In addition to its primitive, challenging beauty, Pyramid Lake projects a profound sense of antiquity. Gazing out across its surface is an experience almost four-dimensional. In John C. Fremont's journal entry of 10 January 1844 he records his impression: ". . . Beyond, a defile between the mountains descended rapidly about two thousand feet; and, filling up all the lower space, was a sheet of green water, some twenty miles broad. It broke upon our eyes like the ocean."
In ancient times this fishery was a magnificent survival resource, and for a while, when the first wave of white settlers came, it was big business. Commercial fishermen harvested 100 tons of trout between winter 1888 and spring 1889, for shipment all over the U.S. By 1912 a local entrepreneur was hiring as many as 50 Paiute fishermen to catch and ship from ten to 15 tons of trout a week for sale in the southern Nevada mining camps.
The lake is contained within the Pyramid Lake Paiute Tribe Reservation. In 1925 a Paiute named Johnny Skimmerhorn caught the world's record cutthroat here; a 41-pounder. But in the 1940s the cutthroats were gone. Restocking began in the early 1950s, and today five to ten pounders are not uncommon at Pyramid. Even in winter fishermen in waders cast out from shore — some of them perched picturesquely on ladders.
There are two fish hatcheries at the lake, one for cui-ui, the other raising and readying cutthroat trout for introduction into the lake. At the larger Numana Hatchery south of Nixon eggs from spawning adults are taken and raised to fingerling size. Tours are offered when staff is available, and your guide will probably be a tribal member (call 775-574-0500 for tour schedules).
The Numana Hatchery is near the site of the first Battle of Pyramid Lake. In May, 1860, some men at Williams Station, a trading post, saloon and stagecoach station on the Carson River, kidnapped and raped two young Paiute girls. Men from Pyramid Lake then raided the station and rescued the girls, killing five of their tormentors and burning the buildings. A single survivor escaped to Carson City and passed the alarm: Indian Massacre!
A force of 105 volunteers was hastily assembled from Carson City, Silver City, Gold Hill and Virginia City. Major William Ormsby commanded the volunteers, leading them into an ambush about five miles south of the lake. Numaga's Paiute fighters killed more than 70 of the white men, including Major Ormsby, and the rest ran for their lives. In June a force of regular soldiers from California, including an artillery piece, attacked the Paiutes and drove them away from the lake until a truce was effected in August. These battles prompted the establishment of Fort Churchill on the Carson River.
Fishing, camping and day-use permits are available at the Ranger Station just south of Sutcliffe on the lake's southwest shore, and at the convenience stores in Nixon and Wadsworth. A visitor center with a well-stocked store and an impressive photographic exhibit devoted to the life of the lake is located at Sutcliffe on the west shore, as is Crosby's Lodge, a fisherman's clubhouse serving hot food and cold beer.