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Email a Friend Truckee River
By Walt Simmons

Click photos to enlarge Truckee River
What a gorgeous river!
Truckee River
First fish...and on the Truckee!
Without a doubt, the Truckee River is one of the most prominent fisheries among the many fine rivers to be found in California (and Nevada). The recent history of the river beckons stories of its native inhabitants, the Lahontan Cutthroat Trout. With the arrival of the gold rush, the Comstock Lode, and exploratory mapping projects by the US government, the Truckee was teeming with Lahontans and claims of their sizes ran above thirty pounds, sometimes inciting the name “inland salmon”. So tasty was their meat, and so sought after became their roe, that they were harvested to the brink of extinction. Lahontans were also the dominant fish in Lake Tahoe, but the massive timber extraction for mineshafts, flumes, and edifice construction caused the fragile habitat to prove nearly inhospitable, and the population became a shell of what it once was.

The Truckee River is unique for several reasons. It flows out of Lake Tahoe for starters, and unlike so many westward flowing rivers from the Sierra, it courses east into Nevada where it eventually fills massive Pyramid Lake. The presence of the river also holds an important role in providing water for the Reno, Nevada area. The Truckee today is largely devoid of Lahontan Cutthroat, but early imports of rainbow and German brown trout have established a strong niche in the river, the browns accounting for just over half of the population. Some of these fish grow to some impressive sizes too. Though not an everyday occurrence, browns of 24” and nearly 10 pounds are sometimes caught. Rainbows, as in many streams, are caught more frequently than browns. Estimates of the fish count per square mile are impressive at around 3,500.

The Truckee’s best sections offer plentiful wild trout in its many pockets, but these trout are plain and simple going to make you work for it. It is often said that the wild section of the Truckee is a poor choice for beginners, and this bears some truth. Though for some sections it would be difficult to find a better location for a beginner to hone skills in high-stick pocket water nymphing, approaches lacking finesse and indiscreet presentations amount to spooked trout with a case of lockjaw. Too, the flows when higher can demand aggressive wading where a stout wading staff is an asset. Such wading is essential to work the rock gardens and myriad pocket water sections.

Not all of the Truckee is blue ribbon fly fishing country. Let us start at the top where the river exits a smallish dam at Tahoe City at Fanny Bridge below which can be seen massive rainbows and browns, the largest of which are close to 30” and 15 lbs, innocently fin in a deep pool. These fish display little of the wariness you typically expect from river trout, because fishing is strictly banned for the first 1000 yards from the gate. A fine of a staggering sum awaits those who disobey, so don’t even think of it.

Here begins the journey of the Truckee River, and the section from below the gate to the take-out near River Road becomes the domain of rafters in summer months (excepting extended drought years where the river becomes a mere trickle). After the boaters have gone and twilight is approaching, some fun dry fly work with caddis and humpies can be productive. Still, you need to consider the character of the Truckee River between Lake Tahoe and the town of Truckee. This is not bad water, but is not really the stuff of a fly fisher’s dreams. Highway 89 stays within close proximity most of the way, and it receives a considerable stocking of catchable fish in the summer months. This area is scenic since it’s surrounded by conifer-dappled canyon walls. Do be mindful of private property when fishing this section. The idyllic setting has prompted the building of many vacation homes over the years. Just stay below the high water line and you will be within your rights. Do not expect trophy trout in this section. Skinny water of the upper reaches is more compromised by low flows, so the habitat generally does not favor the really large trout that are more abundant below the town of Truckee.

The river gains an infusion of water from Donner Creek just before Highway 89 intersects with Interstate 80, also where the Truckee River elbow-bends to the right through town. There are productive waters here, but you will be greeted by free roaming mountain dogs that are more likely to take that chulupa (and maybe a finger) than wait for you to drop it. This should make you consider the more pristine waters a few miles downstream. Parking is challenging in many places as you take Interstate 80 eastward. Often you can see the river, but cannot park legally in many logical access spots. Several exceptions are available, however. Glenshire Bridge is probably the most popular of the jump-off spots. This is also a better place to acquaint beginners to the Truckee’s better stretches since the wading is less perilous, and good gentle riffles and pocket water are abundant. On the other hand, the law of relativity for good access translates to educated trout, well attuned to living in heavily flogged waters.

As you follow the river downstream, the country begins to take on a high basin character where an afternoon rain brings out the pleasing pungent scent of the ever-present Artemesia Tridentata (basin sagebrush). Hike downstream, then work the water upstream, if possible. Great hatches of caddis and yellow stoneflies can get the place rocking. These sometimes kick in with little warning. If you cover a whole lot of ground past Glenshire Bridge, you will encounter a posting advising you that ahead lies private water, owned by San Francisco Fly Fishers. It embodies several miles of a horseshoe bend in the river, after which, the river again is public access.

Another great area to work is accessed by the Hirschdale Rd exit to Boca and Stampede Reservoirs. This is in the area where the Little Truckee River (a fly fishing destination in its own right) enters the Truckee River. There is excellent pocket water throughout this area, though wading becomes more of a challenge if you want to effectively work the many pockets and seems. High stick nymphing is the primary tactic here. Start with a nine to 10 foot rod, either a five of six weight. A four weight will be fun in the morning, but afternoon winds are an environmental given, and you will then turn frustrated as you lob a cast that collapses like a wet noodle. The trick is line control, and little or no line should touch the water. The takes are often subtle and fast, and practice is paramount if you are to have consistent success here. The rewards can be good for the patient and persistent. Typical for nymphing is a two fly rig starting with a Hart’s River Detective strike indicator, some light split shot, a small golden stone fly nymph, and Mercer’s Micro May Fly in size 20 for a dropper. This is subject to variation, obviously, but can be a good producer. Plumb various depths to get a better feel for the holding areas. Tippet is typically 5X for these fish. Seldom is 6 or 7X used, since it increases possible break-offs and decreases the fish’s chances of survival if landed on such light tippets.

Wading is for real on the Truckee, so wear felt soles, studs can help. There is a lot of moss on the rocks and involuntary dips are fairly common for the ill prepared or casually attentive. Use the railroad tracks to scope out various sections of water, but be aware that trains do come and go with frequency. There is much more that can be written about the many faces and personalities of the Truckee River than can be properly addressed in a smallish article. One could spend a lifetime working these waters without feeling they have become perfunctory, and the scent of pine, sage, and mountain air are part of the attraction. And all this lies within a short jaunt to Interstate 80. Fortunately, there are many great places to lodge, camp, and eat in and around the town of Truckee alone. This is not to mention Lake Tahoe’s many possibilities for the same. The Truckee does not give it’s secrets up too easily, but when you first hook a decent sized trout, and play it around the many protruding rocks and land it, the river will then know that you have arrived.

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