Brotherly Assault on Comins Reservoir & Ruby Marshes

Looking across the lower Ruby Valley from White Pine County Road #3, about 6 or 7 miles north of the 7,070 foot Hobson Pass. The pass abuts the Bald Mountain Gold Mine, an open-pit, run-of-mine, heap leach gold mine, owned and operated by Kinross Gold Corporation. I did not include any photos of the mine, but it is an eyesore which threatens to encroach upon Bureau of Land Management land even closer to the Ruby Lakes National Wildlife Refuge. It obviously provides good jobs and tax revenue for White Pine County. Still, we might ask when is enough, enough? The snowcapped mountains in this photo are the central Ruby Mountains, with the East Humboldt Mountains peaking over the ridge on the far right.

When is enough, enough? How many fish does it take before you lose interest in fishing? Okay, I admit that saturation is unlikely for die hard anglers, but can your most successful day fishing (measured by count, and perhaps quality) wipe the memory of fishless trips off the board? As a long-time trout angler, I can say for me the successful trips are long remembered, and the “skunkings” are quickly forgotten. And I am grateful for that.

Although this comparison might be irreverent, in a way it is an analogy for the grace of God that forgives and forgets our sins (read Jeremiah 31:34 and Psalm 103:12).  

On Comins Reservoir looking west towards the northern end of the Egan Mountain Range. The most prominent snowcapped peak in the center (above the truck driving to the right above the reservoir) is 10,803 foot North Ward Mountain (10,936 foot Ward Mountain is just off the left of the photo).

After seven years, my brother Bruce and I reunited for a northern Nevada trout adventure. Our last angling quest in April 2014 for the salmonid “Oncorhynchus mykiss” (commonly known as the rainbow trout) produced some remarkable experiences. I was ecstatic that Dacey Reservoir, which I first fished the previous September, offered up numerous 19-inch rainbows to fill Bruce’s net of memories (see Brotherly Love on Dacey Reservoir). I was also thankful that my son, Doug, was able to join us on part of that trip.

Bruce surveying the afternoon clouds forming over the Egan Mountains before launching into Comins Reservoir on Tuesday. He christened his kayak “Trout Seeker,” as you might make out the red letters to say.

Our success that April on Dacey Reservoir set a high standard for future explorations with Bruce. Although the possibility of a skunking is always lurking, I have learned that inspiring settings can be a salve for the frustration of fishless days. Thus it was that I suggested to my brother we make Ely, NV our “motel base camp” from which we could explore the waters of Comins Reservoir, Cave Lake, Illipah Reservoir, and the Ruby Marshes (aka, Ruby Lakes). It turned out that fishing Comins Reservoir was so remarkable we devoted one and one-half days to Comins, and left our final day for the Ruby Marshes, which turned out equally fruitful. We never got around to angling Cave Lake or Illipah.

The kayak glides over Comins’ open water as Bruce pursues trout.

Tuesday afternoon was somewhat breezy, and as is common the nearby mountains of Schell Creek to the east and Egan to the west produced some intriguing clouds that also shaded us from the afternoon sun. Comins is at 6,550 feet of elevation, while the mountain ranges it nestles between stand close to 11,000 feet. Generally, cloudy days foster more bug hatches and encourage the trout to feed more consistently throughout the day, so we welcomed them.

Releasing a colorful rainbow trout of about 14 inches, caught right next to the access area we used to launch our watercraft. (Photo by Bruce Vincent.)

Although next to U.S. Highways 6, 50, and 93 (the three merge into one highway for 27-miles east of Ely), the setting is still natural enough to be declared peaceful and inspiring. There were a few anglers fishing around us, but almost all were fishing from the shoreline which left the entire northern section to Bruce in his kayak and me in my oared float tube. The slang “we killed it” seems an appropriate substitute for “awesome” in describing the fishing. To clear up any misconception with the slang, all were released despite Bruce promising his wife Alexi he would bring home a brace of trout for dinner.

One of the “almost” 18-inchers lifted from Comins, this one requiring two hands. (Photo by Bruce Vincent.)

Often non-anglers ask, “How many did you catch,” while other anglers inquire with the more general, “How did you do?” The latter allows for the quality of the fish size and performance to overshadow the actual number of fish landed. To be prepared for the non-angler questioning, I have a propensity to count the fish I hook and land. To some this might be considered a character defect, but as a blogger I prefer to think of it as requirement for accurate reporting… at least that is what I tell myself.

While fishing Illipah Reservoir in 2004 I had to seek help from a Fallon, NV cantaloupe farmer. I had parked too close to the bank and my 4×2 axel could not get traction, so I needed a pull to get out. In talking with the farmer and his wife I learned that he built a pond on his farm so his wife could practice her fly fishing, which she was doing pretty well with based on my Illipah observations (see this blogpost for the full story: Illipah Reservoir, White Pine County). I mention this encounter only because, coincidentally, the two brothers shore fishing next to my Fish Taco in this photo were also from Fallon, NV. When I asked if they were cantaloupe farmers, they told me their dad was but had since left the farming business. I described my 2004 encounter with the farmer and his wife, and they recognized the couple as their mom and dad… another personal confirmation of the “six degrees of separation” theory.

In that day-and-a-half on Comins, Bruce and I combined for about 65 trout landed (with another 30-plus trout hooked but lost in the fight). All the trout from Comins were at least 13 inches, and a good number were in the 16 to 18-inch range. We were busy “Trout Seekers,” as Bruce’s kayak was so christened. I was casting my 7-weight, 9-foot rod with a full-sink line, and I believe Bruce used several different lines. We were throwing a variety of nymphs, buggers, and streamers, but I found a dark leach pattern fooled a lot of my trout.

This is a trout we suspect was attacked by a Black-Crowned Night-Heron; this photo reveals one of two gashes found on this trout.

Having Bruce with me adds another dimension to my outdoor experience. Bruce is an avid “birder” who is involved with three citizen science projects with Cornell Lab of Ornithology. While I can appreciate the variety of birds that trout waters attract, Bruce adds great depth to the experience with his ability to identify them and their ornithological profile. For example, there was a pair of Black-Crowned Night-Herons (so identified by Bruce), and he observed that one dove into the water hunting for a fish (usually herons are thought to be shoreline stalkers, not divers). A 13-inch trout captured in my net revealed some significant wounds, which we suspect one of the Night Herons might have inflicted. Bruce also pointed out a pair of Common Loons on the lake, making note of their long and low profile while swimming in the middle of the reservoir. Quizzically, the normal habitat of these loons is far north of White Pine County, NV.

Three of four wild horses trotting off in the sparse Long Valley nestled between the Alligator Ridge to the west (this view) and the Butte Mountains to the east. (Photo by Bruce Vincent.)
This wild horse arose from its bed in the sage and stayed behind to pose for a photo. (Photo by Bruce Vincent.)

If you have an interest in birds, or flora and fauna in general, you should check out Bruce’s website at Ojai Naturalist. Better yet, if you are ever in the Southern California area and want to learn about the flora, fauna, and indigenous people of the coastal mountains east of Santa Barbara and north of Ventura, you can use his website to book a nature walk.

The “Trout Seeker” readying his landing net for a Ruby Marsh rainbow.
Similarly, “FisherDad” readies his net for a trout battling for freedom. (Photo by Bruce Vincent.)

Thursday, we ventured into the Ruby Valley, home of the Ruby Lakes National Wildlife Refuge. I am ever thankful for its remoteness, otherwise it would be run over by the masses. I suppose that will happen eventually, but for now a weekday trip rarely encounters other anglers. Such was the case on this day. While we did see travelers along White Pine County Road #3 (which is simply Ruby Valley Road 767 in Elko County), only a few drove down the graded road to the Main Boat Launch. They seemed to be sightseeing travelers interested in a bathroom break at the pit toilets. Meanwhile, Bruce and I continued to hook and land another 15 trout (probably as many were hooked and lost), adding to the 65 landed from Comins. In this case, due to the 4-hour round trip from Ely, we limited our marsh fishing time from the Main Boat Launch to four or five hours. To me, these trout seemed a little darker into their spawning colors than the Comins’ trout, and they were equally stalwart. These marsh trout ranged from 11-inches to 18 inches, and seemed plumper, perhaps closer to the spawn.

Here is an example of the quality trout found in the Ruby Marshes. Notice the thickness of its body and the rich, deep color from dorsal to pelvic fins. Not only was it a beautiful rainbow trout specimen, it fought like a pit bull with fearsome head shakes. (Photo by Bruce Vincent.)

Mid-afternoon we drove up to the finger springs of the Ruby Marsh Ditch. I was hoping Bruce could sight-fish some of the large trout known to inhabit the Ditch. Unfortunately, we were both physically exhausted from the week’s activity. To be honest, it was I who was not up for the long walk along the spring-creek-like water. Although we did not put much effort into it, we did not locate any large cruising trout. I think we finally reached our saturation point.

The Ditch that collects and serves spring water into the Ruby Marshes also functions as a spring creek. It can be technically difficult fly angling, but the rewards can be surprising (e.g., the banner photo on the top of my blog page). Bruce is giving the Ditch a try in this photo, but he might have been reaching his saturation point as well.

My alternate aim, other than the obvious catching of trout, was that the long county dirt road into the Ruby Valley would produce plenty of wildlife sightings. I was not disappointed. There were four or so sightings of Pronghorn Antelope, including two solitary bucks with nice sets of horns, right next to the road in the pigmy forest of pinon and juniper. We came across a herd of four wild horses, three of which galloped off into the sage flats of Long Valley while the fourth, bedded down on the other side of White Pine Co. Rd. #3, decided to hold his pose while Bruce fumbled to get his camera ready. Which reminds me, did I mention Bruce is an accomplished professional photographer? My photos look pathetic next to his (many of this post’s photos are accredited to him).

This photo looks south from the Bressman Cabin location, following the Ruby Ditch. The Maverick Springs Range and Tognini Mountains appear to the southwest in this photo. The cabin was built in 1880 by homesteader Jacob Bressman, his daughter Deby and her husband, Lew Benson. After selling their freight hauling business that served the mining camps in Eureka County, the family settled in this Ruby Valley site to raise cattle. The cabin site, with the Ruby Ditch sauntering by, commemorates the strength and endurance of the thousands of men and women of who came west to build a better life for themselves and their families, likely at the expense of the indigenous Western Shoshone people. (Photo by Bruce Vincent.)
We saw a few herds of pronghorn antelope populated by does, as well as two sightings of solitary bucks with nice sets of horns. The herd of does in this photo crossed the Long Valley Road and stopped to strike a pose with the southern end of the Ruby Mountains off in the far distance. The tallest ridge on the left includes 10,320 ft. Sherman Mountain and the prominent peak on the right is an unnamed 10,160 ft. peak, which I think obscures the 10,576 ft. Cass House peak about 2 miles behind it. All of the mountains in this photo are south of Harrison Pass summit, which means the remaining 50 miles of the combined Ruby and Humboldt ranges are off the photo to the right. All in, these mountains are about 75 miles north-to-south and about 14 miles east-to-west at their widest point (a slice that would include the Ruby Dome). They are not the Sierras, but they are rightly described as the Alps of Nevada. (Photo by Bruce Vincent.)

We also jumped a badger and a coyote across the WPC #3, but they were too shy to wait for us to become camera ready. Still, just seeing wildlife seems to put hope in your soul. It reminds us that the Lord’s creation is alive and well in these remote, natural areas.

Adding to Bruce’s many other talents, his woodcarving is well recognized in the Ojai Valley and in several galleries across the nation. His White Alder Walker sticks are unique works of art that were once shown in a Smithsonian exhibit. An exhibit executive purchased one of Bruce’s sticks with a bear at the head to commemorate a camping trip with his son which included a black bear visit. Bruce often carved eagles, bears, bighorn sheep, and mountain lions on the top, while using the lower, thicker branches as the forms from which he created leaping trout. Owls carved into the knots of branches, as if they were peering from a tree hole, were another favorite of mine. Bruce is self-taught in many artful crafts, including woodworking, where he built heirloom table furniture as another vehicle to display his wildlife carvings. We both believe the artistic and creative talent flowing through our family was passed down from our father, Raymond Joseph Vincent.

White Alder Walking cane with mountain lion on top and splashing trout carved from the inverted lower limbs of the alder tree.
The mountain lion head, snarling with its ears laid back.
The brown trout carved from the lower limb of the inverted white alder.
Similar to the brown trout, here is the rainbow trout.

Our father died young when I was just three and Bruce was approaching ten years old. In my youth from ten to fourteen years, Bruce introduced me to the world of sports. He started with weightlifting and solicited a high school friend to help me with my 6th grade batting skills. In 7th grade he taught me how to throw the shot put. He coached me into earning a bronze medal for my age group in a local Amateur Athletic Union Junior Olympic track meet in Las Vegas. When I was old enough to play Pop Warner Football, Bruce was at my side instructing me on the positions of offensive tackle and defensive linebacker, both positions for which I started on my 1969 team which went on to win the local Pop Warmer championship. No doubt that I entered high school in 1970 with the physical confidence of a young athlete. And although I refocused myself on scholastics and student government in high school, that athletic confidence continued to emanate from me (confidence can be a great equalizer in certain situations). I share this only to emphasize how important Bruce was to my early adolescent development after the death of our father and the family’s relocation from New England to the Mojave Desert. Every fatherless boy needs to have a good and hopefully Godly male mentor, and my brothers Bruce and Neal filled that void for me. Bruce and I agreed that our father’s early death was a tragedy, most especially for our mother, but that our lives would be drastically different had we not moved out west. For me in particular, I would not have married my wife of 41 years, and my six children and four grandchildren would not have been born in our family, and that would have been a bigger tragedy for me.

Scripture says that the Lord can turn bad things, like the death of our dad, into good things. Is it too obvious to point out that Jesus’ death on the cross, the most celebrated injustice, was for our salvation as planned by the Lord from the very beginning? And so in our own death, those who believe and know Jesus are reunited with Him in heaven. In Romans 8:28 Paul writes, “And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.” For those of you suffering in any way, may these verses give you hope and understanding:

As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good in order to bring about this present result, to preserve many people alive.

Joseph survives abandonment by his brothers only to save them and others from famine, Genesis 50:20

For it is God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure.

Paul writing to the early church in Phillipi, Phillipians 2:13

Always giving thanks for all things in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ to God, even the Father.

Paul writing to the early church in Ephesus, Ephesians 5:20

One of my favorite verses is Jeremiah 29:11 which states, “For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the LORD, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.’” Indeed, good can come from all situations, but for those who turn away from Jesus, the promises of the Lord are dire:

And to the man He said, “Behold, the fear of the Lord, that is wisdom; and to depart from evil is understanding.”

Job’s story of Satan taking everything from him except his love of the Lord, for which he was ultimately rewarded, Job 28:28

For it would be better for them not to have known the way of righteousness, than having known it, to turn away from the holy commandment handed on to them.

Peter’s warning to early Christians, 2 Peter 2:21

Rejoice, young man, during your childhood, and let your heart be pleasant during the days of young manhood. And follow the impulses of your heart and the desires of your eyes. Yet know that God will bring you to judgment for all these things.

Solomon’s exploration of the meaning of life, Ecclesiastes 11:9

It is a terrifying thing to fall into the hands of the living God.

The Hebrew writer describes how Jesus connects us from this life to the next, Hebrews 10:31

I will make an everlasting covenant with them that I will not turn away from them, to do them good; and I will put the fear of Me in their hearts so that they will not turn away from Me.

Jeremiah writes how God is willing to forgive and restore, Jeremiah 32:40

For those who are according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who are according to the Spirit, the things of the Spirit.

Paul tells the early church in Rome to let their hearts and minds be ruled by the Holy Spirit, Romans 8:5

Beloved, do not imitate what is evil, but what is good. The one who does good is or God; the one who does evil has not seen God.

John’s letter to Gaius about being faithful to the truth, in contrast to Diotrephes, 3 John 1:11

The eyes of the Lord are in every place, watching the evil and the good.

Solomon’s wise words of advice, Proverbs 15:3

Act as free men, and do not use your freedom as a covering for evil, but use it as bondslaves of God.

Peter’s advice to yield to human authority without disobeying God, which we should expect will result in our eventual persecution, 1 Peter 2:16

For those thinking of visiting Ely, I can say it has attractions other than its proximity to the fishable waters of Comins Reservoir, Cave Lake, and Illipah Reservoirs (like the Northern Railway Museum and White Pine County Museum). The Great Basin National Park and its iconic Lehman Caves is but a two-hour round trip from Ely. There is an assortment of lodging and eating establishments in Ely, which is fueled by the four U.S. highways converging upon it. For this trip we stayed at the Ramada by Wyndham which was clean and comfortable. We enjoyed fine Mexican food, and Modelo’s Cervasa Negra, at the La Fiesta (right next door to the Ramada Annex). We also discovered a “local” restaurant kitty-corner across from the historic Nevada Hotel called Mr. Gino’s Restaurant & Bar. I highly recommend Gino’s for dinner, and it is open until 9:30pm which accommodates angling past sunset.

FisherDad and his brother Bruce planning the week’s adventure into northern Nevada.

10 thoughts on “Brotherly Assault on Comins Reservoir & Ruby Marshes”

  1. WOW! What a great trip, glad you guys found some fish and most of all time together in a special part of the world….

  2. I may not know fishing diction but I love your telling of your relationship/guidance/appreciation of your brothers after moving West. I missed you very much, am still amazed at the influence your father has had on you, and how he and Mom must be pleased to see your enjoyment together. Memories are vivid and never forgotten. Love to you all.

    1. Gail, I’m so grateful for your comments. You are a treasure to the Bergeron family. There is no doubt I would have benefited from the love you pour into the lives of your family and friends had our family remained in New Hampshire. But the Lord had different plans, and so we share our life stories as best we can from thousands of miles apart. Be proud that you are my first FisherDad commenter to refer to my fly angling stories as “fishing diction.” I smiled to myself knowing that you are forever the teacher. Much love from the west coast.

  3. This is a wonderful story of one of the most amazing days that I have ever witnessed as a fisherman. I watched my brother land 40 fish from 13 to 18 inches in one day! I thought I did well by landing 7 fish and losing about an equal amount, we were using de-barbed hooks. Every time that I turned to look at Mark he was landing another trout! I know that these are his home waters and he has fished these waters for 30+ years but I was schooled that day! Thanks to my brother Mark for another incredible fishing experience! I look forward to the next trip!

    1. Bruce, I appreciate how these adventures we share become a means to reconnect our lives, especially in these longer years. Looking back, I think I carried some awe when in the presence of my older brothers, and that seemed to hold me back from thanking you for being there for me in the fragile years of my early youth. Our father’s outdoorsman legacy is just one simple thing of many that he bestowed upon us, and I often feel his presence with us on these common quests in nature. Love you brother!

  4. Wow. What a great trip and story.

    Don’t worry Bruce, I had the same experience fishing with Mark. He knows what he is doing on the water, for sure. I believe the day I was up there with Mark, he caught probably over a dozen to my 1 or 2 trout at Comins.

    Mark, I think I have finally got the okay to do some fly fishing if you’re available. Hopefully I’ll get another chance to learn from you.

    Chan

    1. Well there you are Chan, transposing fish count with quality. As I recall that Comins trip everything you brought to net was at least 19 inches… LOL.

      I have another overnighter planned for next week with my son and grandson, and then my wings will be clipped for a while. I will call you in a few weeks to make plans.

      All my best to the family.

      – Mark

  5. Brother Mark,

    Thank you for yet another informative, touching, and inspiring blog. Your writing style and author’s voice bring your readers such joy and encouragement. I was moved by your brother’s role in guiding and shaping the man you are today. And by the way, Bruce looks a lot like the handsome actor, Sam Elliot.

    Most of all, I was moved by your sharing the Lord’s love for us. I always appreciate your expressed gratitude to the Father of Lights for all the good things you experience in this lifetime.

    May the Lord continue to give you the desires of your heart in the days ahead. You make a difference in the lives of your readers.

    1. Oh great Randy, you think Bruce resembles the stately Sam Elliot, while others say I look like the diminutive Anthony Fauci (while wearing a COVID mask) or the even shorter Richard Dreyfuss. Can’t wait for Bruce to read this one.

      All kidding aside, your comments always edify me and encourage me. The best I can say to you is the Lord’s instructions to Moses and Aaron on how to bless the Israelites:

      “The Lord bless you and keep you; the Lord make his face shine on you and be gracious to you; the Lord turn his face toward you and give you peace.”

      Stay strong, my Brother!

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