|Our first look into the Copper Basin. Copper Mountain (9,911-ft) is off the page to the left, and the 9,500-ft|
mountains center-left in the photo include Coon Creek Peak. I assure you the photo does not due it justice.
Having raised six children I'm keenly aware they do not retain most childhood memories. I also have my own experience to support that conclusion. My father died when I was three, and that's the exact number of memories I have of him (one of them was being left in the waiting room at the hospital where he died). Our family moved out west five years later, and I have maybe 30-plus distinct memories from those years preceding our relocation to Nevada (about 5 of which relate to the removal of my right kidney at age 6 due to the discovery of a Wilm's Tumor). Of course I have many more memories from my teenage years, but I find it remarkable what I cannot recall from my early youth.
Despite the dearth of childhood recollections, I know that my experiences formed and reinforced many of my preferences and biases today. For example, I have the "white coat" syndrome whenever visiting a doctor’s office, causing my systolic blood pressure to jump 30 to 40 points or more. Certainly the experience of my dad dying in a hospital followed by my own cancer fight contributed greatly to that subconscious fear. Another example is my constant yearning to be outside in nature. Except for the coldest part of winter, the woods of New England served as my playground, and the animals and fish in them were of great fascination to me.
Having relocated into the furnace of the Mojave Desert at age 8, my longing to be outdoors laid dormant until my oldest brother, Neal, awakened it in my early teen years. My first excursion with Neal was a fishing trip to Groves Lake in Kingston Canyon, which lies in the Toiyabe Range of central Nevada. The second was a hunting trip into the Jarbidge Mountains.
It was the summer between my freshman and sophomore high school years when Neal took me to the Jarbidge Mountains for the August archery mule deer hunting season. My girlfriend (who is now my wife of 39½ years) had recently broken up with me, and I think Neal sensed I needed a distraction. Earlier that spring Neal purchased a recurve bow for me with a pull weight of 45 lbs., and a fletching jig which we used to build our Easton Aluminum arrows. We spent several late afternoons each week driving south on Eastern Avenue in his 1967 Toyota Landcruiser to practice archery skills in Sunset Park's field archery range. Although I had never before hunted deer with any weapon, it was a heady thrill for a 15-year-old boy to be bow hunting deer the first time out of the gate. Back in the early 1970s bow hunting was not that popular which meant tags were more readily available in the better Game Management Areas (Jarbidge is currently area 072). It took all day for that Landcruiser to make it to the Jarbidge campground, but the remote wildness of Jarbidge made it well worth the travel time.
|An oft-photographed alpine lake in the Copper Basin, but this one is focused on the Mule's Ear flowers|
that carpet much of the Jarbidge slopes.
|Another perspective, looking up-slope at 45 decrees, of a field of Mule's Ear peppered with a few|
purple bell flowers, probably a lupine.
|Neal Vincent playing his guitar in our Jarbidge hunting camp, August 1971.|
Every time I look at this picture I see a Canuck outdoorsman, par excellence.
Often adults marginalize youngsters' knowledge, capacity, and ability. I suppose part of that arises from the desire to instruct them so that they don't make the same mistakes we made in our youth. Another part may well be that we want to appear the knowledgeable expert even when we are not. I guess there's a fine balance between letting kids learn the “hard way” and "hovering” over them so that they don't fail. Personally, I think failing is good. We learn more from our errors than from our successes. Maybe that's why Neal never taught me how to fly fish. Maybe he knew if the seed was planted within me I would pursue it on my own, learning by trial and error, which is exactly what I did.
The Bible says that "it is good for a man that he should bear the yoke in his youth" while patiently waiting on the Lord (Lamentations 3:27). It also says "Even youths grow tired and weary, and young men stumble and fall" (Isaiah 40:30) just like adults making their journey through life on earth. But then Isaiah goes on to say "but those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint." The process of recognizing we are broken sinners opens us to the redeeming powers of Jesus, so wonderfully described in Psalm 51. Please excuse me for the secular stretch, and the reference to Buddhism, but not only do these words encourage believers to persevere and “finish the race,” but for me they conjure an image of a once youthful angler transitioning into his late years while still searching for fly fishing nirvana.
|Although this guide does not have a publication date, a similar guide to|
Eastern Nevada has a State Printing Office publication date of 1969.
|On page 11 of the above Guide is a listing of fishable waters of the Jarbidge-O'Neil basins.|
Note the erroneous identification of the Bull Trout char as Dolly Varden. Also note that the Cutthroat
trout identified in Marys River are specifically the Lahontan Cutthroat, the Nevada State Fish.
Wild Horse Ranch & Resort
Originally, I conceived of this trip as an overlanding adventure in 4x4 trucks probing into the northeastern Nevada backcountry, camping overnight in tents. If you’ve not heard the term before, “overlanding” is the latest word for car camping, except that it connotes car-camping away from established camp sites (i.e., no running water or pit toilets). There was a possibility that no one else would be interested in such an excursion to destinations so far off and desolate, so I resolved to make the trip alone if necessary. I left clues with friends and family that I’d welcome other adventurers, and fortunately Bill and Dave decided to join me.
|This is the view behind our motel rooms. The Owyhee River is tucked away over the hill.|
The motel accommodations were adequate, and its location was central to our planned day-trips, but its restaurant was also an attraction. The restaurant had 21 Facebook reviews with an average rating of 4.3 out of 5 (more importantly there were no 1 or 2-star ratings). Unfortunately, our daily excursions did not fit within the restaurant’s hours of operations. This is a remote area with but a few campers and residents running around, so it was understandable that the restaurant opened at 9:00am and closed at 9:00pm, with Mondays and Tuesdays shuttered. Because we left early every morning and returned only when the sun set at around 8:15pm we never sampled its offerings (liquid or otherwise). Still, it was a very workable location. Rick, the resort manager, was very gracious and accommodating to our needs (such as the Verizon cellular repeater) as well as advice about the waters and fishing (Rick angles with the fly, which was helpful).
Wild Horse Reservoir
Dave traveled with me in the Fish Taco, and through a bit of luck (augmented by an unplanned 50-mile side-trip through the city of West Wendover, NV) we arrived in Elko about the same time as Bill who was travelling I-80 from Sacramento. Las Vegas to Wild Horse is about 500 miles, but traveling with a buddy makes the travel time fly; the conversation was good and substituted for my usual sight-seeing. About 60 miles north of the city of Ely the US 93 forks into an alternate route to Twin Falls, ID via West Wendover. Needless to say, my jabbering with Dave caused me to miss my exit for the regular US 93 route. My fateful mistake allowed us to have a pleasant lunch together, which also afforded time for Bill and Dave to get introduced. Bill then followed my Tacoma in his Ford Laramie 4x4 quad cab pickup the remaining 60 highway-miles to Wild Horse.
|Bill having a laugh with Dave and me over an Elko lunch. I haven't seen Bill since April of 2015.|
The reservoir at full capacity is huge (2,830 surface acres, 71,500 acre feet of volume). Originally constructed in 1937, the present day concrete dam was built in 1969 by the US Bureau of Reclamation for the Bureau of Indian Affairs. The reservoir impounds the Owyhee River for flood control and irrigation storage, principally for the downstream Duck Valley Indian Reservation (i.e., the Shoshone-Paiute Tribe, also referred to as Sho-Pai). The state of Nevada also maintains the adjacent Wild Horse State Recreation Area with complete campsites, and although there are no RV hookups it does have restrooms and showers available year-round. The summer months also have available centrally located water faucets and dump stations, and pull-through sites will accommodate larger RVs. The camping limit is 14 days in a 30-day period.
|Wednesday's launch site on Wild Horse, targeting the deeper water near the dam.|
|My best Wild Horse rainbow, still carrying roe. Stretched out she was about 51 cm, or 20 inches.|
I caught her boyfriend on my very next cast.
|Bill has an interesting habit on reservoirs of wading out after tubing for hours. Here he is doing it|
with me acting like a heckling spectator.
|Evidence his "habit" produces results.|
The Jarbidge Mountains are the central attraction in the Wild Horse area. They include multiple sub-ranges, including the Bruneau Range, Buck Creek Mountains, Copper Mountains, Elk Mountains, Fox Creek Range, Ichabod Range, Marys River Range, Salmon River Range and Wild Horse Range. The central spine of Jarbidge extends southward approximately 5 miles from the small town of Jarbidge.
The name "Jarbidge" is derived from the Shoshone word “Ja-ha-bich,” meaning “devil.” The Shoshone believed the hills were haunted. Perhaps it was the hoodoos, pillars of basalt and rhyolite, that could sometimes appear as strange, evil figures that frightened them. For more on the origin of names in Nevada, check out this wonderful 1941 Nevada State Writers’ Project titled: Origin of Place Names - Nevada. Nevada, the 7th largest state at 110,577 square miles, had a state population of about 113,000 in 1940… think about that for a second… one square mile per person! In the hyperlinked Project document, you will find the origin of “Bruneau” on p. 22, “Jarbidge” on p. 25, “Marys River” on p. 26, and “Owyhee” on p. 27. As a side note, I always thought Owyhee (pronounced oh-WYE-hee) was derived from the Indians, but it was the influence of Kanakas fur trappers who gave the river its phonetic spelling of “Hawaii.” The Kanakas were workers brought in from the Pacific Islands, thus the Hawaii connection.
|Jarbidge River looking downstream (i.e., north) towards the town of Jarbidge. These waters|
contain the southern most population of bull trout in North America.
On the western side of the range looking east, the six main peaks from north to south (i.e., left to right) are the Jarbidge, Jumbo, Square Top, Matterhorn, Cougar, and Marys River. My photos do not capture the full spine, so check out this website for a full view of the major peaks: WikiMedia.
|The Spine of the Jarbidge Mountain Range: the four peaks starting above the tall pines in the center are|
Jarbidge (10,793 ft), Jumbo (10,635 ft), Square Top (10,694 ft), and Matterhorn (10,837 ft).
|The remaining Jarbidge spine: Jumbo, Square Top, and the Matterhorn duplicated from above, plus|
Marys River off in the far distance(10,575 ft). Not sure, but I think Cougar Peak is barely visible between
the Matterhorn and Marys River.
For decades I had been reading about Marys River. Her headwaters originate in the southern-most peak of the Jarbidge Mountains. She begins as the East and West Forks of Marys River on the high slopes of her namesake peak. The combined river flows south and is one of the major tributaries to the fabled Humboldt River that escorted pioneers across the Great Basin to within eyesight of the Sierra Nevada Range. It may have been a member of Peter Skene Ogden’s exploratory party (Hudson's Bay Company) who gave the river its name around 1820. It’s reported in the book The History of Nevada Volume 1 that one of his members took a wife from the Indian tribe living along the river, and he named her “Mary” and the river “Marys River.” Ogden is credited for the first sighting of the Humboldt River while making his fifth expedition into the Snake River basin that feeds the Columbia River, of which the Jarbidge, Bruneau, and Owyhee Rivers are tributaries.
|A good look at the Marys River near the Day Use Area. Most water here was about 12-inches deep.|
|A stonefly shuck on Marys River.|
And there’s the NDOW publication “LCT Species Management Plan for the Upper Humboldt River Basin” dated December 2004. It describes their actions to strengthen the LCT in Nevada, including Marys River. Non-native trout have been removed, or at least are no longer stocked in the river. Ranchers aren’t grazing along the river anymore, and with help from many organizations and agencies stream habitat was improved by planting riparian vegetation and replacing impassable culverts under bridge crossings. Although the stream section at the day-use site (i.e., the terminal end of NFDR 306) seemed thin, it did contain some holes of maybe three feet deep. Most of the water was below calf level, but it seemed to have plenty of aquatic life to support trout, including salmon flies, mayflies, and caddis flies.
|Recognition of the riparian restoration project and the myriad of supporting organizations,|
|Dave holding a small Great Basin gopher snake he captured while|
walking the banks of Marys River. Yes, it did bite him.
Leaving Marys River, we headed north on ECR 747 (Charleston-Deeth) towards the town of Jarbidge. Initially the road followed the Bruneau River headwaters, which feeds marshlands on their way into the canyon guarded by Copper Mountain on the east and Pine Mountain on the west (we had plans to fish Bruneau on Thursday).
|These marshes are created by the Bruneau River headwaters, and they run alongside the Charleston-Deeth|
county road for a wile until finally collecting into the canyon below the Charleston Reservoir near where
ECR 746 meets ECR 747.
I was surprised how long it took to drive the 40 miles to Jarbidge. Certainly the photography stops contributed, but many sections of this road will slow you down to 15 mph as it snakes through the Jarbidge foothills. We arrived in the town of Jarbidge around 6pm, with appetites.
|Here's the town of Jarbidge looking toward the Idaho border. I think I read its year-round population is 18,|
but it swells to about 40 with the summer cabin owners.
If time allowed, and the spirit was willing, I hoped to cast a line into the West Fork of the Jarbidge River. Perhaps as homage to my brother Neal, I felt like I should at least vaguely attempt to catch a bull trout. But when we laid our eyes upon the town of Jarbidge it was hard not to become enchanted by it, and did I mention we were hungry?
The linear townsite sits in a tight, steep canyon that also holds the Jarbidge River’s east fork. I asked the first resident I saw if gas and food was available. She said “yes” to both, identifying the Outdoor Inn as the place for food and drink. I told her we’d check it out, and she replied that she’d see us down there.
|While dining at the Outdoor Inn I think I saw half of the summertime residents along with several county|
workers who were repairing dirt roads and such. Its a very friendly place.
The Outdoor Inn has a small restaurant and a larger bar, but products of both seem to flow freely between. On my way to the bathroom I ran into the lady resident. She recognized me and seemed genuinely glad to see me. We talked for a bit, and I thought to ask her if she knew of Tom Green who used to have a cabin there. Tom was a Deputy City Attorney for the city of Las Vegas. I had many occasions to work with Tom on various contracts, and meeting in his office was always a treat. It was adorned with hunting paraphernalia, including a couple trophy mounts and a vintage double-barrel shotgun hung right under a large photo of Teddy Roosevelt. (There is something respectful about a government attorney who hangs a shotgun in his office.). In the summer Tom often left work on Friday for his Jarbidge cabin, returning to work on Monday; it takes a very special place to cause someone to make a 1,000-mile round trip for essentially one day of leisure. When I mentioned Tom to the lady resident her face lit up, “Oh, yes, I remember Tom! He was our resident lawyer!”
The food was surprisingly good. Much of it is home cooked in bulk by residents like Donna. Donna prepared the spud and leek soup that we three sampled, as well as a bean soup and pie that David especially enjoyed. And the conversations we had were delightful, in a manly way of course. Some guys know how to tell stories, and in the company of Bill and Dave colorful stories kept bouncing across the table. Needless to say the sun was about to set when we left the Outdoor Inn and we still had a 2-hour drive back to the Wild Horse Ranch, so we did not fish the Jarbidge River.
Being that we didn’t fish the Jarbidge River, here’s a quick note about the bull trout of the Jarbidge River. Before the Columbia River System was dammed up, salmon and steelhead ran up through the Snake River and into its Nevada tributaries. The bull trout are a cold-water fish, specifically a char similar to brook trout. Bull trout, like all char, need relatively pristine streams to thrive. The bull trout is native to the northwest portions of our continent, and the Jarbidge River might well be its most southern habitation. When river habitat allows, these fish can grow up to 30 inches. They are major predators, as revealed by their massive heads and mouths. In Jarbidge they live in low numbers, and they remain stunted, rarely reaching much over 12 inches. To learn more visit the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (USF&WS) website on the Jarbidge River Bull Trout Recovery Team. The team was established in 2005 to restore and protect the bull trout population in the Jarbidge River, which is listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act. The team is co-led by the USF&WS and NDOW.
At the Outdoor Inn we learned that part of the Gold Creek Road (NFR 037, which I believe is referred to as the Jarbidge-Bruneau Loop) was rutted out, likely on the portion east of the Bruneau River. Thursday was planned for the Bruneau River’s wild redband trout at the Mink Ranch crossing.
|A cowboy and his cattle; his dogs are off the photo to the right.|
|Part of the pronghorn antelope herd encountered along Gold Creek Road.|
|Evidence that anglers do get into the Bruneau and fish it, and that fishing records are maintained.|
Billy Shaw Reservoir
Since we abandoned fishing the Bruneau, we opted to try Billy Saw Reservoir on the Duck Valley Indian Reservation. Billy Shaw was on my personal list, but I wasn’t sure if we’d fit it into our schedule. I didn’t want to squeeze more into what already felt like a web of interconnected, short day-trip excursions, but passing up the Bruneau created a new opportunity.
|A jubilant David enjoying the fishing on Billy Shaw reservoir.|
|David working his way on the Billy Shaw.|
|Guess why they call it a yellow perch?|
|Bill's match for the damsel fly hatch; he's no slouch fly tier.|
|A good Billy Shaw rainbow that I finally coaxed into my net.|
|We saw many American pelicans around the reservoir; never grew tired of seeing them in formation overhead.|
Savage Gear Model 170 High Rider Float Tube
I used my Savage Gear 170 tube for the first time on this trip. It’s an excellent replacement for my Scadden’s Outlaw Escape that I trashed due to failed warranty repairs… and it’s at least half as expensive. It’s much like a Fish Cat tube, except for its bladderless marine PVC fabric sporting two chambers, and another two bladders for its high-riding seat. The integrated rack-and-pinion oars help make it practical on windy reservoirs. My only complaint is the stripping apron setup is designed more for hardware anglers. Its retention bar tends to move when rowing hard, and the apron area needs to be a little larger to hold fly line. But, that’ll be easily solved with the addition of new D-ring patches and an upgraded apron. So yes, so far I’m happy with the tube, and it is lighter and easier to portage than the Water Master Grizzly, which will still get lots of use.
Gaia GPS App
Because we were planning on driving many dirt roads and trails that I had never driven before I decided to get the Gaia GPS app for backcountry navigation. The basic app is free, and it works with your device’s GPS even when you don’t have cell or Wi-Fi service… just what you need in the backcountry. A $20 annual upgrade fee gets you access to additional map layers, and the premium level adds additional maps and features. You can run the app on your PC or laptop creating routes, and then create areas on the map that contain your routes. Then using your mobile device you save the areas in your memory for future use in the backcountry. One word of caution is that if you make your map areas too small you’ll lose your map reference once you drive outside its boundaries. Bill was also using Gaia, and he saved larger areas which was a lesson for me.
A few months ago I tested the app with my son Brian on the Potosi-Goodsprings road by activating the phone’s airplane mode, and it worked very well. On this trip I saved an area that included all the aforementioned Elko County and Forrest Service roads. I was very impressed with the apps accuracy on the Jarbidge backcountry roads. All campers, hunters, and fisherman who like exploring backcountry should seriously consider this app.
Dave and I took a detour on our way home on Friday so that we could drive through the Ruby Mountains, aka The Alps of Nevada. Dave had never seen them before. We drove up Lamoille Canyon, through Jiggs, and over the Harrison Pass to the Ruby Lakes. Continuing south we took White Pine County Road 3 through Long Valley to US 50.
|Dave's view of the end of Lamoille Canyon in the Ruby Mountains south of Elko, NV.|
Long Valley is a fairly desolate pace, but it gets some traffic from those exploring the Rubies as well as those working the mines in the area. Still, breaking down on this stretch in the summer is not pleasant. After passing by a large gold mine operation in the Bald Mountain area, we descended into Long Valley and soon noticed a truck on the side of the road. It was an older man and perhaps his grandson, but they were just taking a break and so they waived us on.
About 10 miles farther we noticed a yellow GM Hummer on the side of the road. This time when we slowed down a gentleman stepped out. He was about our age or younger and he was holding a cell phone. I already knew his phone was out of service. I also noted the initials “VT” were on the truck’s left-front quarter panel, and the gentleman was nicely dressed in a casual sense wearing leather penny loafers without any socks. He asked for a ride into the city of Ely so he could get help to fix his truck, so we made room for him by moving stuff out of the cab into the camper shell.
On the drive to Ely we discovered that he was Sr. Vice President of Business Development for Vezer Industrial Professionals. His name was George. He was visiting a list of mines in Nevada that were his customers, like the Bald Mountain mine we had just passed. George’s expertise became a great opportunity for Dave who has an interest in gold mines and their operation. So, in another turn of fate, otherwise known as a “God wink,” a minor good deed returned an interesting conversation that revealed new knowledge. And of course all this discussion made the 4o miles to Ely pass very quickly.
|Mark, Dave, and Bill preparing to launch on a western finger of the Billy Saw Reservoir|