Illipah Reservoir & Cave Lake, White Pine County

Clouds over the Moorman Ridge to the east of Illipah Reservoir.

The summer heat was starting to wane and I was yearning to return to Cave Lake to work on the brown trout that inhabit the inlet waters of the lake. I enjoy a challenge, and when Brian and I visited Cave Lake four weeks ago I wasn’t able to give the task my full attention. I was coaching Brian through his first fly fishing trip but found the slurping brown trout inhabiting the shallows to be a nagging distraction. I caught a few browns that day, one reaching about thirteen inches. I saw larger trout, but I either put them down with sloppy casting or didn’t offer a fly they wanted. Even though it wasn’t quite fall weather yet, I wanted to return and try for a few of the larger brown trout.

I arranged to take a Thursday and Friday off. Rather than fish both days on Cave Lake, my plan was to fish Thursday afternoon at Illipah Reservoir west of Ely and Friday morning at Cave Lake just southeast of Ely. Illipah had been getting good reports as of late and the trout there are generally larger than those in Cave Lake, but the brown trout aren’t as reliably located as they are in Cave Lake. In Cave Lake I always find them near the Cave Creek inlet, but Illipah lacks the same reliable inlet as the reservoir is managed by the ranch such that the water levels are unreliable; often large portions of the shore and inlet area are exposed. In fact, this trip revealed the lowest Illipah water level I’ve ever seen, and I only landed a few small brown trout there.

An additional reason for adding Illipah to this trip was that I had just finished building my nine-foot, five weight replacement rod for the one I broke on the August trip to Cave Lake with Brian. I wanted to try out the nine footer on Illipah first since the fishing seemed to be better suited for it there. But I also brought along the two little four-weights: the six footer and the seven and one-half footer. I envisioned fishing the nine footer at Illipah and then using the seven and one-half footer on Cave Lake with the six footer as a spare.

Freshly built 7.5 and 9 foot flyrods resting on my float tube.

At Illipah the weather was perfect; breezes under ten miles per hour with light cloud cover. After assessing the low water level I set off on my float tube at around 1:30pm. At first I got decent action, especially around or near the floating weed beds. I caught several rainbows of about fourteen inches, but most everything else was around twelve inches, plus or minus an inch or so. There were large trout about, but I couldn’t land any of them. I enjoyed casting the new nine footer, but its action is different from the Cabela’s PT+ rod blanks used on the little four weights. The Cabela’s IM7 blank has a higher graphite content and casts a little faster. It definitely seemed that I could cast farther, but I occasionally had trouble with timing. After a while the fishing activity slowed down until around 6:30pm; that’s when the shallows started to show the tell tale ringlets of rising trout. A hatch of little gray mayflies was on and the trout were slurping them in. I switched to the seven foot six inch, four weight rod with a floating line and landed a few more nice rainbows, but no large brown trout. I wanted to stay out until dark, but I still had a thirty minute drive back to Ely, and I was hungry. By 7:30pm I had landed eighteen trout, three of which were little brown trout. That’s about three fish per hour, but most of those were caught the first couple of hours and the last couple of hours with a two-hour dry spell in between.

Looking southwest towards Mt. Hamilton in the White Pine Range.

I did have the accompaniment of an Osprey while on Illipah. I witnessed him diving twice, with his second dive delivering a nice trout supper for him. He was about one-hundred yards away, but I still should have attempted a picture to crystallize the moment.

Typical 14-inch Illipah rainbow.
Small Illipah brown trout with beadhead Prince nymph in corner of mouth.
The Trout Truck patiently waiting on Illipah Reservoir shorline.

That night in Ely I slept well, but was up by 5:30am. After my 6:00pm breakfast I was able to launch my tube on Cave Lake by 7:30am. The winds were calm and the skies were clear of clouds (I could have used some cloud cover). I was the first and only on the lake, and it was beautiful.

A placid Cave Lake in Schell Creek Range, 7:30am.

I noticed a little morning hatch coming off the shallows near the cattails, just to the north side of the inlet. The water was glass flat and crystal clear. I quickly landed several rainbows and a couple of small brown trout on small nymphs. I slowly worked my way over to the south side of the inlet shallows, where I’ve always observed the larger trout working. I switched to a floating line with a deer-hair Caddis fly, but only hooked a few small rainbows. Then I changed to an Adams and found good luck with that fly for a while, including a couple of thirteen-inch brown trout. Fisherman, mostly shore fisherman, started to arrive around 8:30am, and by 9:30 a couple of pontoon fly fisherman arrived. Sensing they had my same motives, I departed the water so they could access my area, which they quickly did. My goal was to leave Ely at 9:00am to get home shortly after noon (Denise and I still had chores to get the house ready for the County foster license renewal visit on Sunday), but I stayed on the water until 10:30am as I was really enjoying myself. Still, no large brown trout as I had fancied (i.e., over fifteen inches), but in those three hours I did manage to land seventeen trout, or about one fish every ten or eleven minutes… crisp action. 

This Cave Lake brown succumbed to Adams dry fly
Cave Lake brown with Callibaetis nymph in mouth
Pontoon fly fishermen taking over my spot as I depart for home

This was a nice two-day getaway. The weather was still warm during the day, but the coming of fall could be felt in the crisp evening temperature. If I had more time I’d go back in mid-October one more time before winter… but then again Wayne Kirch will be getting active with its large rainbows about then as well. Don’t you love having choices and decisions to make? Meanwhile, thirty-five trout landed in nine hours of fishing works out to about four fish per hour, which will sustain me until the next opportunity.

Author: FisherDad

I am a Christian who has been married to my wife for over four decades, with six children and four grandchildren so far. I have retired from a string of successful occupations as a certified public accountant, a chief financial officer, and a registered municipal advisor. I have been a fly angler for almost five decades. My one and only article submission was published by Southwest Fly Fishing magazine (now American Fly Fishing). You can learn more about me by clicking on “About” on the top of my blog page.

2 thoughts on “Illipah Reservoir & Cave Lake, White Pine County”

  1. wondering if you know where i can buy bait for catfishing in the urban ponds? Plan on taking my 5 year old to floyd lamb tomorrow morning and need some stink bait.

  2. I would try one of the Walmarts in the northwest (Rainbow or Centennial). If not there, you'd have to try the bait shops in the eastern part of town along Boulder Highway. Good luck, and have fun.

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