Elko Mountains Fly Fishing
Elko Nevada… Jumbo Trout And Other Fishing Opportunities
The vast high desert, elevation 5000-6000′, is crossed by two mountain ranges. To the south and east of Elko are the Ruby Mountains. To the north are the Independence Mountains. Both ranges rise to an alpine 11,000 feet and are headwaters for the Humboldt River, which runs nearly 300 miles.
Elko, with a population of 35,000, is the fifth largest city in Nevada. Numerous motels, restaurants and casinos, along with a few .marts and grocery stores make it an ideal base for exploring Northeastern Nevada. Fishing opportunities abound, however they are quite spread out. You could drive a hundred miles in one direction and the following day drive a hundred miles another!
South Fork: Don Hugley, a local retired fishing guide, picked me up at my motel. He was accompanied by Barb Henderson, host of a number of TV and radio shows in southern Nevada. A short 20-mile drive brought us to South Fork Reservoir at sunrise where we were met by Ben French, manager of the Gold Country Inn and Casino, towing the boat and gear.
Small wagers were made for first fish, big fish and most fish for “professional bragging rights” as we slowly motored our way the southwest side of the reservoir.
“These fish cruise the shallower edges of the lake until the water warms,” Don told us. “Then they move to the deeper water of the old river channel where you can catch them until about noon,” he added.
South Fork Reservoir
We were fishing light spinning gear with 6-pound line. “Most people don’t know how to fish this lake,” Ben said as he slid a 3/8-ounce bullet sinker up the line and tied on a swivel. A #6 egg hook was tied onto a 24-inch 5-pound leader. The “trick”, taking a ball of rainbow powerbait and rolling a tail about 1-1/2 inches up the line, was credited to Don. “There is a lot of aquatic vegetation in this lake and I think it looks like a leech to the fish,” he said.
Don strategically placed the boat at the edge of the drop-off and anchored. We cast off both sides of the boat so we had bait deep and shallow. Within a matter of minutes, Barb’s rod started twitching. Barb was busy carrying on a conversation with Ben. “Barb, I think you got a fish,” Don chuckled. She turned around picked up the rod and set the hook. The trout immediately leapt into the air and tore off on a drag scorching run. The fish tired and Don hauled the 18-1/2 inch cutbow into the boat.
The catchin’ continued including a few double hook-ups all morning. We ended up with our five fish limits about noon. The trout ranged from 18-23 inches, were fat, and excellent fighters. Barb landed the biggest fish in addition to the first fish but conceded the quantity contest to the Fish Sniffer.
Nevada Fish and Wildlife stocks the “put and take” lake, and judging by the size of cutbows we were catching, there are plenty of holdovers. License fees pay for the hatchery program. This is a fishery where you are encouraged to keep your catch!
In August, the water temperature is as warm as it gets all year and there is an algae bloom. The egg hook, in contrast to a treble hook, made it possible to release fish without killing them. South Fork Reservoir also offers anglers bass, catfish and perch. Fly fishermen use leech patterns and damselfly nymphs on a sink tip. I would fish earlier or later in the year when the weeds and algae present less of an obstacle for tubers.
Ben French and Barb Henderson with a Wilson Reservoir rainbow
Wilson Reservoir: The following day we fished Wilson Reservoir, another put and take trout fishery. Wilson is north of Elko on Nevada Hwy 226 for about seventy miles, plus twenty miles of well maintained dirt road. Wilson is nearly 1000′ higher elevation than South Fork and enjoys a better summer water supply. The water was crystal clear. Nearly half the lake is less than 10′ deep which the abundant aquatic plant life made unfishable.
We got a late start and weren’t in the water until after 10AM. Leaving the dock, we could see hundreds of small bass swimming in and out of the weeds. Don’s powerbait leech proved itself again and we were limited out on by early afternoon. The rainbows ran from 14 to 20 inches.
Later in the trip I was very successful with a 5 wt. flyrod and a leech pattern from the float tube.
Wildlife was abundant. We saw mule deer, antelope, eagle, goose, duck, chuckar and jack rabbit. With the Independence Mountains as a backdrop, it was a beautiful place to fish.
Don’t forget to stop at Jack Creek Lodge on your way back to Elko for a cold one and conversation with other sportsmen and the local cowboys.
Angel Lake: Located at the north end of the Ruby Mountains 17 miles southwest of Wells, Angel Lake is a small alpine trout fishery at 8500′ elevation. When I was there, the windy early morning conditions made it impossible to fish. However, the drive was well worth watching the sunrise over the Great Salt Lake. I will try and fish it again!
Ruby Marshes: The marshes are located about seventy miles southeast of Elko at the base of the Ruby Mountains. The drought the Great Basin has been experiencing for the last few years has dramatically reduced the size of the marshes. This has reduced the supply of the cutthroats number one forage, the aquatic snail.
A few years ago, it was easy to catch a limit of 5 pound plus fish. Now a five-pounder is as hard to come by as a limit. Don told me, “when the water comes back, the snails will, and so will the fish.”
The marshes are also an excellent bass fishery in normal years.
Other places to fish:
Wildhorse Reservoir is well known for its jumbo trout. Currently Wild Horse is being drawn down to fill reservoirs, which have been built on the Duck Valley Indian Reservation. The plan is to develop the new reservoirs into trophy trout fisheries and charge $25.00 per day access fees. One of the new reservoirs is leaking so more water than initially planned has been taken from Wild Horse. The Wild Horse trout fishery has been devastated but there is still an abundance of perch.
Trout, trout and more trout!
Lamoille Creek and Bruneau River offer wild trout, although small, to the seasoned energetic fly fisherman.
Jack Creek offer good quality wild trout but is located on private property. Check with the Jack Creek Lodge about obtaining permission to fish.
Elko provides anglers of all abilities an abundance of fishing opportunities. Being 300 miles east of Reno limits the amount of pressure these fisheries face. If you have a few days, fishing Elko is definitely worth the drive.
There are no fishing guides in the area so you are on your own.
For more information contact:
Elko Convention & Visitors Authority