Fly fishing adds an element of excitement to an already-exhilarating art.
BY ERIC CACHINERO
Picture fly fishing a pristine mountain stream; a poetic scene. The sun is smiling down warmly, the birds are calmly singing, and soothing sounds of nature fill the angler with peace. Each cast is artistic, and nearly every flick of the line leads to a plump trout on the other end. Everything is perfect, and the angler smiles as they have not a care in the world.
That is not what fly fishing is like at all.
Fly fishing is dirty, awkward, and can be indescribably frustrating at times. Want to wade out to the perfect spot? Have fun falling in the river. Want to make the perfect cast? Enjoy tangling line in a tree and spending 20 minutes to free it. Have a fish on the line and want to get it into the net? Watch it break free and swim away at the last second. Even experienced fly fishermen can be doing everything perfect, and some days the fish just don’t feel like biting.
Fly fishing’s lows, though, are matched by its equally spectacular highs: the explosive excitement when a trout whomps down a fly, the intoxicating tugging and bouncing on the fly rod as the fish fights on the other end, and that unmatched feeling of accomplishment when the fly fishing novice lands their first fish.
I’ve been at my highest highs and lowest lows fly fishing. It takes patience, grace, and finesse, lessons I have to relearn each and every time I step out on the water.
There’s no denying the fact that both bait and lure fishermen consistently catch fish using their tried-and-true methods. Fly fishing is no better or worse—it’s just different. At its core, fly fishing replaces the bait or lure with an artificial fly—typically designed to mimic insects in all stages of life, which fish consume as a regular part of their diet. There are two main types of fly fishing: dry and wet.
In dry fly fishing, the fly floats on top of the water, mimicking a winged insect that has landed or become trapped on the surface of the water. The angler casts their line across the water, with the fly floating, and if everything goes according to plan, the fish will rise to the surface and swallow the fly. The angler then sets the hook by giving a gentle tug (or giant yank for excited novices) on the fly rod, and it’s time to start landing the fish.
In wet fly fishing, the flies are referred to as emergers, nymphs, and streamers, and are designed to mimic insects that are in the larvae stage of life or other aquatic life (minnows, crawdads, worms). These wet flies are fished below the surface, and fish go after them as they bounce along the bottom of a stream, or as they rise (emerge) from the creek bed to the surface.
In addition to the difference between lures and flies comes a difference in terminology. Don’t ever let a fly-fishing purist catch someone calling it fishing pole—it’s a fishing rod. Reels are still reels, but bobbers are called strike indicators.
The main difference between bait fishing and fly fishing is that fly fishing requires much more active participation. It’s not as simple as tying on a worm, casting it out, and waiting for the bobber to bounce. The angler is constantly working to place the fly in the perfect spot in the stream, where they believe the fish to be. They have to keep an eagle eye on the fly as it makes its way along the top of the stream and through the ripples, threatening to disappear below the surface at any moment. They wait for a small anomaly in the water’s surface—or sometimes a large splash—to alert them to the fact that a fish has taken the fly, and the angler must set the hook immediately. Believe it or not, fish are sometimes smart enough to know when they have swallowed a fake fly, and if the angler does not set the hook via a gentle tug on the rod, the fish will often spit the fly out.
Another beauty of fly fishing is that it opens up an entirely new type of fishable water to the angler. It would be near impossible to lure or bait fish most places in a small mountain creek, but fly fishing is possible in almost any water—tiny creeks, large rivers such as the Humboldt and Truckee, and even lakes. In fact, at Pyramid Lake, fly anglers are known for bringing ladders and step stools a couple dozen yards out into the lake to get closer to where the fish are, while still having a solid surface to stand on.
PLENTY OF FISH IN THE STATE
For the driest state in the U.S., Nevada’s fly-fishing opportunities are surprisingly numerous. Some of the best fly-fishing spots in the state are highly secretive, though the average angler doesn’t need to travel to some exclusive backcountry stream to catch whoppers. The following locations provide access to anglers across the state:
1. Martin Creek
Located alongside the Santa Rosa Mountain Range near Paradise Valley is the 48-mile Martin Creek. The creek holds brown trout, brook trout, cutthroat trout, rainbow trout, and bowcutt (rainbow-cutthroat hybrid) trout, and offers seasonal fishing dependent on snowpack. Nymph and dry flies mimicking local insects are a good bet.
2. Jarbidge River
The remote Jarbidge River is special because it is home to three of Nevada’s native fish: bull trout, redband trout, and mountain whitefish. According to the Nevada Department of Wildlife (NDOW), “Prior to the construction of numerous downstream dams in Idaho and Oregon, the Jarbidge River in Nevada was home to chinook salmon and steelhead that made incredible journeys from the Pacific Ocean.” The river is sometimes shallow in spots, and fishing with dry flies generally affords good success.
3. Sunset Park Pond
Located in the heart of Las Vegas, Sunset Park Pond offers a host of recreational activities, fishing included. The pond offers 14 surface acres and has a maximum depth of 12 feet. Fishable species include rainbow trout, channel catfish, bluegill, redear sunfish, black crappie, and largemouth bass. Fly fishermen report success with emergers.
4. Big Bend of the Colorado State Recreation Area
Southern Nevada offers river fishing, too. The Big Bend of the Colorado State Recreation Area is Nevada’s southernmost state park and offers a vast swath of fishable shoreline. Species include striped bass, small and largemouth bass, channel catfish, rainbow trout, bluegill, and redear sunfish. Give nymphs a try or stick to surface fishing.
5. Echo Canyon State Park
Echo Canyon State Park is located in Lincoln County, about 20 minutes east of Pioche. The reservoir was created in 1969 and offers boat and shore fishing at the mouth of the scenic Echo Canyon. Gamefish include rainbow trout, brown trout, white crappie, largemouth bass, and black bullhead. A relatively vegetation-free shoreline allows shore fishermen an opportunity to increase their back-casting distance. Dry flies may bring luck when fished from shore or from floating intertube.
6. Beaver Dam State Park
This eastern Nevada treasure offers a host of small-stream fishing opportunities. The waters are stocked with rainbow trout, and because the streams are so small, the fish are skittish when they see an angler. Try sneaking up on the small streams and bouncing a dry fly along the surface of the water.
7. Walker River State Recreation Area
The east fork of the Walker River is one of the best fly-fishing rivers in the state. It flows from the Nevada-California border and winds its way east and north before connecting with the west fork. Much of the river is now located within the Walker River State Recreation Area, Nevada’s newest state park. Rainbow trout, brown trout, and mountain whitefish spawn in the river, and can be fished with all different fly-fishing methods. The Elbow—a popular fishing spot located within the park—is a great place to try.
8. Squaw Creek Reservoir
Located northwest of Gerlach, Squaw Creek Reservoir is a popular destination for anglers of all methods. The gamefish selection is vast, including largemouth bass, green sunfish, bullhead, channel catfish, rainbow trout, brown trout, and bowcutt trout. Float tubes are a popular method for fishing the reservoir. Dry flies work well.
THE ANGLER’S ART
The aforementioned fishing locations barely begin to scratch the surface of Nevada’s fishable waters. NDOW claims there are some 600 rivers and streams spread across the state. With such a large offering of fishing locations and relatively scant equipment (rod, reel, line, flies, and license) required, anyone can give fly fishing a shot. Just don’t forget to practice patience, and never forget the one saying that all anglers across the globe universally agree upon:
“The worst day fishing is always better than the best day working.”