Exploring OUR Backyard: Pyramid Lake ladder fishing
Nearby Pyramid Lake is home to the world's largest cutthroat trout, the Lahontan, and is a bucket-list destination for anglers.
In the latest installment of "Exploring OUR Backyard," Bryan Samudio and me head to the shores of Pyramid Lake at sunrise to see what it's like the catch these fish for themselves.
Arriving at Crosby's Lodge in Sutcliffe, we meet up with long-time local angler Doug Oulette, owner of Pyramid Lake Guide Service.
Doug has been fishing for Lahontan cutthroat trout at Pyramid Lake for over 40 years, and leads guided tours on ladders and specially designed fishing chairs from the shores of the majestic high alkali lake.
"People come from all over the world to fish Pyramid Lake," Oulette said. "From Europe, all over the United States, it's very popular."
"When people see the large fish here, they're really surprised," he adds. "An average to small fish here would be a state record in most states in the country."
"The first message I like to give a customer or client is the history and respect of the land," said Oulette. "That's the most important thing. It's a natural lake, it's one of a kind. It's very unique. I tell people to respect the tribe and their property."
After a quick introduction with Doug we head to one of the many nearby fishing locations that line the west shore of the lake. Doug chooses Pelican Beach, which is also the boat launch for Pyramid, because "there's fish here."
As part of his service, Doug provides insulated waders as well as all the fishing gear we would possibly need.
(SIDE NOTE: The first time I tried fishing at Pyramid Lake, I went in my bathing suit and no waders. Don't do it. You will freeze.)
After getting geared up, we make a short walk down to the beach where we can see dozens of anglers already lined on top of ladders and chairs.
That's where we find our second guide for the day, John Fochetti of John Fochetti Fly Fishing. As we walk up, he's already got a fish on the line. He said it was his third of the day and it's not even six in the morning.
After seeing him bring in one of these beautiful rainbow colored trouts, Bryan and I were chomping at the bit.
We head about 20 feet off short with 6-foot ladders in tow, and we're ready to fish.
"Pyramid Lake has some really unique culture - one of them is fishing off a ladder. We started doing that in the late 1980s when the water levels were real high and we couldn't get out to the ledge," Oulette said. "We had to tippy toe (especially me) and put a ladder up to get up over the waves. They're very good for heavy waves and designed to keep the angler out of the water for ease of casting."
Speaking of casting - you can use a regular spinner rod, but it's advised to use a fly lure, which is something that Doug provided for us.
For both Bryan and me, it was our first time fly fishing. It took a few minutes to get situated, but with the expert training from Doug and John, we both felt very comfortable using two different styles of rods by the end of the morning.
At first, we weren't having a whole lot of luck. As other anglers were pulling fish out of the water left and right, Bryan and I stood on our ladders and patiently waited. We both had several chances, but couldn't land a strike.
After about an hour, we switched to Doug's special ladder "chairs," which were incredibly comfortable. You could sit and fish for hours on those things.
It wasn't long after that that I had my first strike!
After a challenging fight, I had my hands on my first ever Lahontan cutthroat. What a thrill.
Once I got going, I was on fire. Within the next hour my fish count was up to four.
The largest one measured 24 inches, and about 5 pounds, which I thought was something to be proud of, until John told me it was actually pretty average.
"There's fish in here that are 38, 40 inches," he said. "I've seen two fish this year that were over 20 pounds. I've seen clients catch 20 to 30 fish this season that were 12 to 16 pounds."
"This is one of the only places in the entire world that you can catch trout that big," Fochetti adds. "There are a few places, like in Argentina that people will go, but it's not even as consistent as out here."
One of the great things about Pyramid Lake is that there are miles of shoreline where trout can be had.
"The west shore of the lake is 16 miles long, and there are plenty of places you can go to get away from people and still catch fish here."
As in any fishing situation though, you want to see everyone catch fish. It wasn't happening for Bryan. We tried switching rods. We switched seats. Nothing seemed to work.
Until Doug gives him a pep talk: "Now listen Bryan. If Alex can catch them, anybody can catch them."
Moments later, Bryan lands his first fish. And there's nothing quite like the joy of breaking an empty streak when fishing. Any day spent fishing is a good day, but you always want to get at least one catch.
"As a guide it's rewarding for me to have my customer's catching fish," Oulette says. "I get a kick out of it."
By the end of the day we would land seven total Lahontan cutthroat trout. Five for me, two for Bryan (but who's keeping track).
All of the fish we catch are released back into the water.
Catch and release is something that Doug is working hard to promote, turning a "Wall of Fame" at Crosby's into a display of what used to be dead fish into dozens of photos of people showing off their fish that they then sent back into the lake.
Definitely a fishing experience neither of us will forget, and we can't wait to get back out there again. Lucky for us, it's right in our backyard.
We want to thank Doug Oulette of Pyramid Lake Guide Services and John Fochetti of John Fochetti Fly Fishing for taking us out on the lake.
If you are interested in booking a day of fishing with them, you can find more information below:
For more information on Pyramid Lake, including fishing, boating, and camping regulations when visiting, please visit this website: