Nevada Native Trout Hunt
Back in 2018, I completed my Nevada Native Fish Slam by planning and completing a solo fly fishing expedition to remote parts of Elko and White Pine counties in Nevada. This article recounts this adventure based on my contemporaneous writings.
After months of planning, today I'm packing my FJ Cruiser up in preparation for a solo trout hunt across northeastern Nevada. I'll be heading out early tomorrow morning... by 4am i hope. I'll be hunting:
Bonneville cutthroat trout (Oncorhynchus clarkii utah), found in creeks near Great Basin National Park in White Pine County.
Yellowstone cutthroat trout (Oncorhynchus clarkii bouvieri), found in Goose Creek and its tributaries in the very northeast corner of Elko County.
Bull trout (Salvelinus confluentus), found in headwaters of the Jarbidge River.
Columbia River redband trout (Oncorhynchus mykiss gairdneri), also known as the inland or interior redband trout, found in most any Nevada stream which drains into Snake River.
As I have previously caught Lahontan cutthroat trout and mountain whitefish in Nevada, if I catch these four trout species, I will complete my Nevada Native Fish Slam.
My hope is to catch them in three and a half days of fishing, covering most of the highway miles at night, sleeping on a cot next to my cruiser whenever, and where ever, I find the time. No tent, no stove... just a couple of ice chests: one for drinks, one for food. Mostly snacks though, as I plan to stop at diners and taco trucks along the way. The basic driving loop is 1250 miles, taking me into Utah and Idaho at times. I expect I'll do 1300 to 1400 miles in the end.
My rough plan is to drive out US-50, the Loneliest Road in America, to catch a Bonneville cutthroat trout in streams near Great Basin National Park. I'll then get up to the very northeast corner of Nevada to find a Yellowstone cutthroat trout in the Goose Creek area. I'll then head west to catch bull and redband trout on the headwaters of the Jarbidge River.
I've done a lot of research on fishing locations... including chatting with local NDOW biologists and other local experts. So I got high probability primary and secondary fishing locations for each species pre-planned, as well as a few fall-back locations.
I plan on fishing mostly with my 7.5' 1-weight full-flex dry fly rod but will bring my 3-weight dry fly rod along in case of wind. I, of course, stocked my fly boxes with a good selection of dry flies.
I'll be using Garmin Earthmate and Motion-X-GPS for off-highway mapping chores, and Google Maps for on-highway. All are setup with offline maps. [Note: Motion-X-GPS is now defunct. I now use GAIA GPS.]
For communication, I'll be relying on my satellite messenger, a Garmin InReach Mini, paired with my phone for easy texting. It is unlikely that I'd be able to raise a HAM radio repeater on the off-highway portions.
Bonneville Cutthroat Trout
Got on the road a bit later than planned... but the drive out on US 50 to the Utah border was uneventful... hot with clouds building in. After a quick stop at the Border Inn for a six pack of beer, I hit the dirt for the first time. Just 12 miles or so to the Hendry's Creek trailhead. 30 minutes after parking, I already caught two Bonneville cutthroats.
It was getting quite hot so I decided best to move on next target, the Yellowstone cutthroat trout. I drove into Ely, got a burritto to-go and go I went.
Yellowstone CuTthroat Trout
I was fortunate that I got to Wells on US 93... apparently it was closed for a bit due to the Echo wildfire. At 4:30, I was back on dirt for the 45 miles up to Little Goose Creek crossing. I got there around 6pm. After scouting out the area mostly on foot, I decided that much bush whacking would be required to get to where I really needed to be to fish. And I'd have to cross posted land. I decided to head to my secondary fishing spot while I had some light left. It was now 7:30pm. I ran into a locked gate 30 minutes later. Fortunately, I had anticipated this... and headed off to my fallback fishing spot. By 8:30, I was welcomed onto Trout Creek by a sign that said something like "Private Property, Sportmens Welcomed, Environmentalists not." There was even a nice camping spot with a picnic table for my use. That night was hot... and buggy. I could have used some bug netting... but a shirt over the head kept me from getting eaten alive.
I was up at 4am or so... heading up the creek, fishing as I went. By 6am, having not seen any signs of trout, I decided I needed to gain some altitude quickly. So I went back to camp, jumped in the cruiser and drove up about 4 miles... and then again started heading upstream, fishing as I went. A mile up, at 9am, I caught my first Yellowstone cutthroat. I fished for another hour and caught a few more. I was less than a mile from the Idaho border when I turned back to the cruiser.
A little after 10am, I was on my way out. I ran into the rancher whose property I was fishing on. Really nice guy. I thanked him for welcoming sportsmen onto his ranch. He ragged on his new neighbors who weren't. I also ran into a group of fly fishers from Reno also chasing the slam. I showed off my photos and instructed them on how to get theirs. I was back on pavement just after noon; just south of Jackpot, Nevada. I stopped at the Rag Time Café in Jackpot for a well-deserved hot breakfast. I then headed into Idaho to drop into Jarbidge, NV from above.
Inland Redband Trout
A little after 3pm I arrived at the Jarbidge Wilderness trailhead south of the Pine Creek campground. I set up my camp at the trailhead and at 4pm or so, head up to do a bit of fishing. While I caught many redbands, I saw no bull trout. I knew they would generally be up a lot higher. I went back to camp where I prepared for an early morning hike up high into the wilderness and then hit the sack early.
At 4am, I was up and moving... getting into decent fishing area at 5am. I fished upstream until nearly 8am without even seeing a bull trout... but landed many redbands. I decided I better go even higher while it was still cool. So I hoofed it up the trail to 8,000 feet and then started looking for fish.
I started seeing bulls almost immediately... and landed a small one fairly quickly. Getting in and out of the fishing holes was difficult in this area due to steep terrain, lots of fallen trees, and thick brush. So I decided to just fish just the holes which I could fairly easily get in and out of.
At 7600 feet, I spotted a large hole. I sat down and watched it for a bit while eating an energy bar. There were a few bull trout hanging out in the back end of this hole, including one really nice one. I decided that I needed to cross the river well above the hole and then slowly work my way down to the top of the whole where I could offer my fly with a downstream presentation. So I made my way a bit upstream and then started to slowly move into position. A good 10 minutes later, I was there.
Taking my time, I worked out how to mend the line so I could get the fly down where it needed to be. I was fearing that one of the two small bulls would go after the fly first, spooking away the big bull... but the big guy decided it wanted the meal, swam up between the two youngers to grab my fly first. To myself, I said, wait for the fish to turn, wait some more, now set. And I had it well-hooked... and quickly in the net!
It was a really nice looking bull. I took a few photos, keeping the fish as wet as much as I could. I released it back into the stream and watched it take up a resting lie in the pool's tailout. I cracked open a celebration beer and drank while keeping an eye on my fish to make sure it was fine.
It was 1pm now and getting warm... and I had not much left to drink in my pack. So time to head down the hill. I ran into the Reno fly fishers again on the way down, near where I had caught redbands the evening before. To my surprise, they said they had caught a bull trout. But when they showed me the photo, I had to dash their tales. It was a nice redband trout. I explained to them how to tell them apart... and gave them advice on finding and catching bull trout. I hope they all got theirs.
I made it back to camp at 2pm and was heading down the hill by 30 minutes later to the town of Jarbidge where I got myself an ice cream bar at the Trading Post. I probably should have fished some on the lower Jarbidge River while I was there, but I thought I'd do some exploring. I drove out via Charleston to Mountain City Highway, which I got onto at 5pm. I was able to pick up cell coverage soon there after and called a friend who lives in Elko. He suggested a few places where I might be able to find Lahontan cutthroat trout in stream form (as opposed to the lake form I've previously caught in Nevada on Pyramid Lake). But I was hungry... and so was the cruiser. So I went into Elko for food and gas. By the time I was back up the mountain city highway, it was too late to try to make it into the Lahontan cutthroat fishing locations. So I decided to head up to Wildhorse Reservoir to grab a campsite under the stars. I camped just off Good Creek Road in the first reasonably flat spot I could find.
At 4:30am, I was up and heading off to try to get a Lahontan cutthroat or, should I say, Humboldt cutthroat. NDOW doesn't yet recognize the Humboldt as a separate subspecies. Anyways, I did manage to hook a few but got none to the net. But then I broke my 1 weight in the heavy brush. Damn it. While I could have continued on with my 3 weight, I decided to head back into Elko for breakfast, a early check-in to a hotel, and a shower.
I had a nice time visiting friends at the Elko Fly Shop and at the Ruby Mountain Fly Fishers club meeting before heading home the next day.
This was an awesome adventure! I enjoyed not only the few days I spent chasing these natives, but all the time I spent planning the expedition. In the end, I put approximately 1400 miles on my FJ Cruiser, broke one fly rod, and managed to complete my Nevada Native Fish Slam!
This article was authored by Kurt Zeilenga, current President of the High Sierra Fly Casters. If you have suggestions on how to improve this article, you may contact Kurt at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The High Sierra Fly Casters offers free mentoring to club members to help them complete challenges such as this.
Fish Species of the Eastern Sierra and Hunting California's Native Trout by Kurt Zeilenga
Native Trout Streamside Identification Guide by FlyFishingTheSierra.com and WildTroutStreams.com
Nevada Species Information by NDOW
Cutthroat Trout - Evolutionary Biology and Taxomony by Trotter, et. al.