Meet Arlo Townsend, one of the longest working guides on the Truckee River and Pyramid Lake. We spent the day with Arlo searching for trophy Lahontan Cutthroat Trout and talking to him about his years in the guiding biz. We are excited to add Arlo to our ongoing blog series “Behind the Guides” presented by Costa Sunglasses.
Flylords: Tell us where we’re going right now?
Arlo: Headin’ out to Pyramid Lake, Northwestern Nevada. It’s about a half a million-acre American Indian Reservation.
Flylords: What makes this lake unique?
Arlo: Pyramid is a 24-mile-long lake, eight-mile-wide, enormous high-desert lake. It has the biggest Lahontan cutthroat trout in the world, that swim within its waters.
Probably gives you the best chance anywhere in the United States right now, for a 20-pound trout.
Flylords: How would you describe yourself?
Arlo: Been one of the longest working guides on the Truckee River and Pyramid Lake out here. Doing the fly fishing thing before the social media and everything that goes along with it. I’m just a hardcore fisherman that takes his craft in real high regard. I just think I was put on this earth to create the best experiences, showing clients how to have the best time going fishing.
Flylords: How many years have you been doing this for, and what keeps you coming back every year?
Arlo: I guess this is my 15th year, going on 16 years guiding out here. At this point in life, I probably don’t know anything else. But I do know whenever I’m on the water with clients, life makes sense to me, and that’s what keeps me going back. Get off of the water, life doesn’t make as much sense. Being on the water with clients is a very comforting place for me. It’s a place where the world makes sense.
Flylords: Why do you think you decided to set up home base in this area?
Arlo: That is a great question. I moved down from Alaska, where you think I would pursue being a fly fishing guide, but Reno grasped me with the brown trout in the Truckee River and it kept me here because I can fish and run a business here 12 months a year, which is always what I wanted to do. I don’t have to take any breaks from fishing, it’s a mild enough climate that I can fish 12 months a year here. And it’s challenging every month of it.
Flylords: Do you have a favorite fish that comes to mind?
Arlo: That’s gonna be tough with Pyramid Lake.
My favorite fish is a brown trout.
Flylords: What’s your largest fish from Pyramid Lake?
Arlo: Largest fish from Pyramid Lake… It’s not a recorded measurement with a certified scale, but through the measurements of the fish and plugging it into equations that tell us supposedly how heavy fish should be, it was a fish between 28 and 32 pounds that a client caught, back in 2016.
Flylords: If you had to choose one fly to fish, what would that fly be?
Arlo: My favorite fly is the Patriot Midge. It’s a fly that shouldn’t work as well as it does, but it’s red, white and blue, I love America, I love what this country allows people to do, as far as pursuing their passions and making a living out of it. I love to be able to swim the colors of our country with the Patriot Midge while floating flies at Pyramid Lake.
Flylords: What do you think the most challenging part of being a full-time guide is?
Arlo: The work in between being on the water. It’s a life of organization and continuous preparedness if that is a word. The work behind the scenes is something that I never figured would take up as much time as it does. It’s a work that you’re never off the clock, it’s a job you’re never off the clock.
Flylords: Tell us about what your ideal setup looks like for Pyramid Lake.
Arlo: Easiest Pyramid Lake setup to deal with is really simple. A floating line, an indicator, and a couple of chironomids or a balanced leach about six to eight feet underneath it, usually attached with 2X or 3X fluorocarbon. We cast that setup over the shelf line and wait for the fish to do the rest of the work from there.
Flylords: Can you describe a Lahontan cutthroat?
Arlo: Lahontan cutthroat trout is one of the biggest bellied fish I’ve ever seen. They’re some of the fattest fish in their stature. I think they have more fat than muscle a lot of the time. There’s a lot of variety in between the Lahontan cutthroat trout you catch, which keeps things interesting. Rarely do you have a cookie cutter day, with a Lahontan cutthroat trout. Every one of them seems to have its own characteristics, like a snowflake, no two are alike from my experiences with them.
Flylords: Can you think of one thing that stands out as maybe the craziest thing that you’ve seen in the wild?
Arlo: One instance that comes to mind is back in 2012. I was standing on the banks of Pyramid Lake with a client, and at a beach I had fished hundreds of times before. Out of nowhere, about 20 yards away from us offshore, comes swimming a river otter. River otters are not supposed to be in Pyramid Lake, or haven’t been in Pyramid Lake since the late 1800s. My client and I were lucky to get half a dozen pictures of the only river otter spotted in Pyramid Lake since the 1940s… That was a pretty amazing circumstance.
Flylords: Tell us about when you first got connected with Costa and what it means to you to be a Costa Pro guide?
Arlo: I got connected with Costa from my old relationship with Peter working at Simms. So, I’ve known Peter a long time from when he worked for a prior company. Costa has always seemed to be a company that went above and beyond making sunglasses. Not only did they put out a great product for the anglers, but they seem to care about the environment and the habitats that buyers spend their time in. That’s really important to me and really feel lucky to be a part of that now.
Flylords: Do you have a favorite pair of Costa lenses that you like to use in this fishery?
Arlo: The Costa Motu’s with Sunrise Yellow glass lenses are the best glasses I have ever used in low-light periods at Pyramid Lake. Mornings and evenings, I can’t fish without them.
Flylords: Are you involved in any conservation efforts?
Arlo: So, that’s one thing I’ve always been finding my way with. I suppose the biggest impact I try to make is just in the daily interaction I have with my clients. I guess the best thing I can do and know how to do is simply lead by example through the hundreds if not thousands of people I touch, teaching fly fishing through the years.
Flylords: Are there any other species of fish in Pyramid Lake, other than the cutthroat trout?
Arlo: There are. Pyramid lake has an ancient fish called the Cui-ui, which supposedly has been around for over two million years. It is specific only to Pyramid Lake. It’s a Hoover sucker styled fish, that is a federally protected fish. You’re supposed to let them go as soon as you catch them. But it’s an exotic fish, I suppose, and one that not a whole lot of anglers have checked off of their list. Pyramid Lake also has the Tahoe Sucker, Sacramento Perch, and the Tui Chub.