After my 2003 visit to Henderson Springs, I gained an appreciation for the fruits of fishing private water (see Henderson Springs blog). Curiosity spurred me to search the Internet for other private fishing water in Nevada and southern Utah, and that’s how I discovered Smith Creek Ranch.
Although I am exclusively a fly fisherman, I never considered myself to be a snobbish fisherman. I don’t dislike or disapprove of other types of fishing, it’s just that I’ve spent over thirty years fly fishing; I know it pretty well and can cast a decent fly. I can only tell you that I enjoy doing it so much that it seems to exclude other fishing possibilities (kind of like a marriage, but my wife Denise would claim fly fishing is my first love… but we all know you can’t “love” a recreation sport, can you?). Anyway, my disdain for being labeled an arrogant fly fisherman seems to have repelled me from fishing private waters for about thirty years, preferring other remote, but public venues. Henderson Springs cured me of that contempt. And so, I’ve been dreaming of fishing Smith Creek for about five years.
Smith Creek has a rich history worth telling. It is located about forty minutes southwest of Austin, Nevada (Austin appears as the geographic center of the state of Nevada). Today it is a working cattle ranch, but its earliest records date back to the 1860s when it started as a Pony Express station and then became a big part of the Overland Stage route. Subsequently, it became home to many Basque sheepherders who roamed the Desatoya Mountains. There appear to be several historic structures on the ranch, including a one-room schoolhouse dating back to the early 1900s.
The ranch is currently owned by the Hendrix Family who purchased it in 1994. At first they only ran a couple hundred head of cattle, but they soon began making plans to add a pond that was exclusively for fishing. By 1995 they had a beautiful six-acre reservoir that they call the Trophy Trout Fly Fishing pond. They now run about 870 head of mother cows, primarily Black Angus with some Hereford influence. The ranch also has two wild horse herds that live on it.
About two weeks ago I called the Reno Fly Shop, the exclusive booking agent for Smith Creek Ranch, and discovered that the ranch was empty on September 25 and 26… I could have it all to myself. I checked my work schedule, the weather forecast, and my wife, all in ascending order of importance. The moon and stars aligned and I was cleared to go.
I was getting pretty excited about the trip. It had been about ten years since I visited the Kingston Canyon area of the nearby Toiyabe Range. In fact, Groves Reservoir in Kingston Canyon was where I caught my first trout. It was a brown trout, one I will never forget. It was my very first camping trip with my brother Neal; I was probably in my early teen years, say around thirteen or so. It was a wonderful place to camp back in the late 1960s… hardly anyone was around back then.
I had seen all the pictures of monstrous trout of six, seven, maybe eight pounds, both on the Reno Fly Shop and Smith Creek Ranch web sites. I was hoping to hook up with at least a four or five pound rainbow, but it was not to be. Upon arrival I couldn’t find anybody on the ranch to check-in with, so I drove to the Trophy Trout Farm Pond and proceeded to fish. I was able to fish about five hours on Thursday. The Trophy Pond yielded seventeen trout, three of which were brown trout (the rest were rainbows, although some had the faint markings of the orange cutthroat slash under their jaws indicating hybrids). Nothing was over seventeen inches, but nothing was less than fourteen inches, either.
After putting away my gear I visited with a ranch hand and his wife. They were from Fallon, Nevada. They were very friendly folk, and they directed me to the ranch manager, Mr. Combs. He was busy “burnin’ some meat” on the barbecue, but he took the time to greet me with a handshake and offer to help with anything I needed. His wife was busy working her horse for the upcoming barrel races in Winnemucca, about two-hours north from Smith Creek.
Their working dogs, about four or five of them if I counted correctly as they scurried around each other, were just as friendly as the ranch hands. After dinner I took a short walk up to the large reservoir. Mr. Combs told me they had given up trying to maintain stocking the reservoir due to poaching problems, likely from the backside of the old Overland Stage road. Regardless, I needed a walk and was curious. As I proceeded up the historic road one of the dogs came with me, keeping about twenty yards behind. When I’d look back towards her, she’d look back towards the ranch, as if to see if her friends were coming along with us. This occurred several times until I got to the edge of the reservoir, and then she came to me for some petting after I called to her. But as soon as I said, “Ok, let’s go home,” off she went down the road, never looking back once.
Thursday morning I fished the Trophy Pond for about an hour. I felt more comfortable having gotten the “lay of the water”, so to speak. There was a decent hatch of Callibaetis mayflies that morning, and I was able to catch a couple of nice rainbows on dry flies in the shallow water. I caught six trout in an hour, three browns and three rainbows. One of the browns was a sleek seventeen inches, but the last fish of the day succumbed to a green wooly bugger with sparkly tinsel, a nice nineteen-inch rainbow trout of three pounds or so. Satisfied, I packed up and headed for the other irrigation pond downstream.
Mr. Combs told me there were lots of brown trout in the lower irrigation pond, and so I thought I’d try it on the way out. The lower pond was much sparser, clearly a “working” pond. I managed to portage my float tube and gear over the fence rail and irrigation ditch, and up the embankment. The sight of me approaching with the float tube over my head frightened even the most curious of cattle, which was just as well as they were taking turns messing into the pond. This little pond yielded sixteen trout in three hours, six of which were brown trout. Most were in the twelve to thirteen inch range, but a couple approached fifteen inches. I quit about 1:00 pm and decided to head home.
Although I didn’t land any monstrous trout, catching 39 fish in nine hours of fishing is good in anybody’s fishing journal, especially with many being sixteen to nineteen inches.
The drive was long, about five hours straight through. The ten miles or so between the ranch and State Highway 722 was on the Overland Stage route across the dry lake dessert of Smith Creek Valley. Signage was limited, but even from afar while driving in one can see the green of the ranch nestled in the nape of the Desatoya Mountains. Going home wasn’t so easy, as dirt roads go off in all directions and the one or two signs are facing the other direction. I took several wrong turns, ending up at the Old Hay Ranch. Backtracking, and a timely passer-by ranch hand got me headed in the right direction. The five hours driving home provided ample time to ponder if another trip in the future will produce the large trout of my fantasies.
Dreams, we always have our dreams…