Down at the lakeside, late in the day. Crooks asks the visitor. "Do you want to see the hatchery?" The visitor does, but first there is a question that has been bothering him since daybreak. "The—uh—ladder?" asks the visitor.
"Well, it used to be milk crates." says Crooks. "If you wade out to a level of, say, hip-deep, you're always fishing and having to hold your arms up out of the water. You get super tired. So you stand on one of these things."
"What about those sudden waves?" says the visitor.
"Oh, sure," said Crooks. "Everybody takes a fall now and then. And before you ask, Yes, the lake is cold. This was the coldest year I fell in."
The cutthroat hatchery Crooks takes the visitor to is near the community of Sutcliffe, on the western side of the lake. The fish are strong and handsome, scarlet males, silver females. "The fish are getting bigger," says Lee Carlson, the biologist on duty as he looks at the records to verify what he has just said. "In 1980 we were averaging 3.4-pounders. In '86 it was 4.6, and so far this year we're at five pounds."
So, might we someday see more 40-pounders? Carlson is cagey about these breeding fish. He, too, raises the issue of the lost gene pattern for large size. But he hasn't given up hope: The actual Pyramid Lake strain may not have been lost after all.
In 1977, Terry Hickman, a graduate student in wildlife biology at Colorado State, found a colony of tiny true Lahontan trout in Donner Creek, a small creek on the Utah-Nevada line. According to decades-old records kept by the California and Nevada fisheries departments, Donner Creek was most recently stocked in 1930—and at that time from only one source. Pyramid Lake. So far attempts to reestablish these true Lahontan cutthroats in their home waters have been inconclusive, but the effort continues. Should pending legislation pass, Pyramid Lake will get back more of the water it needs, and that will be a benefit not only to the cutthroats but to the cui-ui as well.
Now, late in the afternoon, the hatchery explored and the fishing over for the day, Crooks points to the sky. Blue all day, it has now turned hazy. "Contrails," he says. "The haze is caused by aircraft contrails that have gotten spread out till they cover the sky. This is a major air route from the East Coast to the West."
The artificial haze seems symbolic of the pressures on Pyramid Lake. "Ever think there'll be a 40-pounder caught here again?" says the vistor.
"Hey, give them time," replies Crooks. "They took 10,000 years to get to that weight before."