If you are looking for easy flyfishing, don't come here! However, if you
prefer a serious test of your perceived virtuosity; the Truckee River may
pique your interests. Unlike other California freestone streams, 15-25
fish days are few, if at all. Many competent anglers are befuddled by this
fishery. But, if they are patient and attentive, the river will definitely
hone their stream-craft. Being consistently successful here bodes well
for excursions on other moving waters. I've often mused of a corollary:
during my serious downhill skiing days of the early 70's in the Tahoe area;
I'd always return to Squaw Valley when my over-inflated ego needed an adjustment.
The Truckee can serve the same purpose. Yet, once you have learned its
idiosyncrasies, it is addictive and exhilarating...just like Squaw Valley.
It is difficult to imagine angling for 10-25 pound trout in a 40'-100'
wide eastern Sierra mountainstream. Historically it did occur...until the
'30's. The Truckee nurtured a spawning run of the largest cutthroat in
the world; the Lahontan breed. The last recorded run being 1938. They occupied
Nevada's Pyramid Lake, the river and Lake Tahoe. Dams and the commercial
supply of their flesh created the demise. For years, Pyramid has been federally
managed for these trophy sportfish and in the Spring, 1996, U.S. Fish &
Wildlife started a program of re-introduction of the species to the main
Today's Truckee, on the California side, is legally fished from the last
Saturday of April to the 15th of November. Decent trout are 16"-19" rainbows
and 18"-22" browns; larger fish are occasionally encountered. Mountain
Whitefish are present. The median sized natural trout a fly-angler should
expect is in the 9'-12' range. An October '93 survey annotated a recovering
fishery from the severe '87-'94 drought; up to 3600+ per mile, with a 55%
brown to 45% rainbow ratio. The drought has officially ended, there is
no current survey; the natural assumption is that the trout per mile is
minimally at the last count levels. The last two season's stream-bred trout
have been incredibly healthy, robust and beautiful. These are survivors,
providing a great gene-pool ....the future bodes well for the fishery.
Sixty-three (63) streams flow into world-renowned Lake Tahoe, there is
only one outlet, the Truckee River. From its source on the west side of
the Lake at Tahoe City (6229'), the stream slowly travels 14 miles through
a narrow volcanic-ridged valley that is bordered by thick, evergreen forests.
At the end of the corridor, the road bisects Interstate 80, and the waters
move east past the now-trendy ski town of Truckee (6051'). At this point,
Donner Creek spills into the main river, the last point where hatchery
trout are provided; from here on, everything is wild. The next 20 California
miles, the Truckee parallels the Interstate and intercontinental railroad
tracks, and crosses into Nevada. If the trout elude you, test your luck
at Reno's gaming tables. The river ends its 88 mile, lake to lake journey,
spilling into arid Pyramid Lake. To the west of the town of Truckee, over
the infamous Donner Summit, down the western slope of the Sierra Nevada,
lies San Francisco and the Pacific Ocean, 200 miles away
For angling purposes, California's Truckee river can be divided into three
sections. Of interest to the fly-rodder, is the MIDDLE section. This is
a special, twelve mile state-mandated "WildTrout"sanctuary. The upstream
boundary is Trout Creek (just below the town of Truckee) and the downstream
border is Gray's Creek. Here there are convoluted C&R regulations (barbless
artificials or flies only, minimum sizes, restricted limits etc.); best
to consult the sport fishing regulations before wetting your line. The
restrictions are posted and the area is heavily patrolled, pay heed. The
intent is to sustain self-perpetuating natural trout populations without
the intrusion of hatchery stock that will dilute native instincts. This
natural fishery is cherished by both the locals and visting regulars, both
release all trout.
The UPPER and LOWER sections have five-trout limits and no gear restrictions.
The 16 mile UPPER SECTION, from the lake outlet at Tahoe City downriver
to Trout Creek, affords easy roadside access along highway #89. The river
is closed to all fishing 1000 feet below the outlet dam. The California
Department of Fish & Game seeds most of this stretch, from Donner Creek
upstream, with hatchery rainbows to augment the stream-bred browns. During
the hot summer months there is a trememdous amount of commercial rafting
from the Lake to the rustic River Ranch Lodge. To avoid the floatillas,
best fish early or, ideally, during the evening hatches.
The LOWER SECTION of the Truckee River, below Gray Creek, follows Interstate
#80 east into the arid flatlands of Nevada. Access is limited.
May and June can be an "iffy" proposition on the main Truckee River. The
best strategy at this time is to fish the lakes and smaller streams. Nevertheless,
streamers and rolling big & small nymphs (in tandem) in the lower water
column are the most efficient methods; water flows and temperatures permitting.
HINT: mid-June is an unbeknown BIG DRY FLY period; Western Green Drakes,
Golden Stones and huge, winged, black carpenter ants are around.....18"-22"
trout are aware and looking for such opportunistic, high-caloric morsels!
July, August and into September affords the angler the best opportunity
to fish three of the Truckee's major hatches; little yellow stones, and
two "free-living" caddis, the green rock worm and the spotted sedge. Larval,
nymph, emerger and adult patterns all work, if used at appropriate times.
During the evening sessions, entailing late-afternoon to dusk, the river
earns its well-known reputation as a "night stream." Hint; do not read
the riseforms as surface takes, use soft hackles and cripple patterns.
If fortunate, late September to early November affords the autumn angler
the opportunity to experience a glorious Indian summer, with an occassional,
short-lived thundershower. Crowds are gone, nights become brisk, aspens
and alders turn golden and flows are low and clear. Stealth becomes a prime
tactic. The last brood of the Baetis are available to sighted surface slurpers
at mid-day. The final huge bug, the October Caddis, flits around and affords
an opportunistic, high-caloric intake for trout preparing for the snows
of the high Sierra winter.
To flyfish this High Sierra stream effectively, one has to be particularily
adept at selecting the right times and places. Aside from the normal fly-angling
considerations, other variables enter the equation, snow-pack and its percentile
of water content, weather-related gradual or erratic volumes of run-off
and human induced water releases from both Tahoe and other downstream bodies
of water. An understanding of how these factors affect the fishery, is
what separates the successful fly-angler from others
Felt soles (ideally with studs) and wading staffs are strongly recommended.
The river's substrate of cobbles and boulders are algae-laden and can be
very slippery; regardless of careful foot-probing. A lot of trout fly-rodders
may be unaccustomed to 57-68 degrees being ideal, but that is required
to get the juices flowing optimally in the stream-bred Truckee River denizens.
Ones thermometer is an essential tool here.
Personally, I prefer using a 9'-4-weight, medium action rod. That is, until
the wind blows; which is a serious factor when it arrives, normally in
the afternoons. A fast, 6-weight has enough body to "punch" line out when
required. A 5-weight is an ideal compromise. A 9 footer is useful for mending,
reaching and "high-stick" nymphing. A 9'-5x leader is all-purpose; merely
adjust length and diameter as the situation demands. On this river, I do
not use 7x, and rarely go to 6x. A 006"diameter tippet is usually the smallest;
even when knotting on minute, late-Summer/Fall patterns of Baetis, Tricorythodes
and Pseudocloeon. I will lenghten a 5x-tippet to its maximum extension,
as long as it affords me proper presentation; which is always critical.
I enjoy landing and releasing strong fish (in survivable condition!) and
attempt to avoid breaking them off at the moment of truth, the hook-up,or
the ensuing struggle.
So...trophy trout (20"+) are available throughout the river system, regardless
of what section of the river you explore. They are not easily duped. Those
anglers who commit to being observant, patient, and flexible relative to
techniques employed, have the highest probability of hooking (not necessarily
landing!) sophisticated, mature fish. The Truckee, being a freestoner,
has its mix of riffles, runs, pools and pocket-water; all basic techniques
will produce. The prizes are for the innovators at the vise or at stream-side.
Most of the time, attractor dries, suggestive nymphs, simple emergers,
standard streamers, and bucktails will work. Sometimes not.
Portions of this article have been printed in "California FlyFisher" &
NorthWest FlyFishing magazines, the book entitled "Flyfishers' Guide to
Northern California", "StreamLines" and "Guided Waters" subscription publications.
Copyright of Frank R. Pisciotta, no rights are granted except by
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