Some of you know that a medical recovery period can cause you to reflect on your life events. If you were disabled by an accident or medical event, long periods of inactivity bring forward memories of past family events. The good ones can bring a smile to your face, warm your heart, or make you laugh aloud. The bad ones can bring a tear to your eye and make you wish you had handled it better. If you have cherished hobbies, like fly angling, you conjure up your past adventures and wonder how future ones will be achieved. Pondering your ability to fully participate in future events usually fosters self-pity.
Eventually you stop worrying about the past and the future, and you learn to live in the present. For those of us who read the Word, we know it contains many verses stating that worry is evidence we do not fully trust in Jesus; there are things in our life we want to control ourselves. Here is but one example:
There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.1 John 4:18
I am trying to live in the present, being thankful for all the Lord has provided, and will continue to provide, to my family and myself. But since I have been thinking about past adventures that might interest readers, I want to share an angling exploratory trip, from 22 years ago, where the mission was focused on evaluating waters that had captured my interest, a trip that was an angling turning point for me.
I first used Cave Lake State Park (i.e., Ely, NV) as a base camp for fishing explorations in June 2000. A few things happened that year which reignited my angling flame. I owned a Toyota Hi-Lux 4×4 pickup truck from 1979 through 1998, and although it took me on many fishing and camping trips in the 1980s, it did not see much long-trip action in the 1990s. It was not an extended cab, and the bench seat only accommodated two persons. As it aged, I limited its use to local excursions into the nearby Spring and Sheep Mountains to facilitate hikes. I replaced that old goat with a 2000 Dodge Dakota quad-cab pickup truck to better facilitate new expeditions with my sons. Coincidently, by 2000 some of my sons were getting older and more interested in long-range camping trips.
But there were other stirrings from unexpected sources like Las Vegas City Manager, Larry Barton. Larry had a 30-year career in the U.S. Air Force. He was a fighter pilot who eventually raised to the rank of Colonel and became Vice Commander of the Nelis Air Force Base Tactical Weapons Center. He retired from the USAF and became Las Vegas City Manager in 1994. By the time I was hired as Finance Director for the city in February 1998, Larry had already announced his June 1998 retirement.
Although I had a limited five-month overlap with Larry, I sat through many meetings with him and other city directors. I learned to like him despite his militaristic approach to running the city. Command and control was his style, and I chuckled when my friend and Director of Information Technology shared a story about Larry’s request for technology systems that would allow him such command and control as he experienced in flying fighter jets; one hand on the flight systems and the other on the weapon systems. But I also learned that Larry earned a bachelor of Science in Accounting from the University of Missouri (how could I not appreciate that degree) and that he was an avid fly angler. The latter was highly significant to me.
Larry often spoke about his favorite Nevada water, Illipah Reservoir. I had not heard of Illipah, but my research found it was off U.S. Highway 50 between the rural cities of Ely and Eureka. Then I noticed it was just 70 miles south of the Ruby Lake National Wildlife Refuge (a.k.a. Ruby Marshes). While I had backpacked the Ruby Mountains from Lamoille Canyon in 1979, I had never seen the Ruby Marshes. I did read an article by Michael Fong, editor of The Inside Angler newsletter (probably from the early 1990s) which seemed to focus on the infamous “Ditch” that collects Ruby Mountain spring water and delivers it to the marshes that lie 10 miles to the south. On top of that, my brother Neal had often spoke of his desire to fish the Ruby Marshes and their headwaters’ Ditch. The reports were that trophy trout and bass were common to those waters, although it seemed to be quietly passed along and not often published in federal or state publications (the Ruby Lake National Wildlife Refuge is federally controlled, and if you read their media publications you will observe they downplay the fishing, presumably because they might believe high angler traffic discourages the waterfowl migrations and nesting).
The notion of using Cave Lake State Park east of Ely as a base camp for sorties to Illipah and Ruby Marshes began fermenting in my brain. Additional research located another small reservoir I had never heard about: Silver Creek Reservoir. Silver Creek is located west of White Pine County Road 41 which slants off US Highway 50 to the north. Its headwaters originate on the south flank of 12,050-foot Mount Moriah, which the 13,063-foot Wheeler Peak overshadows from just 10 miles or so to the south in Great Basin National Park. Perhaps fishing this newfound reservoir could be accompanied by a quick visit to the National Park, which might include a tour of the Lehman Caves. Silver Creek is about 60 miles east of Cave Lake, almost on the Utah border. More fermenting…
As the Ruby Marshes, Illipah Reservoir, Silver Creek Reservoir, and even Cave Lake flowed around my head, it seemed like a lot of driving to scout new water. I should have heeded that thought. Nevertheless, I invited my sons Douglas and Thomas to come with me. They were ages 15 and 12 at the time, and I hoped the hypnotic rural highways of Nevada would not drive them crazy, so to speak.
As a post-mortem, we put over 800 miles on the Dakota over four days. It was almost too much for me. Even worse, the constant travel between the waters never allowed me to gain a feel for the fishing. At best I got the lay of the land and made mental notes for future trips.
We did fish Cave Lake since we were camped there, but I have no recollection of our results which likely means it was uneventful. From the boys’ perspective, the Silver Creek Reservoir had to be their favorite of the trip. Although it was one of the ugliest reservoirs I have ever visited, Silver Creek was obviously stocked with rainbows right before our arrival. The boys were wearing tennis shoes, and we were fishing from the flume of muddy beach soil created by the spring floods that plowed down the inlet. They were both hooking trout on every other cast, so it did not seem proper to protest the smelly mud on their every-day tennis shoes. It was something I had never seen before or sense. They were using spinning rods with nymph flies, and a few split-shot weights above the fly for casting purposes. It was so fun that we returned to the reservoir a second day, but not before buying each a pair of rubber boots from the Sportsworld store in Ely. Another attraction of Silver Creek was that we had the whole reservoir to ourselves, both days.
Another day was used to explore Illipah Reservoir, although the boys were not interested in fishing (nothing could approach the excitement they had on Silver Creek). By this time of year there were some weeds in the shallow areas, but open water beyond. I had not adopted float-tubing yet, and so with my fly rod in hand we walked around the reservoir until I eventually found a steep drop-off mostly devoid of weed growth. After a few casts I brought a nice twelve-inch rainbow to my hand. I was more interested in driving the 70 miles north to the Ruby Marshes, and I had seen enough of Illipah to know I would fish it more earnestly in the future. In November 2003 I was introduced to float tubes for fishing bodies of still water at Henderson Springs. The following spring of 2004, I purchased my first Fish Cat float tube and spent two lovely days angling on Illipah Reservoir. Anyway, after landing the healthy rainbow, we climbed back into the Dakota and proceeded north on White Pine County Road 3.
The sight of the marshes flanked by the eastern slopes of the Ruby Mountains was even more stunning than I anticipated from photos I had seen. When we reached the Gallagher Fish Hatchery, we parked the Dakota and stretched our legs by walking through the facility. Afterwards we proceeded up the Ruby Valley Road to the old, decommissioned hatchery near the historic Bressman Cabin. I discovered a rainbow feeding near a cement culvert while exploring around the old hatchery. I tried drifting a nymph down the current and through the culvert and into the feeding trout’s mouth. On the second try it took the fly and trashed the water pretty good (I guessed it was 17 to 18 inches, and thick). You savvy anglers would recognize that hooking a trout from an “upstream” position usually requires you to patiently set the hook lest you pull it straight out the fish’s mouth. In this case I did not pull it straight out, but I failed to get enough of its mouth that the fly pulled out within 20 seconds or so. I got over the loss quicker than I thought I would.
After the excitement at the Bressman Cabin we completed our Ruby Marshes tour by vising the finger springs that feed the marshes via The Ditch. Watching the cold, clear water pushing up through the spring holes was fascinating to me. Their consistent temperature is why the upper section of the Ditch is fishable in the winter, assuming you have the right vehicle to traverse the snow surrounding it. One amazing discovery was a dead rainbow trout of maybe 24 inches lying near the bank of a spring hole. That dead fish stirred some fright, causing me to silently ask myself, “How the hell would I land a fish that size even if I could fool it into getting stuck by a fly?” Fortunately for me, I did just that in 2015, as evidenced by the trout on the banner at the top of my blog, and in my May 1, 2015 blogpost.
Larry Barton passed away in January 2007. I was never able to thank him for his tip about Illipah Reservoir. I cannot help but think of Larry every time I visit Illipah, and the contribution it made towards this first exploratory visit to the Ruby Marshes.
Las Vegas Council Member Steve Ross recently passed away this September 2022. Steve served three terms (12 years), and he was instrumental in the planning and development of the Centennial Hills area in the northwest valley where I live. Steve also enjoyed the outdoors. He followed this blog, often posting comments of appreciation and encouragement for me. I had hoped one day we could travel together for some quality fishing around the Ruby Mountains, but he passed away at the young age of 59 before any plans were laid out. In my book he was a Godly man who loved his wife and family, and who was a public servant of integrity.