National Parks 7 min read

DIY Guide to Fly Fishing in Great Basin National Park

Ken Sperry

Posted by Ken Sperry

August 11, 2020

Great Basin National Park in Nevada

The state of Nevada is better known for gambling than fly fishing, but the Silver State does have its fair share of out-of-the way gems when it comes to ideal fly fishing locations.

One such area is Great Basin National Park. Situated near the eastern border of Nevada, Great Basin’s first impression is a desolate wasteland on the edge of a desert. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Despite the scrub brush and arid country, Great Basin is also home to many ancient trees, rivers, and forestland.

Formed by glaciers (some of which are still visible), Great Basin National park is a place of extremes. The altitude here varies widely throughout Great Basin, with the highest point in the park at over 13,000 feet and its deepest valley still a mile above seal level.

The low humidity and minimal light pollution also make it one of the best locations in the country to observe astronomical events. 

About Great Basin National Park

Besides the scenic vistas though, what possible attraction for anglers does the Great Basin hold?

The answer lies in the rivers and streams that run throughout the park: the Bonneville Cutthroat Trout.

This exceptional trout is one of the few fish native to the Great Basin National Park, though there are browns, brook, and rainbow trout stocked in many of the waterways within the park’s boundaries. 

Those in search of an elusive Bonneville cutthroat would do well to stick close to the cold, high altitude streams of Great Basin National Park, as they do not populate the lower altitude waters of the park’s rivers and streams.

Visiting anglers should also take the time to visit the Lehman Caves in Great Basin National Park, as they are some of the most breathtaking limestone caverns in the American west.

Great Basin National Park Fishing Map

map of the best fishing spots in Great Basin National Park

Get Directions to the Fishing Access Points shown above with the DIY Fly Fishing Map

Best Places to Fish in Great Basin National Park

Due to its more remote location and high altitude, Great Basin National Park doesn’t see a great deal of fishing traffic or tourist traffic even in the late spring and early summer.

It is a true treasure of the American west, but definitely less popular than parks in neighboring Colorado, California, and Utah.

This leaves many fishing waters that are productive, but only one or two of them yield the elusive Bonneville Cutthroat. Here is where you should go to find the fish in Great Basin National Park.

Lehman Creek

Considered one of the premier locations for rainbow trout in the Great Basin, Lehman Creek can be easily accessed by hiking a short distance from both the Upper and Lower Lehman Creek Campground. Lehman’s creek yields the trout population, and they tend to be larger than many of the other fisheries in the park.

To reach Lower Lehman Creek, take the Wheeler Peak Scenic Drive for 3.5 miles from the Lehman Caves Visitor Center. So long as you don’t mind a brief walk, finding a good spot to start casting should not prove difficult.

Baker Creek

Take Baker Creek Road for 3 miles from the Lehman Caves Visitor Center. This is one of the larger campgrounds in the park, so the area may be a bit more crowded with anglers and campers.

You may need to hike a little further up or downstream to find a good casting spot. The brief effort of your hike will be rewarded by brook and rainbow trout in this area, and some of the biggest fish in the park have been taken from Baker Creek.

Snake Creek

For those in search of larger brown trout, Snake Creek is where to start. It’s not as accessible as Baker and Lehman, but it does yield some bigger fish if you visit the right spots.

Fishing can be somewhat inconsistent due to that warmer temperatures of the river and how many other anglers have been giving Snake Creek a try, too.

You can take Snake Creek Road through the park to get to your preferred stretch of water, then you will need to cut through the brush or carefully make your way down from the road to your chosen fishing spot.

Strawberry Creek

You won’t find better conditions for Bonneville Cutthroats Trout in the Great Basin. Take the road from the visitors center to Strawberry Creek Campground and hike a short way to get and keep an eye on the water for trout lurking in the pocket water.

Be careful to approach from downstream and avoid disturbing the water so as not to spook the fish. It’s also a good idea to go with smaller flies here, as the cutthroat population is still growing and most of the fish in Strawberry Creek are still smaller and younger.

Additionally, if you are fortunate enough to catch a Bonneville Cutthroat here, fishing regulations list them as catch and release only.

Make sure you do your part to keep the cutthroat population healthy and growing and return your catch to the water ASAP after landing it.

Best Time to Fish in Great Basin National Park

You can fish in the park all year long with a valid fishing license, but the peak season for fly fishing is definitely May to late July. During this time of year, the largest of the mayfly hatches occur, particularly BWOs.

If you want to maximize your chances of landing a healthy sized trophy fish, your best bet is to visit Great Basin National Park during the spring and summer months.

Terrestrials work well from the end of summer into the fall, at which time the fly hatches generally taper off in favor of the midges that populate the waterways even in winter.

Another important caveat to remember is the park is situated at high elevation. Even if you are fishing in the late summer or early fall the weather can change rapidly, particularly if you are hiking above treeline to reach your fishing destination.

Additionally, always check fly fishing conditions with the locals or fly fishing shops nearby before venturing out. Sometimes the runoff season in the spring runs later or earlier, and peak season can shift accordingly for the big mayfly hatches.

It never hurts to message, email, or call ahead before you visit to see how the prevailing weather and fishing conditions have been so far that year.

Great Basin National Park Fishing Tips

A 7.5 or 8-foot fly rod with 3-weight reel and line is the recommended rig for fly fishing in the Great Basin, as are a 9-foot leader and a 4X tippet.

Waders are not necessary as the streams are small, but you might want a landing net if you intend to go for the C&R-only Bonneville Cutthroats found mostly in and around Strawberry Creek. 

Bug spray, sunscreen, water, and other necessities are strongly recommended as well. Most of the good fishing is not too far from campgrounds, but hiking back and forth throughout the day because you left something important behind takes much of  the joy out of your fly fishing experience.

Bear in mind that you will be at over 6,000 feet elevation when fishing in the park, and weather can change drastically in a hurry, particularly if you are hiking or driving above the treeline.

Pack extra layers and emergency supplies with you even if you are not venturing far from your vehicle or a campsite. It’s much better to have a few good survival supplies handy if you get caught in a fast moving rainstorm or snowstorm and need to shelter in place until it passes. 

Best Flies for Great Basin National Park

Here are some recommended flies that have proven effective for fishing in the Great Basin National Park region:

  • Blue Winged Olive (Natural #16-18)
  • Adam’s Purple Parachute (Purple #14-16)
  • Pheasant Tail Nymp (Natural #16-18)
  • Tunghead Stonefly (Golden Stone #6-10)
  • Flashback Baetis Nymph (Natural #16-18)
  • TH Zebra Midge (Red #16-18)
  • Deadrift Crayfish (Olive or Tan #8)
  • San Juan Worm (Red or Pink  #8-14)

Great Basin National Park Fishing Regulations

Nevada or park regulations apply throughout Great Basin National Park. A license is required to fish anywhere in the state, whether it is a one-day or one year pass.

Special regulations that apply to fishing in and near Great Basin National Park include:

  • All anglers 12 years and older must possess a valid Nevada State Fishing License issue by the Nevada Division of Wildlife. (*Note: fishing licenses are not available for purchase in Grand Basin National Park. You must purchase a fishing license or permit outside the park and bring it in with you)
  • Daily limit for trout is 10 trout of any species per day
  • Bonneville Cutthroat Trout are C&R only
  • Fishing is permitted year round, night or day
  • There are no size limits on fish
  • Anglers are expected to follow “Leave No Trace” protocols while fishing within the borders of Grand Basin National Park. Do your part to help preserve the park’s natural beauty.

Trip Planning Tips

Grand Basin National Park is difficult to reach via commercial airline, with the closest commercial airports in Cedar City Utah and St. George, Utah, both of which are over 150 miles distant from the park.

You can fly into the larger international airports in Salt Lake City, Fresno, Las Vegas, or Reno, but you are looking at between a 4-6 hour drive no matter how you choose to fly in. 

There are few hotels close to Grand Basin National Park, most of them chain motels or hotels and located in or around the Baker, NV area.

There are also several RV parks within a short drive of the park entrance, and camping in the park is generally available for a nominal fee payable to the visitors’ office near Lehman Caves. 

The next closest town, Ely, is in White Pine County 68 miles away, and you may want to check into accommodations, RV parks, campgrounds, or vacation rentals in that area if you come up short on a good deal in the town of Baker itself.

As always, remember to look for private local vacation rentals as well if you are having a hard time finding a cost effective stay.

Looking for more places to fish? Check out our DIY Guide to the Best Fly Fishing in America and Best Fly Fishing in Nevada

Feature image by Public Domain