Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Recon - Knott Creek Reservoir and the old Applegate Trail

This is one of the most amazing adventures, a trip back in history with excellent fishing at the end of the trail. A spur of the moment decision had me headed out from Reno for 3 days, by myself, on dirt roads on a 6 hour journey in search of big healthy rainbows and the "Tigers of Nevada"(tiger trout). I've been there many a time, and I know that getting there by means of the old Applegate Trail is half the fun, but for anyone not intimately familiar with these roads, remember to keep your map handy...and your GPS handier (but be sure you have a Garmin loaded with the off road maps & topography, otherwise you won't have a clue where you are.)As you leave the Pyramid Lake Reservation bearing north on 445 it quickly turns to dirt and you'll then be on Surprise Valley road. You'll go past sand pass and see some old rail station ruins built by Western Pacific Railroad around 1907, part of the trans-continental railroad system. Next you'll see an old dilapidated house and a small pond with what seems to be a stream. Check it out, it's the old Bonham Ranch, and the creek is an artesian well-fed hot spring loaded with a small fish that can tolerate the warm sulfur-rich waters, its a trip. Next you'll pass smoke creek and tie into 447 @ Deep Hole Ranch. This is the only paved section of the route and you'll take 447 south about 9 miles south to Gerlach. Now pay attention, the next 120 miles has no services, no gas, no water, no electricity, no pavement, no homes, no people and no help if you need it...nothing but the wild west as its been for the last few thousand years. Gas up at the one filling station. If you have a flat or nail, throw em $20 and have it fixed. There isn't really a store otherwise I'd tell you to get plenty of water.If you need alcohol, Bruno's is your place, grab one of his signature picons and be on your way.Next it's county road 34, otherwise known as the road to no-man's land. Take it north east/east a short while and you'll skirt the Black Rock Dessert, home of Burning Man. As you turn away from the salt flats of the Black Rock, you'll hang a right on Soldier Meadows Road and won't see pavement again. Not much to see on this stretch other than the Calico Mountains to your left(great place to hunt big horns or chukar), some hot springs and of course, the Soldier Meadows Ranch itself. Soldier Meadows Ranch is a trip, talking about being in the middle of nowhere but it has its own primitive airstrip and Hollywood socialites frequent it???I guess it's so remote even the paparazzi can't find it. Upon researching it, this historic sign in front of Soldier Meadows Ranch for Camp McGarry is apparently misplaced, it should be at Summit Lake Indian Reservation 12-miles NE.This time of year, be cognizant that ticks are in the sage... 12 miles past Soldier Meadows is the Summit Lake Indian Reservation, home to 1 of only 2 self-sustaining, indigenous, lacustrine strains of Lahontan Cutthroat Trout in the world. Check out the ironic welcome sign, if you don't think this reservation is remote, read the last line, 300 miles to the nearest air service hospital in central Oregon. Its 2+ hours just to hit a paved road, that's awesome! Just so you know, the fish you catch at Pyramid Lake...they came from here kids. After Derby Dam eradicated the original strain, these fish were reared at the old Verdi fish hatchery and transplanted. Can you believe fish live out here. I'll tell you, by hook or by crook, one day I'm fishing this lake, no matter what I have to pay! Wow, just when you think you're in the pristine wilderness...the Ruby Pipeline comes out of nowhere. Can you say 42" diameter, 680 miles, from Wyoming to California, 1.5Bn cubic feet of natural gas delivered per day at a cost of $3.5Bn to construct! Wow, its a site, according to a foreman I flagged down, this is the last spot they have yet to pressure test and bury, then its done. Crazy to see.Here is Summit Lake in all it's glory, too bad you can't fish it.This buck antelope along with another dozen stay close to the reservation where they can't be hunted.As you leave the res, you'll cut through a corner of the Sheldon National Wildlife Refuge, well worth exploring if you have time. Keep winding through a canyon, as you come out of it, you starting heading down into a huge valley, eventually you can start to see Knott Creek Ranch at the base of the Pine Forest Range. The road will hook to the right and eventually head almost due south, when it does, be on the lookout for a road to your left that will head due north, its easy to miss and nothing is labeled out there. This is Knott Creek Ranch Road. In a couple of miles you'll see Knott Creek Ranch on your left, a 6,800 acre alfalfa and cattle ranch. The ranch includes Knott Creek Reservoir but NDOW struck a deal to keep a minimum pool and allow public access.
This is a cool stone building at the ranch, it has to be better than 100 years old.Just past the ranch, hang a right and head 9 miles straight up to the top of the Pine Forest Range. Its 2,000 vertical feet and half way through you'll need 4wd, if its wet you may need a winch or lockers unless you can go around the wet spots and ruts.There's lots of water in this range and lush meadows like this one are abound.Finally, you'll be there and as you can see, it's well worth it. Rugged granite outcroppings covered in Mountain Mahogany.The lake is full, within 6" inches of the top of the dam so all the prime camp sites (and the road around the lake) were submerged. You had to get pretty creative with were you camped, luckily, it was just me so space wasn't a big concern.Once camp was set up, I had time to make a few casts. I broke off something healthy then landed this feisty bow.The next day fish were rising to Callibaetis along the shore which was strewn with submerged sage brush. My soft hackle did the trick.This outcropping is a focal point of the lake.The rainbows and cutbows in this lake are extreme fighters, long runs, high jumps and a never say die attitude. Even fish this size peel line out of your 6wt, enough to make you tighten your drag. Fish in the lake can push 10lbs despite the "official" NDOW water record, though i didn't see any. I had 2 fish break me and 2 straighten my hook.This cutbow gave an exceptional fight.Here is the spillway near the damn...the lake is at capacity!

A few more scenic shots...
On day two, I felt adventurous, the fishing was only fair so I figured a 10 mile side trip up to Onion Valley Reservoir and Blue Lakes was in order. Its a steep, primative road that takes you up to almost 8,000ft. Blue Lakes is the most beautiful of the lakes in the Pine Forest Range, and the only one that is naturally occurring. There is a sizeable creek to cross before you head up the road.Onion is very pretty, shrouded in aspen groves and lush, wet meadows. Fish are smaller than at Knott, but there are lots of them.I headed out of Onion Valley with my hopes high, its was getting late but if I hurried, I could park and hike the 1/4 mile down to Blue Lakes and get an hour of shore fishing in. Unfortunately, the area had just iced out and the road was soup. The runoff had made normal ruts into ravines. Getting stuck is part of any trip to Knott, but getting stuck by yourself at 6pm with nobody around on a Sunday is stressful. I was high-centered resting on my rear axle and front skid plate. Luckily, the last truck in the area was coming back down the road and gave me a tug. It was dumb of me to get stuck alone like that but at least I had a tow strap, he didn't and I could have been there a lot longer.After that, I was just relieved not to be stranded away from camp and it was back to Knott for supper.Last day and I was able to get a couple of hours of fishin in. Finally, my first tiger trout. Yeah, I know they're the "mule" of the fish world but they're also friggin beautiful.As I headed back home on Monday, I came accross some poor chap stuck in a bog near the lake. He, like me, was alone and I'm sure he felt like I did the day before. Another truck was already on the seen when I arrived desperately digging a pulling to no avail. Then I hooked up to the second truck and we both pulled at the same time. This guys 2500 Chevy wasn't going anywhere. Next we used two come-alongs with about 6,000 of pulling power....Nothing! Poor bastard was stuck, and moreover, two trucks need him to get out before they could leave the lake. Long story short, since I was headed out, I offerred to run up to Denio (on the Oregon border) and fetch a tow truck. Unfortunately, when I arrive I learned the nearest tow truck is 107 miles away in Winnemucca. Anyhow, the gentlemen I was conversing with was a local and knew the owners of Knott Creek Ranch. He put in a call and asked they send a tractor up to rescue the poor guy.As I headed back to civilization, I came across some final remnants of the Wild West...wild asses. You don't see these too often.Well, next week I'm off to central Oregon to hopefully blog about big fish, so stay tuned!

6 comments:

rm said...

no rattlesnake pictures? i have heard about that place, lots of cool fish and lots of rattlers.

JGR said...

Bravo, this sounds like a great adventure. Thanks for sharing!!! I've always wanted to just drive out to somewhere off the map in the American desert. This was pretty cool.

g_rob said...

Great trip. Thanks for sharing as I have dreams of doing it some day.

Dub_C_fin_chaser said...

Thanks for sharing.

Peter Noone said...

I got about 12 miles down the Soldier Meadows trail off of country road 34 this past weekend and am kicking myself for not making it all the way off to the Ranch. I stopped because I had no idea if I'd be able to camp there on private land.

Next time I may follow your tracks. Thanks for the awesome info!

Dean said...

Actually, Camp McGarry had two sites. One was up near Summit Lake as you mentioned and the other is at the Soldier Meadows Ranch. You can still see a couple of the old buildings from that site as the ranch has preserved them. We made the run from Denio to Gerlach, picking up some peaks along the way. Great and lonely country. Thanks for sharing your report and pics.

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