Scenic Rubies boon for camping, fishing

As the sun set in the West, the mountains to the east of our campsite turned a brilliant shade of red, their rocky crags and high peaks resembling large rubies scattered over the desert floor.

I had been in this part of Nevada several times before but never where I could look eastward upon this mountain range when the sun went down. Now I have, and I know one reason someone might call them the Ruby Mountains.

Actually, the Rubies are so named for the many garnets early pioneers found along the mountains' slopes, but that story doesn't hold the same romance as the other does.

Referred to by some as Nevada's Swiss Alps, the Ruby Mountains are centrally located about 20 miles southeast of Elko in the state's northeastern quadrant. From an elevation of about 6,000 feet at the valley floor, the Rubies climb to 11,387 feet at the top of Ruby Dome. Typical of most Nevada mountain ranges, the Rubies run north and south for about 80 miles but average only about 12 miles wide for much of their length.

Public access on the east and west sides of the range is limited, but it is worth the effort to find the access points and do some exploring or fishing. Many of the streams - no more than creeks, really - hold feisty trout. Don't worry if your body doesn't climb like it used to; the drive required to circumnavigate the Rubies is worth the effort as the scenery is not soon forgotten. One of the most scenic areas in the Rubies is in Lamoille Canyon, an example of the power of glacial activity that occurred back in the day.

If you are feeling especially fit, you can hike into one of the many lakes along Ruby Crest trail and fish the high water.

From my campsite in the South Fork State Recreation Area, I could almost view the entire 80-mile length of the Rubies, from Secret Pass on the north to Pearl Peak and beyond on the south. One couldn't ask for a better way of starting and ending each day.

Serving as the centerpiece of the recreation area is South Fork Reservoir, a 1,650-acre impoundment that offers anglers the chance to reel in large rainbow trout and scrappy black bass - the smallmouth and the largemouth varieties. The former state record smallie was taken from this reservoir; the fish weighed in at 6 pounds, 4 ounces and measured 20¼ inches long. Other fish found in South Fork include brown trout, wipers and channel catfish.

Since my visit to South Fork was for purposes other than fishing, I didn't have much time to spend on the water, but I managed to throw a fly or two. After missing the set on two or three strikes, I finally hooked a nice rainbow trout. Those members of our group who could devote more time to fishing caught and released several trout and smallmouth bass during our brief stay last weekend. Daytime temperatures reached into the 70s, but the nighttime temperatures dropped near freezing.

Facilities at the recreation area include a 25-space campground where amenities include flush toilets, covered picnic tables, showers and a large group-use area. There are few trees, so it's a good idea to import your own shade. The campground generally is open from early May to mid-October, depending on weather conditions. Open camping also is available along the southwest shore. Boaters will find two boat ramps, one on the north side of the lake and one on the southwestern shoreline.

South Fork Reservoir is a long drive from Las Vegas, but with the scenic Rubies close by, the trip is well worth the effort.

Freelance writer Doug Nielsen is a conservation educator for the Nevada Department of Wildlife. His "In the Outdoors" column, published Thursday in the Las Vegas Review-Journal, is not affiliated with or endorsed by the NDOW. Any opinions he states in his column are his own. He can be reached at