Exploring the Blue Lakes: Day One

The sixth, and final, Trout Unlimited-Field & Stream Best Wild Places tour of 2010 took place October 13 - 17. I was worried that other editors would get all the fun, but then Editor Anthony Licata asked me if I could fly to Reno, Nevada and meet up with Greg Moore, who's the communications specialist for Trout Unlimited's Sportsmen's Conservation projects. Moore, Jim Jeffress (Trout Unlimited's backcountry coordinator) and I would go check out the Blue Lakes-Pine Forest Range in northwestern Nevada. But first things first: We stopped off at the Reno Fly Shop and picked up some flies.
That's Kate Blubaugh talking trout with a customer at the shop, owned by Dave Stanley.
Soon we were headed east on I-80. The destination that evening was Winnemucca, about two hours northeast of Reno. Dinner was at the Martin Hotel, a local Basque restaurant. In attendance were Moore; Jeffress; Humboldt County Administrator Bill Diest; local real estate agent and chukar hunter supreme, Harold Hawkins; his wife, former Humboldt County Administrator Kerry Hawkins, and Bruce Gordon, president of Eco Flight tours.
The next morning, we met up with Gordon at the airport for an overflight of the Pine Forest Range. Gordon founded Ecoflight in 2001. His mission: to help protect wilderness and wildlife habitat by letting people see it from the air. "It's all about educating and advocating, " he says.
Fifteen minutes out of the Winnemucca airport, headed northwest in Gordon's turbo-charged Cessna 210, and we were over the area. Kerry Hawkins, who was on the flight, told me that this was all in Humboldt County. Humboldt is 9704 square miles, and has a population of 17,690 -- not quite 2 people per square mile. From the air, this northwestern corner of Nevada looks pretty barren. Looks can be deceiving, however.
Jeffress explained that the Pine Creek Forest Range is a combination of wildlife study areas (WSAs). The Wilderness Act of 1964 directed the Bureau of Land Management to inventory and/or study all roadless areas of 5000 acres or more to see which ones have true wilderness characteristics. In 1977 the BLM started to inventory almost 49 million acres across Nevada (which is the seventh largest state in the U.S.). By 1979, 34 million acres were dropped from the inventory; the remaining 15 million were divided up into intensive wilderness inventory units. In Nevada, the BLM designated 110 wilderness study areas, covering 5.1 million acres, in a report sent to Congress. Until Congress moves forward with a permanent designation or drops any WSAs, these areas are managed as wilderness. That's Knott Creek Reservoir below - it borders the 5142-acre Alder Creek WSA. Much of the east shore is actually within the WSA, but a local county commission-sanctioned WSA review committee has recommended a realignment of the boundaries, so people can use the area. These are the types of positive changes that Jeffress is working for.
Those are the Blue Lakes down below. Surrounded with blazing aspens, there are four bodies of water. The main body holds rainbows and tiger trout (a cross between brook trout and brown trout). The lakes are totally inside the 20,508-acre Blue Lakes WSA.
According to Jeffress, WSA managers are limited as to what they can allow regarding uses. The intent of the Pine Forest WSA working group is to realign boundaries by removing and adding areas to address management problems. The group is made up of a diverse cross section of users, including ranchers, sportsmen, off-highway vehicle groups, wilderness advocates, miners, and general outdoor enthusiasts. Everyone has a say in what is being recommended.
Once we landed, Jeffress, Moore and I got in the cars for the two-hour drive to Denio, on the Nevada-Oregon border. From there we'd be in easy driving distance of both Knott Creek Reservoir and Blue Lakes.
When the Beatles sang "The Long and Winding Road," they sure weren't thinking about Nevada. That's me on Route 140 to Denio.
When we got to Denio Junction we checked into the Denio Junction Bar/Restaurant/Bar/Motel, operated by Bobby and Maria Putney. It's the only game in town, with food, fuel, and supplies. Up the road a few miles was the town of Denio, population 60, and then the Oregon border.
With half the day left, we piled into Jim's F350 and hit the road for Knott Creek Reservoir.
12,000 years ago, Lake Lahontan spread from where I'm standing to the plateau in the distance.
When we got to Knott Creek Reservoir, there were only a few people there - not surprising for the middle of the week in October, but Jim told me this was typical. Even on July 4, you'd get maybe 50 people camping around this 220-acre reservoir.
We parked Jim's truck in a lot by the dam. The initial dam was built in the early 1900s by the Miller and Lux Cattle Company for water storage and irrigation purposes. Trout were stocked in the 1930s, and the dam was enlarged in the 1990s, so more water could be stored for irrigation. "The only way to manage this area, to keep this area pristine, and yet make other areas open for all users, is to respect the rights of everyone," Jeffress told me. "It's all about compromising; one group can't have its way at the expense of others. "
The view of the weedline through my flippers.
Here's a nice bow I took from shore.

Deputy Editor Jay Cassell and Greg Moore, Trout Unlimited's communications specialist for TU's Sportsmen's Conservation Projects, spent three days with Jim Jeffress, TU's Nevada backcountry coordinator, exploring the Blue Lakes - Pine Forest Range in the far northwest corner of Nevada, close to the Oregon line.