FLY FISHING in The PinE Forest RANGE

The gorgeous Pine Forest Range in northwestern Humboldt county of Nevada offers some amazingly diverse landscape with aspen groves, granite rock formations, crystal clear mountain streams, alpine and high desert lakes, colorful wildflowers, and wildlife aplenty. Healthy populations of antelope, big horn sheep, mule deer, and mountain lions are present. Much of the range is located within the Pine Forest Recreation Area managed by BLM.

The range's lakes and stream provide an amazing range of outdoor recreation opportunities, including some of the best fly fishing in the state.

Knott Creek Reservoir

Knott Creek Reservoir is a spectacular high desert lake set in the Pine Forest Range where the sage brush covered foothills give way to the granite rock formations, aspen groves and pines of the rugged mountain terrain.

The reservoir offers rainbow, bowcutt/cutbow, brown and tiger trout. These can grow to be over 20 inches in length. Due to recent algae bloom events however it is more common to catch recently stocked by Nevada Department of Wildlife (stocked fish typically average under ten inches in length). Fortunately, fish grow fast as there's plenty of food in the lake for the fish to eat.

The Knott Creek fishery (reservoir as well as the inlet and outlet streams) is open from the second Saturday in June through November 15. Only artificial lures with single barbless hooks may be used on the reservoir and the inlet and outlet streams. Only one trout may be taken and it must be at least 18 inches long.

The reservoir is best fished in the early summer or in the fall. In the middle to late summer, the weeds take over. Algae blooms become a real possibility in August. The fishing can really pick up after an early fall cold front or two pass through. The lake can be crowded for the first 10 days of the season but is often deserted in the fall.

Dries and emergers can be quite productive in the early and late hours of the day. Midday I like fishing soft hackles and leech patterns with an intermediate line. I fish damselflies and dragonflies when I see them. Later in the season, fish darker buggers midday can be quite productive. Fishing attractor nymphs and midges under a bobber is almost always productive.

The reservoir can be fished from shore or afloat. Dry fly fishing along the shallows of the north and south shores can be quite good in the early and late hours of the day. In the midday, the west shore provides easy access to deep, open water for bobber or streamer fishing. For those who prefer to fish afloat, fish those same shallows in the early and late hours. In the midday sun, you'll find fish in deeper, open water around the lake. While I probably spend most of my time fishing from shore, I do bring a a float tube for fishing wet flies along the edges of weed beds. Typically the lake has a collection of float tubes, pontoon boats, kayaks, and paddleboards on it midday. The 216 acre lake has a maximum depth of 24 feet.

For fly fishing kit, 5wt rods are perfect for this water. I recommend bringing two and setting one up with a floating line and one with an intermediate sinking line. 2X to 4X leaders/tippet are generally appropriately.

Dispersed, primitive camping is available at and near the reservoir. A portable toilet is sometimes available on the north access road.

Hatch Chart

Lighter green indicates lighter hatch

Onion Valley Reservoir

Onion Valley Reservoir is put-n-take fishery located in the Alder Creek drainage. It is regularly stocked with rainbow trout but occasionally bowcutts and tigers, with catches generally ranging from 9 to 16 inches in length. Like Hobart, it is best fished in the early summer or in the fall. In mid/late summer, weeds take over. When full, the reservoir covers 101 acre with a maximum depth of 24 feet.

The fishery fishes similarly to Knott Creek Reservoir and you can use the same kit. I suggest using 4X leader and tippet. If you have a float tube, try trolling a bugger with a trailing sheep creek special or midging under a bobber.

The fishery is open from the second Saturday in June through November 15. Take of 5 trout is permitted.

Primitive camping is available at the reservoir campground. Vault toilets are available at the campground and on the north shore.

Blue Lakes

Blue Lakes is a set of three lakes located above Onion Valley Reservoir at 8300'.

In low water conditions, the smaller lakes may split into small ponds. The largest lake offers the best fishing. When full, it covers 24 acres and has a maximum depth of 44 feet and generally offers good fly fishing from shore or afloat.

Callibaetis and midge patterns are good choice as they can be found hatching here all season long. For dries, I recommend CDC callibaetis (12-20) and adams (14-20). Ant patterns can be quite effective. For nymphs, pheasant tails and zebra midges. You'll typically find fish willing to take subsurface flies 2-4 feet down. The trout are willing to chase streamers, such as small buggers and leech patterns. Typically a floating line is all you need at Blue Lakes. If trolling from a tube, an intermediate line or sinking leader can be a good choice.

The lakes are stocked by helicopter from time to time with rainbows, bowcuts and/or tiger trout. Brook trout present in the lakes are self-sustaining. These lakes are subject to winter kills if the winter is especially harse. This impacts stocked species, especially in those in the smaller lakes. In some years, the lakes may still be iced covered in June, with snow patches sometimes remaining through July.

The fishery is open from the second Saturday in June through November 15. Take of 5 trout is permitted.

The lakes are typically accessed from Blue Lakes trailhead. It's approximately a 1/2 mile hike to the largest lake. The lakes are located within a wilderness study area. Motor vehicles and motorized boats are prohibited within the study area.

Primitive camping is available at the trailhead. Vault toilets are also available at the trailhead.

Area Streams

There are a few fishable streams in the Pine Forest Range. These creeks are all quite small so fish with the lightest rod you own, floating line, and 5X leader/tippet. I recommend throwing small high floating dries, such as an #18 elk hair caddis. If the fish are picky, try a #18 or #20 adams or griffen's gnat.

Alder Creek

Alder Creek runs to the north from its headwaters near Duffer Peak. Both Onion Valley Reservoir and Blue Lakes are on branches of Alder Creek. The creek holds rook and rainbow trout. Accessed using 4x4 roads off Alder Creek Road off of Sand Pass Road or off of Alta Creek Road.

Big Creek

Big Creek runs to the east from its headwater tributaries north of Mt Baldy. The creek offers brown and rainbow trout. It is accessed 4x4 roads off of Big Creek Road.

Knott Creek

Knott creek offers brook and rainbow trout. It can be above and below the reservoir.

Leonard Creek

Leonard Creek runs to the south from its headwater tributaries between New York, Duffer, and Bishop peaks. Brook trout can be found up high, with lower streches holding rainbow trout. Accessed using various 4x4 trails off of Leonard Creek Road.

Camping in the Wilderness

Primitive camping is allowed in the Pine Forest Range, such as Onion Valley Campground and at the Blue Lakes trailhead. Dispersed primitive camping is allowed at Knott Creek Reservoir and elsewhere in the area. As the word primitive implies, your camp must be completely self-sufficient.

Tread lightly and please try to leave the area better than you found it!

Vault toilets are available at Onion Valley Reservoir, Blue Lakes trailhead, and on the west end of Sand Pass Road (near Warm Springs). If camping at Knott Creek Reservoir or elsewhere toilets are not available, bring a portable composting bucket toilet or use the dig and bury method.

Pack out your trash! Dumpsters are available at the Leonard Creek Rest Area on NV 140 for disposal of travelers' trash.

Note that weather can quickly turn nasty. Always have your camp prepared for heavy wind, rain, and, in the late season, snow. Thunderstorms occur frequently through out the season. They can roll in amazingly fast... but typically leave as quickly as they come. If you see a thunderstorm approaching, get off the water! And if you see lightning or hear thunder duck inside an automobile if you can.

Campers should be aware of, and adhere to, any campfire restrictions that may be in place. Fireworks are prohibited.

Wilderness Access

The remote Pine Forest Range wilderness area is generally accessed using lonely dirt roads off of NV 140. These roads are rough and, at times, impassible. 4x4 with high clearance and good off-roading tires recommended. RVs and trailers not recommended! Always travel with at least one well-maintained spare tire and plenty of gas. Access Map / OHV Map.

You might be able to fill up in Winnemucca and make it back on one tank. I prefer to follow the top-off at last gas station 4x4er rule, so I do that at the gas station at the US 95 / NV 290 junction 20 miles north of Winnemucca. If you are running really low, gas is available 24/7 in Denio Junction.

Northern Access (Knott Creek Road)

Provides reliable access to Onion Valley Reservoir, Blue Lakes trailhead, and Knott Creek.

Access from the north is provided by Knott Creek Road off of NV 140. The turn-off is approximate 10 miles west of Denio Junction and less than mile west of the Alder Creek Ranch Road (private, closed to through traffic) turn-off. Proceed south on Knott Creek Road for 7 miles and then turn left on Sand Pass Road. Continue on Sand Pass Road to southeast for another 7 miles. To access Knott Creek Reservoir, turn right and in another 7 miles you'll reach the reservoir. To access Onion Valley Reservoir and the Blue Lakes trailhead, turn left and 3/4 later, after crossing Alder Creek, turn right onto Alta Creek Road and in another 3 miles you'll reach the reservoir and the campground. To access the Blues Lakes trailhead, continue north around Onion Valley Reservoir. Less than a 1/3 mile past the reservoir, turn right Blue Lakes access road turn-off. Continue for 1 1/2 miles to reach the trailhead parking area. It's less then 1/2 mile from there to the lakes.

Except when Knott Creek Reservoir is full, you can drive around the east shore to the southern access. But when full, the road is submerged and, hence, impassible. You'll have to go out the way you came in.

Beware: online mapping sites do not properly show this route! Use Access Map and follow the signage.

Southern Access (Leonard Creek Road)

Access from the south is provided by Leonard Creek Road off of NV 140. The turn-off is located at the Leonard Creek Rest Area on NV 140, approximately 30 miles west of US 95 and 30 miles south of Denio Junction. Proceed west on Leonard Creek Road for 25 miles, then turn right (north) onto Pearl Creek Road. After approximately 9 miles, veer straight onto Creek Road to access Knott Creek Reservoir and in another 5 miles you'll reach the reservoir. Access Map Directions

When dry, this road provides the fastest access to Knott Creek for those coming up from Winnemucca. When wet, it is not safe due to steep clay sections that are extremely slippery when wet. Use the northern access instead.

You can drive around the east shore of the reservoir to the northern access except when the reservoir is full. Then the road is submerged and, hence, impassible. You'll have to go out the way you came in.

Eastern Access (Alta Creek Road)

Onion Valley Reservoir and the Blue Lakes trailhead can be accessed from the east using Alta Creek Road from NV 140 just south of the Nevada DOT station, approximately 14 south of Denio Junction. It's 17 miles to the Blues Lakes turn-off (see Northern Access) and a bit more to Onion Valley Reservoir. Access Map / Directions

Article authored by Kurt Zeilenga, President of the High Sierra Fly Casters. If you have suggestions on how to improve this article, you may contact Kurt at education@hsfc.us.

Additional reading

The Dirt: Pine Forest Range by Off Road Nevada

Pine Forest Range Wilderness by Friends of Nevada Wilderness

Pine Forest Recreation Area by Travel Nevada