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Truckee River

The hardest river I've ever fished, it's also the most fun

The Truckee is an irresistible river to fish. The first white person to set eyes on the Truckee, General Frémont, immediately had to fish it. He and his men enjoyed many days of fishing its waters and feasting on its bounty of Lahontan Cutthroat trout.

The Truckee River system is internationally renowned for its huge trout. In Frémont's day thirty and forty pound Cutthroat were abundant. Forty pound trout no longer ply the cool waters of the Truckee, but twenty and thirty lake trout (mackinaw) are taken every year from its feeder lakes Tahoe and Donner. There are few places on the planet where, with a fly rod, one can reasonably expect to catch more ten pound and larger trout than Pyramid Lake, Nevada.


On the California side of the border, the Truckee River can be divided into three sections: 1) Lake Tahoe to Trout Creek, 2) Trout Creek to the Boca Outflow and 3) Boca to State Line.Section 1 originates in Lake Tahoe and is fed by half a dozen small tributaries. This section is heavily stocked with catchable sized rainbows throughout the fishing season (fourth Saturday in April through November 15). Early in the season when the rest of the river is often muddy and high with runoff, this upper stretch remains fishable.

The section upstream of River Ranch never dirties and provides limited but reliable angling. Come summer, this same section is packed with rafters, making mid-day angling impossible. River Ranch to Trout Creek (the east end of Truckee) is a mild gradient freestone stretch that is easily accessible right off the shoulder of Highway 89.

Section 2 is a state designated Wild Trout Stream. It has a self-sustaining population of wild rainbows and browns that are stronger, somewhat larger and much harder to catch than those fish in the upstream section. These fish are protected with a strict policy of catch and release. Only barbless flies and lures are allowed. Two trout over fifteen inches may be legally kept, but it is an unwritten law that all fish are released in this stretch. More than a few anglers with a stringer of dead fish have returned to their car to find their tires flattened.
The Wild Trout section of the Truckee must be the best protected piece of water in the state. The local game warden, district attorney and judge are flyfishers and enforce the game laws with a vengeance. Be forewarned: wear your license, use barbless hooks and release your fish!

There is limited fishing to be found on the section paralleled by Glenshire Drive just east of town. Because of its wild trout status and close proximity to town, this is possibly the most pressured section of the entire river. The window between spring run-off and hot summer temperatures is the best time to fish here. Come July, there simply isn't enough cool water to keep trout active during the day.

From the inlet of Prosser Creek (at the first I-80 river overpass east of Truckee) to the Boca Outlet, the water is deeper, the temperatures generally lower and the fishing better than the upper sections. Easy fishing access can be found at the second I-80 river overpass east of Truckee and at the Boca exit.

Section 3 from Boca to State Line has special angling restrictions (see current Fish & Game regulations). Some of the largest trout in the Truckee and most of the river's smallmouth bass live in this stretch; however, the water here can be deep and treacherous so fish accordingly. Access to Section 3 is somewhat limited; most anglers enter the river at Boca, Floriston or Farad. Early in the season the Truckee can be cold and blown out with high water. Your best bet is to fish the river upstream of the tributaries (try River Ranch). If you're willing to go against the odds and perhaps get a very large trout, fish run-off using a large (#4 to 3/0) streamer with contrasting colors. The most effective pattern to date is the Goblin. The Goblin is a black woolly bugger with a strip of bright orange rabbit pulled over its back. Other flies that will work include a dark wooly bugger, a Clousser minnow in black, white or bright green and a marabou muddler.

Because the water is cold, trout seem to limit their meals to a few big bites rather than chasing little stuff. The typically murky water and long angler-free winter often make the elusive big trout more susceptible than they might be at other times of the year.

As the water clears, the first bugs will be the #16 yellow craneflies, the Ameletus mayflies (Slate winged dun) and Rhithrogenia mayflies (March Browns). These will be quickly followed by the Baetis (Blue winged olive).
About the same time as the willows and alders are leafing out, the bulk of the Truckee insects begin to emerge and the trout start to rise freely. June and July typically have the best dry fly fishing of the year. The Sierra Nevada Hatch Chart was developed over a fifteen year period using the Wild Trout section of the Truckee River as its basis. Use it!

In the dog days of summer, the best fishing tends to be early in the morning and late in the evening. Take advantage of windy afternoons and fish grasshopper patterns to imitate the hapless bugs that get blown into the river.

The Lahontan Cutthroat trout which was the orginal inhabitant in the Truckee have long since disappeared. Dam construction, mill operations, comercial harvest and the introduction of non native lake trout, rainbow trout and brown trout proved to be too much for the meek cutthroat. The Lahonatn Cutthroat isnow found only in small remnant populations on the Sierra's east flank and out into Nevada. Under mandate from the Endangered Species Act, the US Fish and Wildlife Service is undertakingthe re introduction of the Lahontan Cutthroat into the Truckee River.

The task of re introducing an endemic species back into its native waters is a laudible endeavor. The reintrodcution of the Lahontan Cutthroat back into the Truckee will be difficult if not impossible. Outside of a few staff within the USFWS I have yet to speak to a knowledgable biologist who believes the effort will succede. Rainbow trout are highly competetive and readily interbreed with cutthroat. For the plan to work, the vast majority of brown trout and virtually all of the rainbows will have to eliminated. Planting cutthroat on top of an existing rainbow population has been tried hundreds of times throughout the western US but it has NEVER worked. It will be interesting to see how lofty ideals, common sense and big government interplay on the Truckee. I hope they don't ruin the river in an effort to save it.

For up to the minute information on the Lahontan Cutthroat recovery visit the USFWS project web site. For more information about the Truckee River and how to fish it, get a copy of Sierra Trout Guide, by Ralph Cutter, from Amato Publications (or call 530-587-7005).