Nevada Freshwater Fishing
By Joe Doucette
In 2008, Zunino/Jiggs Reservoir (Jiggs Reservoir) was a mud hole in the ground, located approximately 30 miles south of Elko at the base of the Ruby Mountains. By 2011 it was dry, the victim of drought, a century old dam and ground that had appeared to have “sprung a leak.” This once popular fishery was no more.
Fast forward to 2014 and the site is a beehive of activity with dozers, trucks and other heavy equipment digging, scraping and building a new dam. The activity was a culmination of years of work to bring together a myriad of partners providing money and expertise in an effort to give Jiggs Reservoir a new lease on life.
“It’s common for our high desert reservoirs to lose a lot of water to evaporation during the heat of summer,” explains Jeff Petersen, Nevada Department of Wildlife (NDOW) fisheries biologist. “But Jiggs was losing a significant amount of water even when it was ice covered during the winter when the water level should have stabilized.”
According to Petersen, this was a good indication that the bottom of the reservoir wasn’t holding water. Soil samples taken from the bottom of the reservoir showed that there was more loam than clay, not a good recipe for a reservoir bottom. That combined with a century old dam and more drought years than wet ones saw NDOW salvaging fish from a small pool of water in 2007.
“Originally, we just wanted to deepen the reservoir a bit and add clay to the bottom so that it would hold water. But it soon became clear that the dam also needed to be replaced.” Petersen said.
With that information, Petersen began assembling a team of partners to help restore the impoundment. NDOW, the Bureau of Land Management, Joe Cumming owner of Bar C Land and Livestock, the Gund Ranch, which owns the water rights of the reservoir, Barrick Goldstrike, Newmont Mining Corp., Nevada Department of Water Resources and Elko County all came together to help restore the reservoir.
The project had three strategies for improving the reservoir. The first was to excavate and increase the depth of the “low pool” portion of the reservoir. This would deepen the area below the outflow to allow enough water, even in dry years, to allow fish to survive through the winter.
The second strategy was to add bentonite clay to the bottom of the reservoir to help prevent loss of water through the loamy bottom. In the process of deepening the low pool, a clay heavy layer was found several feet below the bottom of the reservoir and so a clay “wall” was built around the sides of the low pool area to keep the water from subbing out horizontally.
The third and final strategy involved rebuilding the 100 year old dam which had become a safety concern due to erosion, vegetation growth and burrowing mammals. The plan included not only rebuilding the dam, but adding a spillway to handle any major water events.
Excavation and construction began in 2014 and by late fall of that year most of the major work was completed. In the summer of 2015 the dam was certified, but it was too late to add any water, as the water rights only allowed filling in the spring.
Mother Nature cooperated in the winter of 2015/2016, dumping plenty of snow in the Ruby Mountains and surrounding areas, saturating the ground at the reservoir and providing plenty of runoff to start filling it.
Finally, on April 15, 2016, the culmination of years of planning and hard work came to fruition as a couple of thousand trout, including 1000 brood stock measuring up to 20 inches, from Gallagher Fish Hatchery were stocked into Jiggs Reservoir. This marked the first time in almost a decade that anglers would be able to once again fish at Jiggs Reservoir.
Later in the summer, NDOW also stocked bluegill and black bass in the reservoir to provide anglers different fishing opportunities in the lake and a fishing destination for families and beginners as well as the seasoned angler.
“It’s been a lot of work to get to this point,” said Petersen with a smile. “But it was worth it and it is going to make a great place to take your family camping and fishing.”