Opening day at Topaz brings schools of anglers

Posted: Wednesday, January 03, 2001

TOPAZ Lake, Nev. (AP) -- A smattering of campfires glowed around the shoreline while a steady stream of headlights snaked toward boat ramps in the pre-dawn darkness.

The hardiest of the hardy want to be on the water by 6:16 a.m. -- one hour before sun up.

Bone-chilling temperatures in the low teens can't freeze the enthusiasm for opening day of fishing season at this high-desert reservoir 70 miles south of Reno on the Nevada-California line. For die-hard anglers, there's no other place to be in western Nevada than at Topaz Lake on New Year's Day.

''We don't look at it as being New Year's Day,'' said Linda Fields, who owns the Topaz Landing marina with her husband, Chuck. ''It's opening. It's an event! You can usually get your limit and be home before the Rose Bowl starts.

''This is the very biggest day of the whole area,'' she said.

Bundled against the cold, Jim Dalton shrugged off the subfreezing temperatures.

''This is cake,'' said Dalton, a Lake Tahoe carpenter. ''Usually we have 30-40 mph winds.''

Dalton has followed the tradition for over 30 years.

''The fishing's awesome,'' he said, as he waited in darkness near the Douglas County boat ramp for a friend who was bringing the boat. Dalton once pulled in a 26-inch rainbow at Topaz.

Chris Beattie, his brother Bob Beattie, and friend Kyle Menath, all of Carson City, were among those waiting in line to launch their small fishing boat before the sun rose.

''It's opening day,'' said Chris Beattie, who hasn't missed a season opener here in 22 years.

''What else do you do on New Year's Day?'' Menath responded when asked why he braved the cold to sink a line.

Topaz reservoir, located along U.S. 395 at the base of the eastern slope of the Sierra Nevada, is fed by the West Walker River. The lake is stocked and managed jointly by the Nevada Division of Wildlife and the California Department of Fish and Game. A valid fishing license from either state is required.

It is closed to fishing from Oct. 1 through Dec. 31.

About 70,000 rainbow trout are stocked each year, with most about 10 to 12 inches in size.

''They're already pretty big'' when they're planted in the fall, said Patrick Sollberger, fishery biologist for the Nevada wildlife agency. ''By the time opening season comes around, the fish usually average 12-14 inches.''

The fishery was severely damaged by New Year's Day flooding in 1997. But Sollberger predicted this season would mark the lake's comeback.

''Even several years after the flood, we weren't finding a lot of carryover from one year to the next,'' he said. ''A majority of the trout in the lake just perished. We had to rebuild the fishery.

''I think we're getting to a point now, we're starting to get some good carryover,'' he said.

Hundreds of boats made up the opening day flotilla by the time the sun crested the eastern hills, bringing with it welcomed warmth.

Landing a whopper was on the mind of Chris Schwoerer of Gardnerville.

''We're just coming out to hopefully catch the big one,'' he said. His 9-year-old son, Robert, nodded in agreement as he sat huddled in the boat bundled in thick layers of clothing.

The largest rainbow, according to the record books, was caught April 1, 1998, was nearly 31 inches long and weighed in at 13 pounds, 8 ounces.

There are also brown trout, cutbows (a rainbow-cutthroat hybrid) and tiger trout (a brown-brook trout hybrid).

Steve Foley and David Shriver were among the early arrivals Monday. Equipped with fishing rods, warm clothes and other provisions, they hoped for a bounty to make fresh fish tacos for lunch.

''Just fire up the little gas barbecue on the boat and we're all set,'' Foley said. ''All we need is the fish.''

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