This was my second Illipah trip, having quickly fished this reservoir four years ago with sons Doug and Tom, at which time I landed one single rainbow through the thick weeds of the warm summer. On this 2004 trip the late spring weather found the trout feeding in much sparser weeds along the banks. The high temperatures were around seventy, and the lows were in mid thirties, although I lodged overnight at the Best Western in Ely. Although Illipah Reservoir is 6,700 feet in elevation, I found the sparse high-desert flora too monotonous for camping, especially since Ely was just forty miles to the east.
Interestingly, when I arrived Ely was overflowing with sport cars for the Silver State Classic road rally race, an annual event that takes place on State Highway 318 between Preston and Hiko. Preston is just south of Ely, and thus Ely becomes the race staging site by default. As I understand the road rally, it’s not so much a race won by the fastest, but rather won by the car closest to achieving the planned checkpoint times. There are different entry classes based on designated speed (e.g., ninety, one-hundred, one hundred-ten, one hundred-twenty miles per hour, etc.), and the car that clocks in at checkpoints along the course at the speed closest to their entry designation is the winner. Each car has a co-pilot that navigates and watches for elapsed time at checkpoints. It is an interesting race concept, and the State cooperates by closing Highway 318 to accommodate the race. On the way up I had observed several Corvettes on Highway 318 and had wondered if there was a reason; apparently they were test-driving the “course” for the projected checkpoints.
But I did not come to Ely to race my truck, or watch others race; I came to fish. And the fishing was outstanding, the best I had experienced other than at Henderson Springs. I fished five hours on Friday and three hours on Saturday (eight total hours). On Friday I caught nine fish all of which measured at least twelve inches, and two of those were about fifteen inches. All were rainbow trout on Friday except for one twelve-inch brown trout. Nevada Department of Wildlife reports say that the brown trout are self-reproducing from an old stocking program, which I admit contributed to my attraction to Illipah.
Saturday’s fishing was unbelievable. I caught eighteen trout in three hours. Most of Saturday’s trout were thirteen to fourteen inches, although I caught two rainbows in the sixteen-inch range. I also failed to land four other trout. The real delight of the trip, however, was a seventeen-inch brown trout caught on the last cast of the day. I was using a sink-tip line with a small emerger nymph (size 16), and the trout’s take was subtle. As soon as I raised the rod I could tell it was a good sized fish, but it did not jump so it was not until I was able to bring it to the tube that I could see its yellow-brown coloring and large black spots. This brown trout was exactly the reason I had come to Illipah. Unfortunately, I left my camera in my truck on Saturday so I did not photograph any of these fish, including the large brown trout. The fishing was just too hot to leave the reservoir and fetch it. Saturday’s fishing left me with a total of twenty-seven trout in eight hours of fishing, or 3.4 fish per hour. I decided Illipah was going to be an annual spring pilgrimage.
While fishing I ran into an older couple from Fallon, or I should say I sought them out for a special service. The husband was a weathered, retired farmer who looked to be in his late sixties. I estimated his wife to be ten to fifteen years younger. The wife was fly fishing and the husband was bait fishing… an interesting twist. I got to talking with them because I needed them to tow me out of the mud on Saturday morning as I got a little too close to the shore. They were nice people. They had four kids that work on the farm growing cantaloupe and alfalfa. I did not realize that Fallon is famous for a particular type of cantaloupe called Hearts O’ Gold. Even more intriguing was learning about the farm pond created by the husband for trout fishing, which is where his wife apparently learned how to fly fish. I wanted to learn more about the pond and whether or not they would allow public fishing. I never did ask; maybe I was too embarrassed after sticking the Dakota in the mud. Although I like my solitude when I’m out in nature, it is always fulfilling to meet other good people who enjoy being outdoors, too.
In addition to fantastic fishing and making new friends, another trip highlight was the vast acreage of orange Globe Mallow blooming just south of Lund. I had never seen such dense fields of orange flowers before, which I took as a sign that this trip was indeed a unique experience to be remembered for many years.