WEST WENDOVER, Utah — If you head east from Ely, Nevada, toward Great Basin National Park, you will drive a stretch of U.S. Route 50 called “The Loneliest Road in America,” and it will probably live up to its name. It was pretty crowded as I traversed its empty miles, and the other four other cars really made for intense traffic.
After visiting Great Basin National Park, which is truly in the absolute middle of nowhere, I turned around and took a right, moving north toward West Wendover and the Nevada-Utah border. Somewhere past the end of the world, I took another right and began winding down a rough gravel road toward a small, blue desert gem some 20-plus miles from pavement.
My destination was Blue Lake, a warm geothermal lake surrounded by a system of canals and smaller satellite ponds. In aerial photographs, it looks like a strange crop circle that was gouged a little too deep, and then filled in with water.
Given that it is a closed system with no drainage and high mineral content, the blue-green water is clear but foul-smelling and surrounded by thick mud that appeals to all of the biting flies Utah has to offer.
I must’ve been looking like a snack that particular day because those flies wouldn’t stop trying to eat me. Despite a carcinogenic volume of bug spray, they never relented, and the nuisance kept me from truly relaxing, but I still enjoyed myself.
My first stop was at a satellite pond just a few feet (seriously, feet) over the Utah side of the border.
My first catch was a red devil cichlid, a species popular in aquaria that is as widely variable in coloration as almost any other fish you’ll encounter this side of the wrasses. The red devil was a particularly amusing catch for me, given that as I’d pulled up to Blue Lake having just finished Sir Arthur C. Clarke’s sci-fi classic novel, “Childhood’s End,” which features large, super-advanced aliens described to look like the traditional Western depiction of the devil.
I chuckled aloud at the coincidence and fished on.
My little corner of real estate wasn’t mine for long. A very vocal, very (is it rude to say undesirable?) lady and her adult son quickly joined me and began cramping my style. I shared how to catch fish and tried to distance myself from their profanity-laden, alcohol-fueled presence, but they couldn’t take a hint.
They asked to keep every fish I caught bigger than my palm.
I was hesitant to encourage people to eat anything out of that nebulous bathwater swill likely home to more waterborne microorganisms than Lake Havasu during Spring Break, and I told them that. Apparently, since not everyone dies of bacterial meningitis, they weren’t concerned.
Given these fish were all invasives and relatively abundant, at that, I consented, and they filled a cooler with the 13 tilapia up to about a pound and a half I would catch there that day. I caught those tilapia while clearly visible from the water, and tilapia are respectable fighters on light tackle, but I didn’t travel to Satan’s footbath for a fish I’d caught all over the American South.
In addition to the red devil cichlids, I was after African jewelfish, blue mbuna and giraffe cichlid — all of which had been caught there and recently confirmed by numerous sources and fellow anglers.
The jewelfish could not stay away, and I added 15 of those and five more red devils to my totals. I fished every canal, satellite pond and even Blue Lake itself, but no giraffes or mbuna obliged me.
I wasn’t thrilled, but my cross-country fishing trip was in its infancy, and I was happy to add two new species to my list. Though my list would grow by leaps and bounds on that trip, Species No. 257 and Species No. 258, respectively, were a great start.
Spoiler alert! Unlike the people in “Childhood’s End,” I had time on my side, and I had almost 45 days of fishing left, many of which you’ll read about in coming columns.