Elko County Waters: Ruby Marshes, South Fork Reservoir, and Wild Horse Reservoir

Viewing the Ruby Mountains from Jiggs, NV. The small, white speck on the slopes in the middle of the picture is the RCR cabin.

It had been over 11 years since I fished with my good friend and fellow pescador, Bill Bergan. In November 2003 I flew to Sacramento where Bill picked me up and whisked me off to fish the lakes at Henderson Springs in Northern California. Since then we have been scheming up new fishing adventures, but we could never connect. I was pushing the waters around the Ruby Mountains south of Elko, Nevada. It turns out the driving time to Elko from Sacramento and Las Vegas was about equal. Bill knew how beautiful the Rubies were from our 1979 backpack trip to Favre Lake on the Ruby Mountain’s Lamoille Canyon trail. We eventually settled on the Ruby Mountain area where Bill was able to meet me, ironically, driving directly from another group fishing trip at Henderson Springs.

The Ditch near Unit 21 where Brown Dike and Long Dike roads cross.

Through the wonder of the Internet, Bill discovered the Ruby Crest Ranch & Elko Guide Service located in the South Fork area which is about 15 miles south of Elko. The ranch and guide service is owned and operated by Bill and Betty Gibson. They served as our gracious hosts, and Bill Gibson introduced us to a few nuances of the nearby waters. I wholeheartedly recommend Bill and Betty to anyone interested in fishing or hunting in Elko County, but more on them later.

The Ruby Crest Ranch (RCR) is located in South Fork, Nevada.

I have been captivated by the Ruby Mountains ever since I was a teenager. I learned about them through my brother Neal. Their alternate nickname, the Alps of Nevada, conjured up images that were spot-on when I first set my eyes upon them in 1979. Not only are they dotted with 25 or so alpine lakes and lined with miles upon miles of creeks and streams, they are home to the Ruby Lakes National Wildlife Refuge (NWR). The NWR contains almost 40,000 acres of wetlands, and is one of the most remote refuges in the lower 48 states. Their website reports that Ruby Lake serves as a magnet for a wide diversity of wildlife species and is strategically located along migration corridors serving both the Pacific and Central Flyways. The refuge has been identified as one of 500 Globally Important Bird Areas by the American Bird Conservancy. I suspiciously observed that while it mentions the fishery “is popular with local anglers” it never says it is a “world-class fishery” holding trophy size trout and bass. Our host, Bill Gibson, says that is because the NWR doesn’t want to encourage the anglers.

A wild stallion and his three mares at the southern end of the Ruby Valley.

I wanted to be able to fish the Ruby Marsh Collection Ditch (Ditch) on my way to Elko on Monday morning, so I spent Sunday evening in Ely, Nevada. I left the Ely motel at 5:00 AM and at 7:30 AM I arrived at the Ditch below the Gallagher Hatchery, about where it connects with the Brown Dike Road. Think of the Ditch as a man made spring creek that collects water from numerous spring heads and delivers it to the marsh. I had great adventure working over large trout back in October 2012, and I had to revisit that spot again. I did indeed find trout in the culvert pool, but it was a lone dark shadow of about 18 inches downstream about 100 feet that intrigued me for over an hour as I tempted it with several nymphs, and I even floated a size 18 black gnat dry fly. The only honest look the trout gave me was a half-hearted chase of Denny Richard’s stillwater Callibaetis nymph. Amazingly, except for the Callibaetis nymph, the fish never moved from his spot no matter what I did. I silently vowed to return later… although I never did because the fishing everywhere else was so outstanding.

This is looking south from where the Ditch flows into the Marsh.
Taking a break on the Ditch while pondering my next move. The trout was near the far bank, at a spot indicated by where the tall grass on the right side of the picture appears to touch the far bank.
The red circle identifies the trout and its shadow.

I arrived an hour later at the Ruby Crest Ranch, greeted by a spirited but loving welcome from the yellow Labrador clan headed by Ruby, the matriarch of the pack. Their raucous “hello” was followed by Betty who announced that “the boys” were fishing the South Fork Reservoir. She told me I could reach the two Bills (Bill Bergan and Bill Gibson) via cell service that extended to the reservoir. They were fishing from Gibson’s small aluminum skiff powered by an electric trolling motor. They had already caught several well sized smallmouth bass and a trout or two. Gibson generously let Bergan and me take the skiff out to try for more bass, and later he took us to the boat launch area where we connected with several nice trout pointlessly trying to spawn along the shore (the South Fork of the Humboldt didn’t have enough spring snowmelt to provide safe passage to the upstream spawning gravel).

Master Guide Bill Gibson orchestrating his beloved yellow Labradors.
Bergan in the skiff with the Rubies in the background, fishing South Fork Reservoir.
My first of the trip, a 15 inch South Fork rainbow.
Bergan with a very fine looking cutthroat hybrid from South Fork that was well over 20 inches. 
A close up of Bergan’s magnificent cutthroat.
As the sun sank to the west, I beached a nice rainbow of 16 inches or so.

Tuesday morning we traveled over Harrison Pass to the Ruby Marshes and the Ditch. Fishing the Ditch was a little slow, but the trout size compensated for the pace. Of particular note was the absolute solitude amidst awesome natural wonder. The Ditch is close to 10 miles long, and even if a few other anglers are working it there is no “elbow to elbow” casting that you might find on other popular streams. The isolation of the area is hard not to recognize and appreciate. Fishing the Ditch takes patience, and much of it is “sight” fishing. I have read other Ditch reports that say dropping scuds and midges off indicators doesn’t work here because of the crystal clear, glass-like water… they might be correct. The trout were visible from the east bank with the morning sun at our backs, and cruising fish, often in spawning pairs this time of spring, were in plain sight. I was able to connect with three trout, one of which approached 24 inches and 5 lbs. Another memorable moment was two trout circulating through an area where one of the finger springs joined the main current. Bergan described it as being similar to sight-fishing for bonefish. After numerous failed attempts I was finally able to place the fly in the path of one of the trout whereupon it gave chase and took the fly. All this was visible from the elevated bank, and certainly the visual stimulation created excitement and anticipation that will be responsible for this angler’s daydreams for years to come.

Here’s Bergan playing a nice trout in the Ditch.
This was my largest catch of the trip, a Ditch rainbow pushing 24 inches, maybe 5 lbs. Note that she’s dropping roe from her vent.
My second nice Ditch rainbow caught “bonefish” style, with a landing assist by Bill Gibson.

We took a break from the Ditch to visit the Ruby Crest Ranch cabin in the Shanty Town area. Gibson had to repair a faucet for a set of fly angling clients who travel up from Bakersfield, CA every year. While he toiled away, Bergan and I chatted with the guys from Bakersfield, exchanging stories, reports, and flies of particular note.

Once tasks were completed we set out for the Main Boat Launch, where we found ourselves fishing in aloneness once again. The Marshes can be thought of as a maze. This time of year the pathways through the Marsh are more obvious (although there are miles and miles of them to navigate), but once the bulrush gets taller and thicker they are not so obvious. Gibson reports that anglers inexperienced with the Marshes often cannot find their way back and spend the night in the marsh waiting to be rescued. Best to explore the deep marsh area with an experienced guide like Gibson.

A small section of the “marsh maze” that defines the Ruby Lakes NWR.

Bergan and I did not need to venture too far into the Marsh before we hooked up with beautiful trout. The first boat channel marker proved to be fruitful. We observed several large fish working a stretch of it that were difficult to hook, and even harder to land. I hooked two large rainbows that tugged with me for about 30 to 60 seconds only to ultimately dislodge the hook or snap a blood knot. I learned my lesson here that 3x or 4x tippets are best, and that blood knots can result in lost fish, so entirely new leaders are best when tippets get shortened or broke off.

This was the only Marsh trout I landed on Tuesday.
I lost two like this one within 40 feet of each other, likely due to leader mismanagement. This rainbow would easily have been 4 pounds.

In discussing Wednesday’s plans, we were torn between returning to the Marshes and visiting Wild Horse Reservoir. It was hard to fight against revisiting the Marshes, but I’ve always wanted to see Wild Horse Reservoir. Wild Horse is about 60 miles directly north of Elko, which means about an hour-and-a-half drive from the Ruby Crest Ranch. From Las Vegas, it’s not a body of water you’d designate for a weekend angling trip, so I wanted to take advantage of being near Elko. Although the reservoir was way down, it was still a significant body of water. Gibson was hoping we’d land wiper (white bass / striped bass hybrid); not only do they fight really hard, they are one of the best tasting freshwater fish. If we could land a decent one Gibson directed us to keep it for our Wednesday night supper. Unfortunately, the wipers didn’t cooperate. I was fortunate to connect and land three nice rainbows in the 18 to 19 inch range. The most memorable fish was the one I brought to the net eight times, and each time it immediately recognized it and dove straight down stripping line of my Galvin reel. As Bergan will be my witness, at one point it had my Outlaw Escape doing 360º turns right on the spot. I suppose, just like human beings, some fish are better athletes than others, and this one fought way longer and tougher than his 19 inches would have predicted.

Bergan floating Wild Horse Reservoir in search of fish.
Our Scadden NFO tubes on the beach at Wild Horse Reservoir.
FisherDad fighting a tug of war with a Wild Horse rainbow.

On Wednesday afternoon, Bergan and I fished the South Fork boat launch for the crazy spawners that appeared so eager to be hooked on Monday evening. Gibson stayed behind at the ranch which gave Bergan and me more time to privately catch-up on the happenings in our lives. The fishing was fun, and Bergan even wet-waded a submerged little peninsula that, despite my hope, did not give up any fish.  Regrettably, scrambling down the rip-rap caused Bergan to tweak his knee, so we both agreed to head home early Thursday morning.

Bergan wet-wading South Fork Reservoir in the waning light.
My 21-inch South Fork rainbow caught right at sunset.  This fish fought very hard.

Before I forget, here’s a little more about the Ruby Crest Ranch & Elko Guide Service. Bill Gibson is a licensed master guide and fly angler who can put you into a variety of fish and waters. For hunters, he can set you up for antelope, elk, big horn sheep, mountain goat, and lion, not to mention upland game bird and waterfowl hunting. Gibson also holds a BLM Special Use Permit, a USFS Special Use Permit on the Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest, and a US Fish & Wildlife Special Use Permit for Ruby Lake National Wildlife Refuge, in addition to access on choice private lands. And for the do-it-yourselfers, he rents out his two cabins as well as rooms at the ranch. In addition to the hunting and fishing, Bill and Betty offer family adventures including horseback trips. Bill even has the patience to teach fly fishing to children. He knows his wildlife, and more importantly he knows the area. Despite his vast knowledge, Bill is low key and patient; it is a relaxed experience where his goal is for you to come as a guest and leave as a friend.

Main Boat Launch, Ruby Lakes NWR, with no one in sight Thursday morning.
Final trout of the trip, right at 20 inches. Sort of made up for the two I lost on Tuesday… but no.

As I had planned, I stopped at the Marsh on the way home. I did not fish the Ditch, but rather fished the Main Boat Launch based on advice from Gibson. The hatchery planted small stockers there that disrupted his fishing Tuesday afternoon, but he surmised they would have disbursed by Thursday leaving the larger trout still attempting to spawn. He was correct. I again hooked into four large trout, but all except the last one were adept at throwing the hook. When that last one, approaching 20 inches, was brought to shore I noted that he was hooked in the corner of his jaw and that his maxilla was stretched pretty well. That caused me to ponder how often these larger trout were caught and released thereby creating mouth damage that resulted in more hook pull-out in subsequent battles (maybe that was why they were so hard to land?). I don’t know that answer, but that last fish was a wonderful conclusion to an awesome fishing trip with my good friend, Bill Bergan. May we have many more trips to come.

The infamous bar in Jiggs. Jiggs has a colorful past; it’s even been in the movies. It claims a rich mining and ranching history that produced two NV governors (Edward “Ted” Carville and Lewis Rice “Old Broadhorns” Bradley), and was used by Zane Grey as the stomping grounds for his fictional western outlaw, King Fisher. Jiggs is reportedly named after a portly top hat-wearing cartoon character in the popular 1900s comic strip “Bringing up Father.” Supposedly the children of a saloon owner suggested the name during World War I because they were amused by the fictional exploits of the henpecked husband.
I believe Gibson told me this was the old post office for Jiggs.
Wildlife is everywhere in the Rubies, but I was especially taken aback by the numerous herds of pronghorn antelope I witnessed every day. This lone buck was up about 6,500 feet in the pinyon and juniper trees. I think I saw over 50 antelope.

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.

16 thoughts on “Elko County Waters: Ruby Marshes, South Fork Reservoir, and Wild Horse Reservoir”

  1. Hi Fisherdad,

    Great story and photos. You could skip the fairy tales and superstition in your bio and not offend me. Funny how religious people do not worry about offending not religious people !

  2. Who's offending who? You are free to read or not read my blog, yet you go out of your way to insult me. I can forgive the insult because I realize it is not me you attack with words, but rather Jesus himself. In John 15:18-27, Jesus warns the apostles (the MSG translation):

    "If you find the godless world is hating you, remember it got its start hating me. If you lived on the world's terms, the world would love you as one of its own. But since I picked you to live on God's terms and no longer on the world's terms, the world is going to hate you. When that happens, remember this: servants don't get better treatment than their masters. If they beat on me, they will certainly beat on you. If they did what I told them, they will do what you tell them. They are going to do all these things to you because of the way they treated me, because they don't know the One who sent me. If I hadn't come and told them all this in plain language, it wouldn't be so bad. As it is, they have no excuse. Hate me, hate my Father – it's all the same. If I hadn't done what I have done among them, works no one has ever done, they wouldn't be to blame. But they saw the God-signs and hated anyway, both me and my Father. Interesting – they have verified the truth of their own Scriptures where it is written, “They hated me for no good reason.” When the Friend I plan to send you from the Father comes – the Spirit of Truth issuing from the Father – he will confirm everything about me. You, too, from your side must give your confirming evidence, since you are in this with me from the start.”

    I wish you well on your search of the Truth.

  3. Sadly, overtly pathetic liberal trolls (such as anonymous above) seem to go out of their way to express the misery of their helpless godless existence whenever they have any opportunity. For whatever reason, it's appears to be somehow an opportunity to attempt to bring down much better people than they could ever hope, or imagine to be, such as someone like you.Nonetheless, words can't really express how much I enjoyed reading your story and photographs about the Ruby Marshes. I used to frequently fish the marshes and Illiapah Reservoir, Cummins Lake, Basset Lake, and of course Cave Lake on my journey up there. Only to even more enjoy the reverse fishing hole sequence on the way back home to Las Vegas. Those were surely the most tranquil / satisfying days of my younger life. I surely do miss them. Thank you so much for bringing back some of those wonderful joyous memories from my past.Your story really made my day. And really brought back a lot of wonderful memories from my past.Thank you again, and continue to have a blessed life.

  4. I enjoyed reading your posting and the beautiful photos.
    I too have had some memorable fishing trips with Bill Bergan and remember you from that trip to Henderson springs. As I remember you gave me some great tips during my first try a using a float tube.
    I remember one trip with Bill when we were fishing for tuna off Baja. While the rest of us were using the trolling lines Bill was beating the water to submission with his 10 weight.
    All good times and great memories.
    I end with Bill's favorite line, "Rip some lips."

  5. Brad –

    Thank you for the kind words. Nevada really is an awesome state for outdoor life, and 50 years ago it was a very well kept secret. Now, with 2 million living in Clark County it gets more pressure than it did “back in the day.” Your comment about reversing the flow of fishing as you traveled up north and back made me smile…

    As to those who are offended by my bio, I can only say we are not to hate on them, but respond with love. I certainly don’t wish evil upon my anonymous friend, and scripture actually instructs us otherwise (read Romans 12:20 where Paul quotes Proverbs 25:21-22).

    All the best to you.

    – Mark

  6. John –

    Thank you, also, for your comments. That Henderson Springs trip is what revived my fly fishing. It was dormant while raising our 5 boys, and that trip fueled the smoldering fire.

    And yes, Bill can be doggedly focused at times… it was helpful for safety reasons when rock climbing but can be annoying when leisurely fly fishing (just kidding, Bill).

    All the best to you.

    – Mark

  7. Hey FisherDad,

    What a fantastic blog! I am perusing the web and looking at blue lines on the map here in southern Utah and searching for new places to fish. Somehow I found your blog. My name is Kevin. I am one of the guides for Circle Valley Anglers based in Circleville, UT. But, I am from Spring Creek, NV, and your recent blog post stirred up a bunch of nostalgia for my home waters of the Ruby Mountains. I cut my teeth fishing dries to those brookies up Lamoille Canyon . . . it looks like you're well traveled; I'm surprised we haven't run into each other on the water! Anyway, hit me up next time you come to fish Mammoth Creek. It's my personal favorite with fantastic hatches and I'll show you some new (and more productive) spots to fish.

  8. Kevin –

    I really appreciate your comments. I try to write a blog that would interest anglers and outdoorsmen alike, with a little sprinkling of occasional scripture.

    I am familiar with Circle Valley Anglers; I have visited that website and blog often (you may have noticed I have links to both under my “Other Web Sites of Interest”).

    You may have also noticed I have a few blogs on Mammoth Creek. My sentimental favorite is the May 30, 1984 post (https://www.fisherdad.com/1984/05/31/mammoth-creek-southwestern-utah/). I’ve never really explored the full breadth of Mammoth. Next time I’m planning to be on the eastern side of the Tushar Mountains I’ll check-in with you through your Current Seams Fly Fishing website (I’m happy to add that to my websites of interest if you think there’s no conflict with Circle Valley Anglers).

    BTW, if you are looking for new water within “striking” distance of Circleville, try Wayne Kirch WMA, especially Dacey Reservoir (stillwater fishing). See my Wayne Kirch blog posted May 31, 2014 (https://www.fisherdad.com/2014/06/01/so-what-does-a-fishing-photo-shoot-look-like/) or my article in the November/December 2014 edition of Southwest Fly Fishing. Kirch is about 320 miles west of Circleville if you take UT-56 (becomes NV-319) straight across from Cedar City to Caliente, NV and then to Hiko, NV (where NV-318 starts north to Kirch). If you want more directions I’m happy to supply the details.

    Thanks for the comment, and I wish you all the best.

    – Mark

    P.S., No relation to Dave Empey in Mesquite, NV?

  9. Hey Mark,

    I live in Cedar City so let me know the next time you're in the area and maybe we can fish together. Adding our website link to your blog would be much appreciated! Also, I picture my career path following along the lines of yours; I have an accounting background but just finished a masters degree in public administration. My goal is to work for local government in some sort of finance role. So I love that I found your site and that we seem to share many common interests. My fish wagon is even a silver Dodge Dakota crew cab!

    Tight lines and God bless!


  10. Kevin –

    Well, I know several accountants who fly fish. My buddy Bill Bergan was a CPA that ended up in the construction surety business. Chan, another of my blog readers, is/was an accountant working for the Nevada Gaming Commission, and then started a law practice after graduating from Boyd Law School (https://www.fisherdad.com/2012/01/23/santa-clara-river-pine-valley-ut-chans-way/). A few years ago I ran into the CFO for Peccole, a local developer, while fishing one early morning at Cold Creek (https://www.fisherdad.com/2012/03/30/chief-financial-officers-fishing-cold-creek/). Not sure what it is that attracts us; maybe it’s the logical, methodical approach to solving problems, or maybe it’s the presumed order of things… who knows.

    So, when not guiding anglers have you made applications for entry level government jobs (financial analysts, management analysts, etc.)? I would be happy to answer questions, provide guidance, whatever you need (try markvinc@cox.net). I must say that during my first 20 years in the private sector I never imagined going into the public sector… but here I am 17 years later. Despite my early aversion, local government finance has been a good career, and there really is something to the fulfillment that comes from accomplishing goals that impact and service “your community” rather than for a company whose primary business is to make money. Nothing wrong with the latter for without it the economy won’t grow, but "service" can be a rewarding virtue, not to mention a spiritual gift from the Holy Spirit.

    Finally, you didn’t answer my last P.S.; Dave Empey is the Finance Director for the City of Mesquite, but to my knowledge he does not fly fish (smile). No relation?

    God bless.

    – Mark

  11. Hey Mark,

    No, I don't know Dave Empey, although all my roots are in southern Utah, so I bet we're related somewhere down the line. All my Empey relatives that I know of pretty much live in St. George. So when do you think you'll get to go fishing next? June 6 is free fishing day in Utah. I have a guided trip on that day and I'm worried about crowds of people, but that's how it goes sometimes. I've read a lot of your blog posts now and really enjoy what you have going on with the site. Thanks for the good reads!

  12. As always, another great read. It's great what you do, and being from Vegas it helps to have someone like you providing first hand experience. Curious on flies and how you recommend fishing the ditch and boat ramp areas? I am looking to bring my wife and kids up to the area in the next month or so. We all fly fish and look for new area to enjoy. Your blog has convinced me the rubies is the next new place.

  13. Unknown –

    Thanks for your comments. We were using leeches and damsel nymphs. I’ve read of others finding success with midge larva.

    The Ditch is pretty much sight fishing. Parking at the headwater of the finger springs to the north, you can walk around to the east side of the Ditch which provides better attack angles on the Ditch and the finger spring inlets (be careful not to throw shadows over the water). Walking to the south provides miles and miles of spring creek fishing conditions. You can’t miss the cruising trout in the Ditch, but the large ones can be skittish. The water is very clear.

    The lakes are best attacked from float tubes launched from the boat ramps. If you post your email address I’ll send you a custom map I prepared for the trip described in this blog. The Gibson’s at the Ruby Crest Ranch (see hyperlink in the blog post) have a cabin near the Ruby Lakes in Shanty Town. With your family, I highly recommend renting their cabin and getting some good advice from Bill.

    All the best!

    – FisherDad

  14. I just want to say thank you for these storys of your trips, ive come across your blog doing research and scouting to find my next place to fish here in nevada and its been insightful, entertaining, and relaxing. I made a promise to myself to explore more of nevada and fish its resources instead of going to the typical out of state sweet spot and its been the best things ive ever done. I just fished KWA Dacey and caught both my Personal best Trout and bass last weekend and it was motivation from one of your blog entrys and i hope to fish south fork and the rubys this year. Thank you again for this wisdom.

    1. Antonio,

      Thank you for letting me know this blog has been helpful, and especially about your new personal bests from Dacey. Nevada truly has many secrets that are worthy of exploration. You may already know this, but you can use my CATEGORIES look-up on the bottom-right side of my home page. Click on the arrow and you’ll get an alphabetical list of waters and destinations I have posted about. For example, if you have never fished Illipah (off Highway 50 between Ely and Eureka), you could scroll down to Illipah Reservoir under the CATEGORIES, click on it, and the blog would return the nine blog posts that include that body of water. As you read them, pay attention to the year and month of the post so that you get a feel for the water and its seasonal character over the years. If you didn’t know about that blog feature, it can keep you busy exploring for many years.

      All the best to you, and may the Lord bless you and keep you.

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