Curse of the Pyramid Lake Water Babies, Part II

Print More

The fish that may have cost Mark a tooth.

Author’s note: This is the second installment of a two-part story about a trip I took this spring to Pyramid Lake outside Sparks, Nev. To read Part I, go to

As we drove towards Pyramid Lake, I said to Dan, “Too bad we didn’t start earlier. I’ve heard that the lake’s rock formations, especially the iconic Pyramid Rock, are breathtaking right at dawn and again as the sun goes down.”

Dan with his nine-pounder.

Dan responded, without any real emotion, “Yeah, but didn’t you tell me that the Water Babies are most active at dawn and dusk?”

“No seriously,” I said, “The lake is known as much for its beauty as for its giant trout. In fact, people from around the world have seen the lake, even though they’ve never been here. Apple used a photo of the lake as a default screensaver on its original iPads.”

We crested a hill and the lake came into view below us. I wasn’t sure about giant trout or Water Babies, but there was no doubt we were going to get our money’s worth of scenery. The lake was, indeed, breathtaking.

Sky-blue water, as smooth as glass, stretched from shore to shore. The rock formations along the opposite shore were bathed in a reddish-orange hue. About two-thirds of the way across the lake, the Pyramid Rock jutted through the surface. It somehow avoided the color of the other formations, seemingly giving off its own brown/gray/blue light. It was probably just my imagination, but I felt like the rock was trying to tell us something.

We parked near the boat launch, and Glenn began to get the boat and gear ready. I wandered over to a bulletin board near the restroom. There was a weather-worn poster tacked to the board. It contained pictures of two middle-aged men and the word “MISSING” in large red letters across the top. The poster also contained these words: “Johnson’s Truck and Empty Boat Trailer Were Found On 5-12-17 At Pyramid Lake.”

Later, we asked about the men at the ranger station. The Paiute woman who ran the station told us that the men were still missing but that the families had not given up hope. She also freely shared lots of other information about the lake, its history, Paiute traditions and the surrounding area. But when I asked her about the Water Babies, she got very cold and quiet. All she would say was: “I have no information about that.”

When we returned to the boat, Glenn laid out his plan. We would use spinning weights and line-counting Okuma reels to troll lures at depths ranging from 20-40 feet. Line-counting reels are exactly what they sound like: they measure line as it is released from the reel, allowing the fisherman to keep accurate count of how much line is in the water. These particular Okuma reels were big and beefy, designed to withstand the torque of pulling large lures and, hopefully, large fish through deep water. They were roughly twice as big as my ZEBCO.

Glenn explained that we would fish with three lines in the water. One Okuma would be set on each side of the boat. Dan and I would each be responsible for one of these lines. We would also set the ZEBCO up behind the boat. The Okumas would run at the deeper depths, and the ZEBCO at 10-15 feet.

Glenn’s lure of choice is called a flatfish. Flatfish are arc-shaped, cylindrical for most of their length, but with a flat “face” where the lure attaches to the line. The face causes the lure to wobble violently as it moves through the water. “I have other lures,” Glenn said, “but this time of year, nothing works as well as the flatfish.” “We’ll keep switching sizes and colors until we find what the trout want.”

As we motored to our first fishing spot, I got to learn more about Glenn. After his military service, he found it difficult to hold down indoor jobs. Guiding, he said, was really the only option for keeping his sanity. And it suited him well, allowing him to combine his love for the outdoors with his extensive knowledge of the lake and the surrounding area.

I asked Glenn again about the Water Babies. “I’ve never seen an actual Water Baby,” he said. “But, I have seen a number of inexplicable things on the sonar. Images appear out of nowhere on the screen, then suddenly disappear.”

I was beginning to wonder if this was all part of some show. Maybe there was a conspiracy among those who have a financial interest in the lake to perpetuate stories about curses and other weird things. But Glenn spoke about the images on his sonar with the same ease and candor that he displayed when talking about his rough transition back into civilian life. If he was part of the show, he should have gone into acting. And who would fake “MISSING” posters just to promote financial interests?

Glenn’s voice yanked me from these thoughts. “…and when you set the hook, set it firmly but only once. I get a lot of bass fishermen who are used to setting the hook twice in order to get it firmly imbedded in the fish’s mouth. Don’t do that here. You’ll lose the trout every time.” The boat slowed and Glenn said: “Here we are. Let’s get those lines in the water. Start by letting out 30 feet.”

After just a few minutes of trolling, Glenn boomed: “Fish on!” The tip of Dan’s rod bent violently, straightened out, then bent again. Dan stood up, removed the rod from its holder and pulled back to set the hook.

“Good,” Glenn said. “Keep pressure on him and reel steady.”

Dan pulled back on the rod again. I’m willing to give him the benefit of the doubt and say that he wasn’t trying to set the hook again, but rather, he was just following Glenn’s instructions to keep pressure on the fish. Glenn must have thought otherwise because he sighed loudly.

After a short fight, Dan had the fish near the boat. There was a brief silver flash as the fish turned and dove. It didn’t look particularly big to me, but Glenn said: “That’s a good sized one. Over ten pounds.”

Just as Glenn reached for the net, the line went slack. There was a touch of frustration in his voice: “Remember: only one hook set.”

Pyramid Lake is famous for its giant Lahontan cutthroat trout.

We resumed trolling. It wasn’t long before the rod on my side doubled over. I grabbed it and set the hook. Then, out of sheer habit (I fish for bass a lot), I set the hook again. The line went immediately slack.

“Okay, new rule,” Glenn said. “Don’t set the hook at all. Just reel in, fast.”

When Dan got hit again, he followed the new rule and had no trouble landing the fish. The trouble began after we had it on board. The trout, a nine-pounder, was all muscle. As we were taking pictures, it powered its way out of Dan’s hands, bouncing a couple of times on the deck. We had that fish out of the water way longer than any of us wanted, but to our relief, it swam strongly away when we released it.

Over the next five hours, we settled into a rhythm and caught five more trout, including three on my tiny ZEBCO. Although none were trophies, they totaled more than thirty pounds.

Finally, Glenn said: “There’s one more spot I want to try before we have to call it quits.” “Near where they release fish from the hatchery. It’s shallower and we might be able to land one more on the ZEBCO.”

As Glenn slowed the boat to set up the troll, I noticed a tumbleweed floating in the water, maybe thirty yards away. “Hmm,” I thought. “I haven’t seen any other tumbleweeds all day, either in the water or on the shore.” I was about to ask Dan and Glenn if they saw it, but it sank suddenly below the surface.

“Fish on the ZEBCO.” Glenn’s voice was filled with a mixture of pride and humor.

I don’t know whether that fish fought harder than the rest we caught that day, or if my ZEBCO was just worn out. But the trout was exhausted when we got it aboard. I should have known better than to risk taking pictures, but we were all caught up in the moment. I dropped him twice before getting a picture of the two of us smiling together. To make matters worse, I lost my grip while trying to revive him in the water. As he floated away, I felt terrible, and I told Glenn so.

Glenn tried to make me feel better. “That fish was pretty beat up from being worked over in the hatchery. I could see the wounds on his sides. He wasn’t long for this world, even if you hadn’t caught him.”

As I contemplated this, Glenn said: “I can see his fins moving. I think he’ll make it. And if he doesn’t, he’ll provide a good meal to the pelicans. He will not be wasted.”

I knew Glenn was right. Fish sometimes die no matter how carefully you handle them. To be a fisherman, you have to be willing to accept this. But I didn’t feel any better. Fish fatalities always cause me anguish, even when we plan to eat them.

But strange things happen at the lake.

“There, he’s gone down,” Glenn said. I saw it too. The trout finally righted itself and swam away.

On shore, we thanked Glenn for the great day of fishing and headed back to our places in Carson City. Exhausted, I slept well that night.

Three days later, while trying to guard a larger and much more skilled player in a basketball game, I took an elbow to the mouth. A hard elbow. So hard that I thought my jaw might be broken. So hard that I developed a sinus infection, then an abscess, then a nagging tooth ache. When I finally got around to seeing a dentist months later, he took one look in my mouth and said: “That tooth is unrecoverable. It is split vertically, from the crown to the root. We don’t see that very often. We have to remove it. Right now.”

I suppose there are three possible explanations for why I got a cracked tooth just days after fishing Pyramid Lake.

1. What I saw in the water wasn’t a tumbleweed.

2. My handling of that last fish wasn’t respectful enough of the lake’s resources.

3. The incidents are unrelated. Given the amount of basketball I play and my general lack of defensive skills, it’s a wonder I have any teeth at all.

I’m inclined to believe the latter explanation, but you never know. After all, they’re still looking for those missing men.

All photos courtesy of the author.