Ten years ago on a February afternoon, Holly and I were sitting on a boulder watching the shadows march across the desert valley toward the mountains to the east that were shaded pink by the sunset. A few hundred yards below us was a herd of several hundred mule deer meandering out of their streamside winter bedding area unaware of their audience. Nearby was a small band of a dozen eagle-eyed pronghorn antelope very much aware of our existence.
Earlier that day I had used my fly rod to determine if there were any trout in the nearby creek. I easily caught and released more than a dozen fat brown trout including one over 20 inches long. The stream is barely six feet wide, is open year-round to catch-and-eat angling, and is on public land with fine campgrounds along a good road next to it, yet there is no sign
of other fishermen having been there anytime recently. Although the stream is occasionally planted with rainbow trout for anglers I have never seen, the browns were as wild as the country. Eight years later when I went deer hunting in a nearby mountain range during late summer, there was still no sign of any other anglers using the stream even on summer weekends. The fishing was as good as before.
We now go to this Eastern Nevada haven near the mining town of Ely every year in the late winter or early spring to escape the clouds and rain of Western Washington for a few days. On some of the years the fish have not been accessible due to deep snows, so we cross country ski on some of the driest powder on the continent. We may ski on the miles of trails in the nearby Humboldt National Forest marked by the Ely Chamber of Commerce or sometimes we just point ourselves across miles of federal land to wherever takes our fancy. 95% of the land around Ely is public.
I always go visit the deer that winter along our creek, however. I just have a need to know how they are doing. They are a joy to watch since they are the same ones year after year. When the snow is heavy, I always ski in with my favorite, lightweight, coyote rifle to provide a little temporary safety for those deer. The local ranchers are thrilled as well. Neither Nevada or Utah require nonresidents to have hunting licenses for coyotes.
If you have been interested in a place to get away from the clouds and gloom but are not enthusiastic about joining the throngs of other snowbirds in the Southwest or other sunspots, Eastern Nevada might be for you. If you enjoy an occasional night out at a good restaurant with a brief try at gambling, but the glitz and glamour of the big cities leaves you cold, Ely might be worth a try.
There are over 20 Class 1 (self-sustaining) trout streams within 35 miles of Ely on public lands to explore. Some streams have rainbows, some have brook trout (I have seen brooks over 18 inches in one), most have browns, and a very few have the rare beautiful Bonneville cutthroat trout that is a holdover between ice ages until the Great Salt Lake refills again. The streams are all so small that sneaking up on your stomach to dabble wet flies is the ideal technique. Almost all are accessible to passenger cars over fair to good BLM (Bureau of Land Management) roads if you are cautious.
The trade off is that Ely is high desert (over 6000 feet in elevation in town surrounded by 11,000 foot peaks), so it does get cold at night all the way into June. This does limit the casual tourist traffic except at the nearby Great Basin National Park. Most days are sunny and pleasant with highs at least into the low 50's by mid-February. The desert cold doesn't seem as intense as our Northwest wet cold, so, to me, a morning of 10 degrees there is not as cold as 30 degrees here.
There are ample facilities that are rarely filled for both RVers or casual travelers to Ely. For RVers there are at least four full service camps in Ely itself, or, if you are self-contained, the whole desert is available. For the more adventurous RV camper I recommend the free BLM campsite or the Forest Service camp upstream at Cleve Creek about 30 miles SE of Ely just north of Hwy 50. Both campgrounds are on a fine year-round trout stream with plenty of wildlife to watch and in January have excellent chukar hunting.
I have also noticed many potential campsites along the gravel roads that follow the original Pony Express Trail if you have an interest in reliving a bit of history.
Cave Lake State Park is a much publicized RV campground about 15 miles south of Ely (the lake has brown trout over 20 pounds), but the lake is frozen in winter and the snow may stay from mid-November until Memorial Day.
If you go to Ely someday and it happens to be on a weekday, stop at the BLM office on the north end of town next to Hwy 93. The BLM people have always been friendly and the BLM recreational maps specifically for that area are worth their weight in gold.
The easiest and quickest way to get to this late winter outdoor paradise is to cross the Cascades on I-90 and head SE through Boise turning right at Twin Falls, Idaho, on Hwy 93. This is normally a two full day trip to get to Ely, but I recommend a night at the community of Jackpot to enjoy a little classic Nevada before heading on to the real Nevada. Jackpot has three excellent hotel/casinos plus a golf course as well as RV services. There are several good, underfished trout streams in the bleak-looking hills east of Jackpot as well as one of the finest bass/walleye lakes in Idaho only ten miles northwest of town. At least one casino even provides meat locker service for hunters passing through the area in the fall.
For a longer, interesting loop try heading south to Reno, then east across Nevada on Highway 50, called the "loneliest road in America", then returning via Boise. Each mountain range from the town of Austin east has several underfished trout streams. The Toiyabe National Forest office in Austin can point you toward them with advice on road conditions. An RVer might inquire about any local hot springs for a camping spot (there is one only a few miles east of Austin in the middle of the Big Smokey Valley). Plan about a minimum of eight days for this trip.
Non-resident fishing licenses in Nevada are $12 for the first day with $4 for each additional day. If you wish to hunt something other than coyotes, non-resident small game plus upland bird and waterfowl hunting licenses are $16 for one day with $5 for each additional day (most upland bird seasons end on January 31).