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US Fish & Wildlife Service FieldNotes

PACIFIC SOUTHWEST REGION: Anglers Include Lahontan Cutthroat Trout in the New Sierra Grand Slam

Region 8, February 26, 2013
A 19.5 pound Lahontan cutthroat trout recently caught at 
Pyramid Lake.
A 19.5 pound Lahontan cutthroat trout recently caught at Pyramid Lake. - Photo Credit: n/a
Fishermen Bob Clarke holds a Lahontan cutthroat trout caught at Pyramid Lake.
Fishermen Bob Clarke holds a Lahontan cutthroat trout caught at Pyramid Lake. - Photo Credit: n/a
Nevada's Pyramid Lake at sunset.
Nevada's Pyramid Lake at sunset. - Photo Credit: n/a

By Cindy Sandoval, External Affairs

Lahontan cutthroat trout historically occurred in most cold waters of the Lahontan Basin of Nevada and California. However, a severe decline in range and numbers of Lahontan cutthroat occurred by the 1930s due to hybridization and competition with introduced trout species, loss of spawning habitat due to logging, blockage of streams due to dams, and less water due to irrigation and urban demands. In 2006 the threatened Lahontan cutthroat trout was restored back to its native habitat in Nevada’s Pyramid Lake. Today, little over a decade later, the Lahontan cutthroat trout continues to make headlines in Pyramid Lake as fish weighing nearly 20 pounds are being caught and the trout is emerging as an important member of the Sierra Grand Slam.

A Grand Slam in fishing is when an angler can catch four different species in a single day and the four species will vary by region. Areas around the Great Lakes include walleye, northern pike, lake trout and steelhead as members of the Great Lakes Grand Slam. Here on the West Coast a Sierra Grand Slam is when an angler reels in a brown trout, rainbow trout, brook trout and a Lahontan in the same day. There is no official governing body over the slam, but it is still a fishing accomplishment many anglers strive for and it has even been referred to as the sports “Holy Grail.”

For years fishermen considered the Sierra Grand Slam to be the brown trout, rainbow trout, brook trout and the golden trout, but now that the Lahontan cutthroat is on the road to recovery a growing number of anglers are including it as a member of their slam. Some anglers have tried to change the name of the slam to reflect the importance of landing a Lahontan cutthroat and names like Super Grand Slam and Perfect Slam have been proposed. One angler using the screen name Sierra_Smitty writes on a popular fishing blog, “I'm not sure what you'd call it if you caught a cutt [Lahontan cutthroat] too, but it would be pretty dang impressive... all I know is that there are only a handful of places you could do it.”

One such place is Pyramid Lake, an area described by one Tackle Tour writer as “a jewel in the Nevada high desert, and the treasure here comes in the form of big trout quite unlike those found anywhere else.” The fishing opportunities at Pyramid Lake would not be possible without the close partnership with the Pyramid Lake Paiute Tribe. The lake is located on the tribe’s reservation and staff at the Lahontan National Fish Hatchery work with the Pyramid Lake Paiute Tribe’s fisheries program to stock and gather information about the Lahontan cutthroat trout. Pyramid Lake has a slot limit on the size of fish that an angler can keep. Any Lahontan cutthroat caught that is between 17”-20” and those over 24” can be kept, but all other Lahontan cutthroats must be released back into the lake. In order to protect the integrity of fishable populations, special fishing restrictions are in place in some waters but these restrictions have not stopped the trout from becoming an important fish among anglers.

Along with the help received from the Paiute Tribe, a special exception under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) allows the public to fish for these threatened trout. Fishing for threatened species is allowed under the 4(d) rule of the ESA; this section allows the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service) to authorize activities that would otherwise be prohibited under the Endangered Species Act. The 4(d) rule serves to relax the normal ESA restrictions and reduce conflicts between people and the protections provided to the threatened species.

With size limits in place and continued monitoring and protection by the Service and the Pyramid Lake Paiute Tribe, the Lahontan cutthroat trout will continue to balance sport and conservation. The trout’s new place in the Sierra Grand Slam is just another example of how hardworking partnerships between the Service and others can enhance the social, cultural, economic, and conservation goals of a region.

Cindy Sandoval is a Pathways intern in external affairs at the Pacific Southwest Regional Office in Sacramento, California.

Contact Info: Cynthia Sandoval, 916-978-6159, cynthia_d_sandoval@fws.gov