September 29, 2017

Comins Reservoir, Steptoe Valley Wildlife Management Area

Admiring the Egan Range from the Water Master fishing craft, with Ward
Mountain as it crown jewel. As early as mid-September they received a
dusting of snow, still visible in this photo. Trout Truck on the far
right bank.  
I would like to have written a title that exclaimed “Comins is Back,” but the truth is that while this fishing trip included a significant number of large trout, they were likely excess broodstock from the Gallagher Fish Hatchery in the Ruby Valley.  Additionally, there’s the reality that 5 to 8 inch northern pike were discovered in the reservoir through Nevada Department of Wildlife (NDOW) electrofishing.  If NDOW cannot eradicate the illegally introduced pike through electrofishing, they will undoubtedly grow, spawn, and feed such that the decimation of one of the State’s best trout fisheries will seem likely for the third time since I started fly fishing in 1977.  While that may seem somber news, this Comins fishing trip can still be described as awesome; the “regular” trout stocking program has already begun to produce results that demonstrate this remarkable fishery that has the ability to grow trout by 1 to 2 inches per month. 
First trout of Thursday evening.  I don't believe this came from Gallagher
broodstock, but rather a regular March 2017 stocking of rainbows. She
was close to 17 inches, and very "girthy." 
Comins is about 400 acres in size.  Like most, if not all, of the State’s Wildlife Management Areas it was acquired through the purchase of ranch property, in this case from the 3-C Ranch in 1999.  It’s less than 10 miles southeast of Ely, NV; you might say nestled at the bottom of Steptoe and Cave creeks.  The typical Nevada panorama is evident here.  From the alluvial plane you have the mountain vistas from which the Spaniards gave Nevada its name (Nevada translates to “snow-covered”).  Massive Schell Creek Range rises in the east with Cleve Creek Baldy standing watch at 10,923 feet, and to the southwest the Egan Range and its 10,936 foot Ward Mountain watches over Steptoe Valley.  But for the US Highway 93 traffic, you’d be hard pressed to find a more serene angling destination with world class potential.
It's not often you see rainbows with dark spotting
patterns well into the belly. Another pretty
rainbow of 16 - 17 inches.
I am not a Comins expert.  In fact, this was just my fifth visit.  My prior trips were almost a decade ago when the trout fishery was booming from the 1989 pike eradication (see Ely, NV - Comins & Cave Lakes and Comins Reservoir - Ely, NV bogs).  I believe pike were present then; there certainly were pictures of pike in every restaurant and gas station I did business with.  By the early part of this decade the pike became so prevalent that they devoured all the planted trout.  Once the trout disappeared the pike started eating smaller pike until all that was left was a stunted pike fishery.  The trout anglers stopped fishing the reservoir.  The fishery, and might I say an Ely “micro-economy,” disappeared.
One of three trout that seemed identical in size and
coloring.  Another large male likely from the
broodstock excess. These large trout burrowed
down into the weeds; tippets of 5x or even 4x
strength are highly recommended.
Most of us trout anglers read last spring’s reports that NDOW was restocking Comins after successfully removing the northern pike remnants. I believe they’ve stocked about 15,000 trout since March 2017.   As evidence, my fly angling friend from Santa Barbara, Ron Wilmot, emailed me last July:

I fished Kirch for 10 days in early June then moved to Comins for 4 days. Fishing was amazing!!!!!  On June 10, my 81st birthday, I quit at 3:45 with a sore arm. All rainbows from 15” - 21”. Fished a #14 beadhead P/T about 4’ under an indicator, cast out and twitched it in. The reservoir has returned to its original fishery after the eradication of the pike. Fished the weed beds on the west side way down by the last bathroom. No one but me and a guy from Long Beach, Ca. GO!
Here is the bulrush section on the northwestern edge of the reservoir.
Both Ron and I heartily recommend this area.
So, I’ve been waiting for the cool fall weather to try Comins myself, and my experience mirrored exactly what Ron wrote.
A 20-inch rainbow that obviously was from the Gallagher Fish Hatchery
broodstock. A male rainbow trout showing some "mileage" on him,
taken late Thursday afternoon. 
I had a business meeting Thursday morning, so I didn’t get on the road until noon.  There was reconstruction work on US Highway 6, so I didn’t arrive at the reservoir until 4:30 pm.  The temperature was in the low sixties; very comfortable.  I fished from 5:00 pm to 7:00 pm, landing ten beautifully colored trout (as I’ve written before, these appear to be what the hatcheries refer to as Tasmanian rainbow trout – for more detail on Tasmanian trout read Comins Reservoir - Ely, NV – originating from the southern hemisphere where their solar cycle causes them to be fall rather than spring spawners).  Five of them were in the 17 to 20 inch range.  Although aware of Comins’ prodigious growth rates, I did not believe these could have been from the March stocking of 9-inch trout.  In fact, several looked a little old to me.
Note how this one, also caught Thursday night, is almost identical to the
trout three photos above. It is not he same trout based on the spot
pattern on the gill plate. There was yet another very similar. They all
were really healthy trout.
Remarkably I was the only angler on the reservoir.  But as I was getting out of the water I noted a truck towing a boat to the launching area.  I saw what I thought was an NDOW emblem on the truck, so I decided to drive over and see what was going on.  I chatted with a NDOW warden (or maybe a fisheries biologist; I didn’t ask him) about the fishery.  I told him that my two hours were better than I ever expected, but then I asked about the size of the trout.  He admitted that Gallagher had some excess broodstock, and they decided to salt Comins with a bunch of them to quickly spike fishermen’s interest.  Well, I told him it got my attention.  He also confirmed that they had seen evidence of pike in the fishery, and that they were looking for more in that evening’s electrofishing procedure.  He instructed me to kill any pike I caught and to drop off their carcasses at the Ely office of NDOW so that they could examine the evidence.
Last trout Thursday evening.  Reminiscent of last trout I caught on
October 27, 2005.
Friday I awoke at 6:00 am to a 37 degree temperature.  After breakfast at the Silver State Cafe, I launched the Water Master on Comins by 7:00 am.  I had taken Ron’s advice to fish the bulrush on the northwestern end of the reservoir where trucks zoom by on US Highway 93.  By noon I was simply exhausted after landing 15 more trout, over half of them ranging from 17 to 21 inches.  This time I did note a few stale eggs dropped on my apron which validated their Tasmanian heredity.
Another long Comins rainbow that fought like a hog. Note my fingerless
glove necessary for me to start a day with a temperature of 37 degrees.
Hooked on the outside of the jaw with a bead-headed olive woolly
bugger that had tinsel is its tail.
After excluding all the trout landed over 17 inches, on the premise they were excess Gallagher broodstock and not the normal 9-inch planters, I noticed an interesting pattern: half of those 10 trout were in the 14-17 inch range.  That’s what I would expect from a normal Comins stocking back in March.  If those trout can hold over through the winter, many could be young 20-inchers by late spring.  To me, that’s a great indication of the Comins trout prognosis.
Practically every trout filled my Fishpond Nomad, mid-length landing
net.  Its 37 inch length is perfect for tube and pontoon floating. The 13
inch wide by 18 inch long mouth is plenty big for even the largest trout. 
Another beautiful 16 inch trout I suspect was a normal stocked rainbow
back in March 2017.
I made the below chart as a way to measure what I believe is the distinction between the normal 9-inch stocking program and the excess Gallagher broodstock.  It recaps the results of my two-day, seven-hour fishing experience.  I believe it does validate the remarkable growth rate in Comins, and foretells the success that Comins could experience.  The athleticism of trout that spend a few seasons growing in the Comins fishery will far outclass that of the broodstock.  By the way, I lost about 5 or 6 trout due to hook pull-outs despite the 5 - 6 lbs tippets, and I also caught 8 - 10 baby black bass with the largest being about 9 inches.  As usual, all fish were released to grow larger and allow other anglers to experience.
Excluding what I believe to be the Gallagher broodstock at 17 inches or
larger, of the remaining 10 trout, 5 were in the 14 - 17 inch range. That
is still an impressive growth rate of  5 - 8 inches in just 5 months.  By
next spring the trout in that band could easily be 18 to 22 inches. 
Early Friday morning photo.  It's hard to see, but there was a mist or fog
blowing off the water from right to left in the photo. It's barely visible
against the far bank on the right side of the picture.
Yes, large trout have large teeth.  Getting a little bloody is part of
the deal.
I must say that while the re-introduction of the pike is disappointing news, perhaps NDOW will be able to manage their population such that the trout fishery can return to its lofty status of years past.  And I believe that a highly productive Comins trout and bass fishery will do more for the Ely economy than a northern pike fishery.  So, next spring, as Ron simply advises, “GO!
Last trout landed, just in front of the beach where the Trout Truck was
parked.  I lost a Whitlock damsel nymph and the bead-headed olive
woolly bugger to the weeds when two large trout burrowed into them.
I switched to this olive woolly bugger with a red head.  This trout was
over 20 inches, very close to 21 inches.
Up close and personal with a Tasmanian rainbow trout.
Bringing a trout to the Water Master Grizzly; I am very pleased with
the Water Master so far. 
Last view of the Comins Reservoir expanse before the long drive home.