I had visited Eagle Valley Reservoir just three times over the last three decades. Eagle Valley is located at the end of state highway 322 in the Spring Valley State Park, next to Ursine, Nevada. Geographically, it is east of Pioche and northeast of Panaca, about seven miles west of the Utah border. It is one of southern Nevada’s more picturesque parks. Although I’ve not camped overnight, it seems to have great facilities (even showers) and plenty of park ambassadors to compensate for any lack of park rangers. Its proximity to Ursine and even Pioche give it added amenities, but also contribute to its high usage. The little enclave of Ursine that functions as the park gateway has that rural “commercial” feel to it, which is another detractor for my sensibilities.
In the 1980s the reservoir was known to hold brown trout, which was an attraction for me. Thus my first visit was in the late 1980s, but I only fished the creek below the dam. I was returning from an Ely fishing trip and only had an hour or so to fish. I recall catching one small brown trout. At that time in my fishing life I was more enamored with Beaver Dam Creek because it was slightly larger and much more remote… Eagle Valley seemed busy to me.
I next fished it in late October of 2004. That particular October day was very cold, and I only saw one other boat fishing that day. We had exchanged fishing reports when they got close enough; they reported catching one nice brown trout which was an encouragement to me. However, I only caught four rainbows near the inlet, all identical thirteen inchers. I was on the water about four hours, and when I got out my feet and legs were so numb from the cold I had difficulty walking back to the truck while portaging the float tube over my head. After I stowed away the float tube and regained some feel in my legs and feet I explored the little creek above the inlet. I came upon a couple of spawning brown trout that were quite large for that little creek (maybe sixteen to eighteen inches). My clumsy casting on such a small creek set them off upstream. Not sure if there is much successful spawning in the creek as it is your typical cattle country meadow creek… usually too silted for effective spawning.
My last visit was a “pass through” in July 2010. Once again I had decided to return from Ely using the Great Basin Scenic Highway and I made a detour into Spring Valley State Park. It was very weeded, as it usually is in mid-summer. I did not fish Eagle Valley on that trip.
This trip was more purposeful than the last three. I had taken this week off and planned to do an overnighter in Ely, or perhaps southern Utah, but the weather was not cooperating. The strange weather we experienced through the winter was carrying through into the late spring. There just was not two days together of “floatable” weather. However, the weatherman predicted calm winds at Eagle Valley until noon, so I decided to give it another shot.
It took about three hours to get to the reservoir. At 7:30 AM I was surprised to find no one on the water fishing. By the time I launched the Outlaw Escape it was 8:00 AM and two gentlemen had arrived to fish off the dock. I immediately targeted the cliffs on the southern side of the reservoir, near the dam (the elongated reservoir runs west-to-east in the canyon). Not only did the cliffs mean that shore anglers likely didn’t fish there, there were patches of new reed growth and other vegetation at the shoreline that indicated trout would be present. I caught the bulk of my fish there, although all but three were recent ten-inch planters; those three were closer to twelve inches and a little deeper in color. But by 11:00 AM the winds were gusting up to twenty-plus mph and they were coming from the west, pushing me away from the dock. Although it took me a good thirty minutes to row back to the dock, I must say that without the integrated oar system on the Outlaw Escape I would never had made it back.
When I got out of the water I had tallied sixteen trout, plus two long distance releases. I had caught ten trout within the first hour, but action slowed after that. Most were caught on a green woolly bugger, but a few on a brown nymph as well. But then the wind calmed a little and I decided to wade into the bay area just to the left (north) of the dock. I had seen a rise or two and thought I should explore the area with my favorite little four weight rod (it can be a relief after casting woolly buggers on the end of a full sinking line all morning with a nine foot rod).
In the last decade or so the Nevada Department of Wildlife has added tiger trout to its rainbow stocking program, although brown trout are still present. The tiger trout is a hatchery hybrid between a brown trout and a brook trout (these hybrids are sterile). So far on this trip everything was a rainbow, and I had hoped to hook into a tiger or brown.
As I waded into the bay I was casting a little black gnat on a floating line. In three successive casts I landed three little rainbows. Even the gentlemen on the dock had their curiosity piqued by this fly angler. Although the fish were small nine-inchers, there is still a special thrill catching trout on a dry fly, and the little seven and one-half foot rod still bent over as they fought to get away. I had another surface strike that I miss timed. After action slowed I switched to a little elk hair caddis fly. That did not receive any surface strikes, but as I was retrieving a cast parallel to the shoreline the fly submerged and I felt a take. To my surprise and satisfaction, I had hooked into a fourteen inch tiger trout which was obviously attracted by the “swimming” fly. It was the first tiger trout I had ever caught. It was the last trout of the day, partly because it was so pleasing and partly because I had promised Denise I would be home at a certain hour.
If I was not aware of the tiger trout hybrids and their stocking in the Eagle Valley Reservoir I could easily have mistaken this fish for an oddly spotted brown trout. In fact, everything about this trout resembled a brownie except that its normally round black spots were less “round” and more mottled. It was a pretty fish that fought very hard (no jumping as is characteristic of both brown and brook trout), and I was happy to release it into its wet environs.
Although this trip felt rushed and sandwiched into a break in the weather, it was a surprisingly fulfilling trip. And while constant action can be fun (twenty trout landed, with two LDRs, in about four hours of fishing), catching my first tiger trout on a dry fly cast with my favorite fly rod… well that simply made the whole trip. I know, it seems like such a simple thing. And of course it is in the big scheme of things. But these sorts of “unique” or “first” events please me to no end.
I am always surprised how one fish, caught on one particular cast, can make a whole trip. Thousands of books have been written about fly fishing, and many of them describe that enchanting event when a difficult fish is caught by just the right fly at the end of a perfect cast. Often it becomes that defining moment where a budding fly fisherman has forever hooked himself into the sport, or when a more seasoned fisherman finally feels he has “arrived” in the sport. Not sure that the tiger was such a defining moment for me; I’ve been blessed with more than my share of memorable fish. It could be the flawless cast on a handmade rod that I recall, the special fly I tied with my own hands, the size or type of fish itself, or the uniquely pleasing setting in which it all took place. Memories of two or more in one event, well those are highly special. I think it is the pursuit of those events that brings me back to fly fishing for trout over and over…