramid Lake.

Day three, winds from the southeast, meaning almost directly into your face and across your body which makes casting almost impossible. I hammered myself in the back of the head at least a half a dozen times with my fly and also caught myself on the back cast in the chest and in the waist. Very dangerous when your 27 foot (290 grains) shooting head traveling at close to 200 mph hammers you in the chest or the back of the head. Needles to say fishing was very tough, spent most of my time driving around taking pictures and ended up with 13 fish for the day, including a 7 pounder, the biggest fish of the trip for me.

Day four, winds the same direction but a lot lighter, only around 10 to 15 mph but fishing was tough again so after an hour on the same beach I had been fishing for the whole trip I decided to make a change. I was supposed to leave this day at noon to make my 9 hour drive back home but decided to gamble and look for better water. First stop, Warrior Point at the northern most point of the lake where the paved road ends. I fished here for 1 hour and nothing, picked up and headed for Pelican Beach to fish off of the rocks there, don’t need a ladder because the water drops off to over 12 feet just about 50 feet out from shore. This is great indicator water with a midge or copperjohn about 9 feet under your indicator and had heard from friends this was fishing very well the last few days. Started fishing at 10 a.m., met up with a few friends that I fish with from Crowley Lake and asked how the fishing was going. My friend, Guide Mickey Baron, from the Crowley Lake Fish Camp said it was fishing well that morning and he had already landed 13 fish, one close to 10 pounds. I started fishing a size 10 black body midge with amber wire and a double tungsten beadhead to keep it down from all of the waves coming in. I immediately hooked a 5 pound fish and landed it and for the next 4 hours caught and released 21 nice fish. One fish lost was over 10 pounds that left tears in my eyes because I have yet to bring one of that size to my net. While I was there for the 4 hour period there was one fish 30”, two fish 28” and one at 27” landed less than a 100 feet away from me, all on the indicator fishing method. I checked my watch and found the time to be 2 p.m., my time at Pyramid had come to an end and I bid farewell to all of my friends and started my long journey home, which is always much longer going home than the ride up. Another great trip from Pyramid and many more to come in the future.

P.S. I will be up at Pyramid on Friday, April 9th through Tuesday, April 13th if anyone would like to come up and meet me I will take the time in the early morning to show you how to catch these beautiful fish. Please send me an email at erniegulleyflyfishing@aol.com or contact me by phone at (909)953-1770.

Ernie Gulley