Top 10 Fly Fishing Rivers/Lakes in Nevada and Why to Go
Nevada might be more famous for its desert landscapes and the glitz of Las Vegas, but it also offers unique and often overlooked fly fishing opportunities. The state's waters are far less trafficked compared to those in neighboring states, providing a more solitary angling experience amid the stunning backdrops of the Great Basin and the Sierra Nevada ranges.
Below is a table of the top fly fishing spots in Nevada, including details on historical context, fishable miles, types of trout present, and estimates of fish counts per mile. Due to Nevada's arid climate and the presence of many non-traditional fly fishing waters, the focus includes both rivers and notable streams or creeks where fly fishing is prevalent. I can recall pulling over to a small river with a friend and at first glance the water looked normal but because of the arid landscape, it just looked dead. After casting a few smaller white streamers it was quickly made apparent that it wasn’t dead but instead holding big rainbows. Turns out it was one of the better fisheries I’ve been to and nobody was there.
As with any desert state, water levels and fish populations can vary greatly from year to year in Nevada. Drought, water management practices, and environmental changes can significantly impact these fisheries. The fish counts are rough estimates, and fishable miles can change dramatically with the seasons, particularly in the streams that may dry up or become unfishable during hot or dry spells. Always check the current conditions and regulations with the Nevada Department of Wildlife before planning a trip, as access rights, water levels, and fish population status can change.
Charting is great but think about why you should visit Nevada. Visiting Nevada for fly fishing is an adventure, The barren landscape and often remote locations will take you to all kinds of locations. Prepare yourself to tour the city and lights to abandoned western towns and forgotten mountain ranges. The variety of fishing experiences can’t be explained until you’ve had a chance to see it yourself. I put together a summary of the reasons why I think it is a great place to go and follow up with a good generalized packing list for you.
Nevada, while often overshadowed by its neighboring states in terms of fly fishing notoriety, presents a unique and rewarding experience for anglers looking for diversity and challenge in less crowded waters. Here’s why fly fishing in Nevada is a great idea:
- Unique Fish Species: Nevada offers the opportunity to catch fish that are unique to the American West, such as the Lahontan cutthroat trout, which is native to the region. This trout species can grow to be monstrous and offers an excellent challenge for anglers.
- Uncrowded Waters: Unlike some of the more popular fly fishing destinations, many of Nevada’s rivers and streams are less frequented, allowing for a more solitary and peaceful fishing experience. This can often lead to better fishing as well since the fish are less pressured. I’ve visited and can recall driving down dirt roads past several gates that most would think are non-public and would be deterred only to be surprised by amazing public water access.
- Year-Round Fishing: Given Nevada’s varied climate and elevation, there are year-round fly fishing opportunities, particularly in the southern part of the state where winters are milder. However, don’t be fooled by the arid climate. Nevada desert can be one of the coldest places when the temperature drops and the winds start blowing.
Nature Observation Quality:
- Diverse Landscapes: Nevada’s terrain ranges from mountainous regions with crystal-clear alpine lakes and streams to arid desert basins. This variety allows for an array of different fly fishing environments and experiences. Drive by the Ruby Mountains and explore some of that region and you’ll quickly find that the state isn’t all red desert and lights.
- Wildlife Watching: Anglers can also enjoy the sightings of desert bighorn sheep, pronghorn antelope, and a plethora of bird species, including the iconic roadrunner. On a recent trip we were able to hike the full moon with a UV light and spot glowing scorpions in the night. What a treat it was to see these creepy crawlers with plenty of notification.
- Dark Sky Areas: If you haven’t been privy to a Dark Sku designated area, then you are missing out. Some fly fishing spots in Nevada are located near Dark Sky designated areas, offering spectacular stargazing opportunities after a day of fishing. Hint. Las Vegas isn’t one of them but it has its own stargazing opportunities.
- Fisheries Management: Nevada’s Department of Wildlife (NDOW) actively manages the state's fisheries, working to enhance and maintain fish populations and aquatic habitats, ensuring a sustainable and enjoyable fishing experience. Without knowing to much it appears that there are a lot of stocked opportunities in populated areas and un-populated areas offer an amazing opportunity to fish untouched raw fisheries.
- Fishing Access and Information: The NDOW provides detailed information on fishing sites, regulations, and stocking schedules, making it easier for anglers to plan their outings. Additionally, Nevada has several public access points for fishing, supported by state and federal land management agencies. Additionally, be cognizant of where you are at as there are often Indian reservations for various fishing locations where additional information and fees may apply.
- Urban Fishing Programs: In urban areas like Las Vegas and Reno, there are urban pond programs that make fishing accessible to those who can’t venture too far into the rural areas, emphasizing the state's commitment to fostering a fishing culture.
Statistics on Anglers Visiting Nevada:
Nevada may not attract as many anglers as states like Montana or Colorado, where fly fishing is a more prominent tourist draw, but the state has a dedicated angling community. While specific statistics on the number of fly fishers visiting Nevada annually are less prominent, fishing license sales can give an indication. According to the Nevada Department of Wildlife, tens of thousands of fishing licenses are sold each year, which includes both resident and non-resident anglers.
Moreover, the fly fishing community in Nevada is growing, with more people discovering the state’s unique fishing spots. The lower cost of tourism and the appeal of combining a fishing trip with Nevada's other attractions (like the Las Vegas entertainment scene) also add to the state's allure as a fly fishing destination.
In summary, Nevada provides a distinct fly fishing experience, marked by diverse ecosystems, the chance to catch unique species of fish, and a wide array of natural and recreational opportunities to complement a fishing trip. While it might not have the same level of recognition as some of the more famous fly fishing states, Nevada offers its own set of rewards for those willing to explore its waters.
Socks - Get good thin wool socks that will keep you warm and comfortable. I recommend Minus33
Bottom Layer - A nice thin layer keeps you warm and your bulk down during the day. Patagonia Capiline layers are ideal.
Top Layer - Thin layers give you a good base to stay cool and add to. Again, Patagonia Capiline layers are ideal.
Puff Jacket - During the morning and evening these are clutch. Then when a cold spell hits you are prepared and comfortable. I love this puff by Patagonia, the Hooded Nanon Puff.
Flies - Have a good assortment of basics and you'll be fine. Here are some recommendations. Fly Crate has a wide assortment of flies to choose from but there are great Flypack assortments that are exceellent for rounding out a box for a trip.
Rod and Reel - Bring your rod and reel or pick up one of these great entry sets. Here is a list of great rod and reel packs and how to select.
Net - Netting by hand is fun and all but if you have one it will take the stress off. Since you are travelling a hand net like Orvis offers may be the ticket. It's short and fits in a bag very easily.
Wading Boots - Don't mess around and pick up some Korkers with additional soles. This way you can wade or toss on a felt and get into a boat without damaging it.
Fishing Pack - a small pack is nice to toss in a few extra layers based on weather. I also like it for a good DSLR camera. This is such a preferential thing and I've yet to find one that is perfect for all occassions.
By Christian Bacasa
Host of the Fly Fishing Insider Podcast