Once upon a time as in the greatest wild fish tales told and retold over ancient fires by northern California Indians. There was born the legend of the giant Lahontan Trout in excess of twenty pounds that once prowled the Truckee River like vast gangs of submarines, spawning, and owning the waters and imaginations!
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.
These giant trout must have been incredible to hunt and catch in those good old days? In 1938 man once again imposed his often self-serving will and dammed the river. Then this over fished and almost outer space steroid created super strain was doomed to oblivion.
In 1965 a breath of fresh conservation reestablishment thinking prevailed. The U.S. Fish & Wildlife in conjunction with local Pyramid Lake Paiute Tribal elders began restocking Truckee with contemporary lake Lehonatan’s. It has now been over six years and the results are mixed, the main species in charge are Brown trout and Rainbows.
The browns can go 24 plus and the bows are in the 12-20 category.
Make no mistake it is no picnic fooling these wily tricky browns or the bows? With fish concentrations in excess of 3,500 per mile and serious trophy trout all through the river system. One would imagine the odds are great! Wrong cowboy, it’s never easy for the most talented fly fishers to score 6-10 fish days. If your quite adept at working tiny surface flies in slicks and working edges of currents from long distances with enough tippet to keep everything drifting and looking natural.
Sections of the River
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.
Wild Trout Area
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.
Boca to State Line
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.
Flies & Hatches
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.
You might get lucky. Caddis, Mayfly, and Stoneflies sizes #10-16. PMDs #14-16, ants #6-8, Tricos and spinners #18-22, Bushy tied March Browns. Special techniques change depending on area being worked. This river has over 88 miles of life and only around 12 miles suited for fly fishers who are not private landowners.
The middle 12 miles is excellent fly fisher area beginning below town of Truckee. Take Hiway# 267 going northeast go right on Glenshire Road. It is about 4 miles to Glenshire Bridge. All along the way you will see turnouts. It is a good starting point, please be aware rafters do run this river in some sections.
This is a special state wild trout sanctuary with often-complicated special regulations. In fact as this river is discussed one should be aware of the need to always check the state regulations before stepping into new waters. Catch & Release with barbless hooks and a lot of common sense, in regard to leaving no footprints or trash or anything behind on this special water is mandatory!
On the upper and lower area trout can be kept, though few fly fishers keep their trout. This middle area is heavily patrolled and often gets hammered with fellow bug tossers. This is a river made for old hands, journeymen fly fisher types who can rapidly adept to changing water depth, hatches, clarity and pool deep diving weighted patterns worked at often different speeds and depths.
In short this place is more then a challenge for serious fly fishers, unless you hire a guide or pay fairly serious day rates at private lodges. Those who seek easy wading access go here first, if you seek less company, it can be found with a little energy. Remember when the sun begins to go down, working slicks and filmy areas with tiny dries is a magic bullet here, if you can fire at will?
Another good area might be accessed by heading toward small village of Hirschdale, a bridge cross’s the river and one can park and access the river, several nice pools exist here. Here you will be heading in direction of the Grand Canyon of the Truckee. If you’re into long walks of several miles in serious often-treacherous areas, this river will be your cup of tea. A trail exists winding several miles into steep canyon country before arriving at Grey Creek.
It is recommended hiring a guide if you’re not at ease with long walks in strange areas. Many trophy trout exist and can be fooled in this area, though it is off the beaten path. Another good option may be to drive back toward Truckee by way of Glenshire Road, take a right on Hiway#267 go quarter mile to Interstate #80. Take first exit of I-80 about 4 miles along over Union Mills Bridge.
Continue on for 7 miles cross West Bridge of the sweeping horseshoe bend in the river known as ” The Loop ” . Turn right on dirt road, park here and you will see fishing regulations and other signs of fly fisher access. Here you will have many possible routes to try or wade, depending on river flow time of year.
The lower section of the Truckee beyond Grey Creek follows interstate #80 to the town of Farad. Down river almost three miles the water begins to flatten out with very limited access. Fly rods in the 3/4-weight class for fun, unless you need a 5/6 weight for windy conditions. Best way to approach this river is to understand all your tricks will come into play here. Deep divers, tiny dries on long invisible tippets, deep pool action, working cripple patterns, riffles, great early late dry fly action, working rubber legged flies.
You name it, you better know how to do it or hire a guide and cut to the chase, this place can get very complicated quickly!