The four hour drive to Elko passed in jig-time due to the range and level of topics discussed, the musical interludes as dictated by our driver (Denis) and the cache of humorous stories shared by the Wild Fish Crew. This was my first trip to northeast Nevada and though I had been well schooled by the guys as to what to expect, nothing they had said had really prepared me for the exquisite, raw, elemental beauty of northern Nevada. In particular, I wasn’t prepared for the beauty of the scenery surrounding Wild Horse and South Fork Reservoirs, our destinations during this week-long fishing trip.

As our impressive rig rolled into Elko, there was a noticeable air of optimism about! My travelling companions have made this very same pilgrimage to this high desert country for the best part of 50 years in Rod’s case and 35 years for Denis. Grand Pa Tex and Grand Ma Bernie brought Denis to this very special place nearly every year since he was on eye-level terms with the butt ring of his first spinning rod!

I too was feeling the beneficial back-draught of their collective optimism having listened to my two companions’ stories of fabulous catches of those aerial gymnasts: rainbows; strike after strike from willing wipers; rod-bending action with feisty smallmouths and perhaps a chance to tease breathtakingly beautiful cuttbows with the fly! The mere prospect of such fish likely to put in an appearance during our time in this high desert country had me pumped like a Bouncy Castle at a kid’s party!

However, before we wet a line, we had a dinner invitation from Don Newman to attend. Don is Executive Director of the Elko Convention and Visitors Authority and he kindly invited the Wild Fish Team to sample the mouth-watering, Basque cuisine at the renowned 102 year old Star Hotel on Silver Street. Earlier on the road to Elko, Denis had been talking-up a local Basque favourite, the Picon Punch, a benign sounding cocktail as a must try local tipple. Like the naive, trusting soul that I am, I thought no more about it, preferring instead to keep the images of large rainbows and wipers swimming across my mind from those earlier stories, recounted in such detail by my Wild Fish buddies.

As soon as we entered the wonderfully atmospheric bar of the Star Hotel, I was transported back to far earlier times in cowboy country. My eyes panned around the bar’s rustic interior, taking in the collection of photos and memorabilia from a bygone era and replaying scenes where weary, weather-worn, sheep herders rested here during the long, cold nights of winter, swapping stories over steaming plates piled high with buttery mashed potatoes, generous helpings of garlic, rosemary, onions and bell peppers accompanying thick wedges of roast lamb or grilled slices of Nevada’s finest beef! I was now salivating just like my old Wheaten Lab Jasper used to do when sitting under the kitchen table with his nose on my lap, hoping for a share of my dinner! “There’s a good boy”, I said.

Natalie, our attentive and knowledgeable bartender, was asked for two Picon Punches. There was good-natured leg-pulling by the crew that this was going to be an experience I wouldn’t forget in a hurry! I watched as Natalie filled our glasses with ice, followed by measures of grenadine, Picon Amer, soda water, brandy and lastly I believe lemon juice. My eyes were already blurring at the prospect of this tongue-curling concoction!

Natalie reverentially placed the two Picon Punches on the counter in front of Denis and I. We toasted one and other. We then toasted Rod (camera guy), Greg (director) and Don (our new friend). Next up, we toasted “health, wealth and happiness”. Then, our fishing prospects, absent friends and family, our pets, the guy who invented braid, reliable outboard motors, correctly greased trailer hubs and many other interesting subjects and issues too numerous to recount here.  Finally I said “Slainte!” (Irish for “health!”), raised the Picon Punch to my lips and took a good swig. A strangled whistle came from somewhere inside my mouth. “Wow!  Jeeze!  That’s something else” I said, amidst gasps for air. Most definitely an acquired taste!

Rod sympathetically handed me a bottle of Blue Moon!

The leg-pulling was mighty as Don led the way into the family-friendly dining room at the Star. I ordered beef, which was cooked to perfection, accompanied by a mountain of veg. To use the term “portion sizes at the Star Hotel are generous” would be an injustice to the word “generous”! To be accurate, the dinners are humungous! Fabulous food served by attentive staff, in a great atmosphere. What more could a hungry chap from Ireland need?

Our hosts Scott and Tricia looked after us royally and the Wild Fish Team had a really great evening with Don Newman.

That night at Elko’s Red Lion Hotel, I slept soundly in my bed – sated from the gorgeous dinner earlier at The Star and no doubt helped in no small way by my first and definitely last Picon Punch.

Click here to read part two!

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