Truckee River

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 Fish Travel charters santa rosa beach. 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 river.

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.

The Seasons:

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 permission.

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