pyramid lake - lahontan cutthroat trout

Lahontan Cutthroat Trout: Memories of an Ancient Lake

Any angler who is familiar with ancient Lake Lahontan in Nevada will have heard about The Lahontan Cutthroat Trout. The Lahontan Cutthroat is native to all of the small rivers in the Great Basin of North America. These rivers once fed ancient Lake Lahontan during the Ice Ages. At it’s peak, ancient Lake Lahontan covered over 8,000 square miles of land. All that is left of ancient Lake Lahontan today are smaller lakes such as Pyramid Lake, Walker Lake and Lake Tahoe.


The Lahontan Cutthroat Trout is the biggest of all the species of Cutthroat Trout. They are native to ancient Lake Lahontan in Nevada and the surrounding areas. Ancient Lake Lahontan was formed as the Great Basin was flooded during the last few glaciation periods of evidence. Several rivers fed into the ancient lake.

  • The Carson River
  • The Humboldt River
  • The Quinn River
  • The Truckee River
  • The Walker River

ancient lake lahontan - cutthroat trout

It was in these rivers and the subsequent ancient Lake Lahontan where these massive trout and their closest relatives lived and thrived.

As ancient Lake Lahontan shrank, smaller lakes formed including:

  • Pyramid Lake
  • Summit Lake
  • Walker lake

pyramid lake nevada - ladders

Pyramid Lake was the main habitat for the LCT and is of great importance to the Paiute Tribe. The Paiute Tribe are Native Americans who have been settled in the area of ancient Lake Lahontan for more than 10,000 years. They have always relied on the LCT as a major food source until the disappearance of the fish.


The 19th and the 20th centuries were devastating for the Lahontan Cutthroat Trout. As the biggest fish of the area, these giant trout were caught in large numbers and then transported to towns and mining companies all over the western US.

Industrialization also took its toll on the Lahontan Cutthroat Trout. Dams were erected all around the lakes in Nevada and blocked the Lahontan Cutthroat Trout’s spawning runs. It was believed that by the year 1943 the population of Lahontan Cutthroat Trout was extinct.


lahontan cutthroat trout - revival

Luckily this was not the end of the Lahontan Cutthroat Trout. The following events have led to the Lahontan Cutthroat Trout being able to return to its native habitat in Pyramid Lake:

  • 1975 Discovery of surviving Cutthroat Trout in a mountain creek, Utah.
  • 1976 – present U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service work to bring Lahontan Cutthroat Trout back to Truckee River and Pyramid Lake
  • April 2014 Discovery of giant Trout nests by Paiute brothers on the reservation

These events have led to the survival and the continued conservation to keep Pyramid Lake stocked with Lahontan Cutthroat Trout.


pyramid lake nevada

The hard work and dedication of conservationists has allowed for people to fish for the prized LCT and Pyramid Lake has become a world class fishery. An average trout at Pyramid Lake is between 4 and 7 lbs and trout over 15 lbs are getting more and more common. Every year, plenty of 20 lb+ LCT’s are caught and the biggest on record stands today at 41 lbs. 

chris hagen - lahontan cutthroat trout

Anglers are allowed to fish for trout at Pyramid lake between the months of October and June. The trout spawn in Spring and that is frequently the most popular time of year to fish at Pyramid. There are several different techniques and flies that anglers use at Pyramid, but the most common two methods are retrieving streamers on a sinking line or nymphs/larva under an indicator on a floating line. Pyramid is one of the only place you will find anglers standing on ladders out in the lake. This is done for a couple of reasons. Primarily, it’s to get up out of the cold water. It can also give you a little more distance on your cast.

pyramid lake - lahontan cutthroat trout

Popular sinking line flies at Pyramid lake are wooly buggers, beetles/tadpoles, leeches, articulated bait fish patterns, tui chub patterns, sculpins, etc. If you’ve never been to Pyramid Lake, I truly hope you get to one day. If you do, and you manage to catch a trout there, keep in mind that the fish you’re holding is a glimpse into the past. A memory of an ancient lake.


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