This is what 4 CFS looks like.

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Picture courtesy of Brian Johnson. 

So…the day we hoped wouldn’t come is here.

If you want to fish the river now, save yourself the effort and head to the local pet shop aquarium.  If you want to help, grab a friend and some trash bags and haul out what you can.  As we’ve described here before, now is the time to try other waters or even other species.  The Truckee has endured a lot.  She’ll be back one day.

If you’d like to donate towards or serve in a summer clean-up event, contact us here.

River Update – Guest Blogger: Mikey Wier

The Truckee River is Sick.

We all love the Truckee and it doesn’t take a physician of ecology to realize the river is ill.  All it takes is some personal observations to realize the river hasn’t been it’s usual vibrant self.  Diminished flows mean diminished health of a river.  Water is the essence of the river.  The more water, typically the healthier a river system is.  Less water simply means less river.  All the rivers systems rely on the flow of water.  When those flows are reduced systems start to shut down or go into sustain mode rather then thrive mode.  As stewards of the river it’s our responsibility to realize when the river is sick and take care of it as such.

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The ocean is the generator of most weather on this planet.  In many ways, the oceans can be equated to the heart of the planet. Rivers are the life blood of this planet.  They can be equated to organs or veins feeding water to the ocean or other large bodies of fresh water.  As with all living organisms these systems can and will fluctuate in health.

Droughts are no stranger to the western United States.  We’ve experienced periods of droughts and periods of great precipitation for thousands of years.  Nature has ways of dealing with droughts.  It also has ways of dealing with floods.  The rivers and fish suffer but they always come through.  Or else they would not be here today.  But in today’s modern times we put an excess stress on the rivers and their systems, making it harder for the natural systems to adapt quick enough.

Fishing aside most of the stress we place on the river comes from the demands of development.  Increased demand on water supply for off channel uses including agriculture, municipalities, and landscaping contribute to greatly reduced flows from the “old” average.  The systems of the river typically end up in sustain mode by mid to late summer on an average year these days.  If you add a severe drought then we find ourselves in a sustain or even shut-down mode in some cases…and summer has hardly started!

“Dry years can be a great time to do stream restoration work!”

 

The Fish Are Affected

The most obvious limitation of diminished flows is usable habitat.  Fish need water!  That’s the simple truth.  Less water mean less hiding spots to spread out to or feed in.  The trout populations get condensed into the few remaining deep holes.  This makes them more susceptible to predation by both human anglers as well as birds, otters, snakes, raccoons, mink and other terrestrial anglers.  When condensed they also have to highly compete with each other in close quarters for limited food resources.  This adds additional stress on the remaining fish.

In the old days, fish that inhabit the Truckee used to have the ability to travel back and forth into and out of Lake Tahoe and Pyramid Lake.  This is one of the factors leading to some of the largest trout in the world.  They had a refuge to go when times got tough in the river.  Now they can’t reach either.  All the other lakes in the system are also man made and blocked from the main stem river by huge chunks of concrete.  Therefore the fish that inhabit the river have nowhere else to go.

It’s a known fact that wild fish in the Truckee have adapted to migrate up and down the river system quite a bit making use of the best habitats at different times of the season.  If there’s a big flood year they can move up river closer to the tail water sections to avoid huge muddy water.  As the season goes on and water gets lower or warm they can move down the river to find deep water.  Fish in the Truckee also have the ability to utilize several tributaries to find colder spring fed and snow melt water and or spawn at different times of the year.  Diminished flows make it impossible for fish to migrate into these tributaries and or make a full migration up or down the river.

There’s also increased pollutants from auto, industrial,  household and recreational uses such as golf courses and the such. Diminished wet lands and meadows that act as filters and natural water reservoirs also come into play.  All these factors contribute to the overall health of a river.  When there’s more water in the system it’s easier for the river to flush out pollutants and clean it’s self.  With diminished flows the river begins to stagnate in places.  Algae and mud begin to build up clogging the river just like the veins of an unhealthy person who fills their body with contaminates.  This clogging so to speak decreases the usable habitat for bugs, which affects the web of life all the way up through the fish to the birds to the shore dwelling mammals.   So now the fish have less food to go around.  Once fish populations start to diminish into a level the river can naturally sustain it can take a few good water years for those populations of wild fish to recover.

What’s the Good News?

Is there a bright side to drought years?  Well if there is some foresight, which luckily there has been on the Truckee, then yes!  Dry years can be a great time to do stream restoration work!  The Truckee River Watershed Council and Chapter 103, The Truckee River chapter of TU have a couple great in stream restoration projects set for this summer on the Little Truckee and Prosser Creek as well as a couple of the other smaller tributaries.  Low water makes it much easier to pull off this kind of in channel work while disrupting less of the river ecosystem as possible.  If you underestimate the value of these type habitat restoration project you need only look at the work the Nature Conservancy has done on the main Truckee below Reno.  The few miles of restoration work they have done on their land has done wonders for the lower river.  For the past several years the fishing down there has gotten better and better.  They repaired several miles of diminished in stream habitat and replaced it with a network of living working aquatic habitat that provides habitat for trout and bugs as well as a myriad of other wildlife.  These are the types of projects we need to be supporting in the watershed as well as the organizations like Cal Trout, TU the Nature Conservancy and so on.

Should you be fishing the Truckee with indicators and nymphs and catching as many fish as you possibly can? Well that’s up to you.  For me fishing is both about the personal satisfaction of solving a puzzle and getting a fish to bite, but it’s also about connecting to the river on a deeper level.  Do I need to fish to do that?  Not always.  A good swim, a walk along the banks or sometimes even just a good nap on the waters shore can lead to a healthy connection.

My suggestion is that if you love the river make your decisions as such. Be mindful of temps, fishing pressure and other stressors of the fish and just the river ecosystem on general.  Also think about conservation of water and making lifestyle decisions that promote conscious use of water throughout our community.  This can be done at home and also in the brands and activates you support with your consumer dollars.  If someone you love is ill you typically give them a break and or take steps to nurture them until they are healthy again.  Might be a good year to go fish some lakes in the area or think about re connecting with some of your other hobbies you’ve been neglecting or meaning to get to.

Cheers,
Mikey Wier
California Trout

Mikey lives a double life, which probably explains how he has twice as much fun as everyone else. Sneaking away from his career as pro snowboarder, Mikey spent summers chasing trout, eventually becoming a full-time fly fishing guide. And while he still rides and guides, as the founder of Burl Productions, he’s fully immersed in the creation of Soulful Fish films.

 

JT n Jamie Truckee

Jamie Pocket Water


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River Update – Guest Blogger: Dan Lecount

Where should I fish if the Truckee needs a summer break?

In these drought years in the west, the options for the fly angler are going to be much more limited then normal. In north Lake Tahoe, the Truckee river and its tributaries are going to get really low this summer, probably to the point of being un­fishable for some of the summer and beyond, with fish kills being a very possible scenario. It’s going to be a tough year for the watershed.

Keep Perspective

Now it’s not all doom and gloom. This has happened before and it will happen again. If we don’t blow up the planet or something similar, we should have wet years again, albeit probably warmer if current trends continue. She will recover, although the river will need as much help as possible from folks like you. If you have the time, try volunteering with a local conservation group like Trout Unlimited or the Truckee River Watershed Council. People will be needed for fish rescues and this low water makes many of the long term habitat projects easier to accomplish. If you end up volunteering, you can maybe convert that unused fishing energy into an energy protecting the river you love. It feels great and really deepens your connection to your local watershed. It’s been a great outlet for me, and as an angler and guide that derives so much joy from these waters, I feel obligated.

 

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Fish rescue last year below Boca reservoir. Photo credit – Stefan McLeod.

 

Now that my conservation sales pitch is over, (we really could use you) let’s talk about fishing. There’s still a lot of amazing fly fishing to be had this summer. Like Brian Johnson said last week, the warm-water fishing in Tahoe can be great. I’m totally expecting to see a lot of folks this summer in the places that I used to carp and bass fish all by myself. I think I’ll survive, although the years of fishing without seeing a soul have been oh so nice.

 

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My buddy Keith Tucker with a giant mirror carp on the fly. A day when Dave Stanley and I took him out a few years back for his first time, he reeled this in. What a lucky bastard.

 

Get Up and Get Up

Besides the warm-water fishing, another important option for anglers are the high alpine lakes. In the Tahoe area, in around an hour or so drive from Truckee, there’s literally hundreds of lakes you can drive to, or at least get to the trail head to. In a low water year like this, many of those lakes are already accessible, when in most years, many of them you couldn’t get to until July or August because of snowfall. For an added bonus, less water can also mean a lot less mosquitoes and black flies in many of those areas. That’s great news for me, since they seem to prefer my flavor for some reason.

 

A Silver Lining

Personally I think this years conditions, might be a blessing in disguise for a lot of people. A good excuse to explore instead of falling back on “old reliable.” I appreciate the Truckee and how nice it is to drive up to the water after work, start fishing and in five minutes have a shot at a 2 foot brown. It’s a remarkable place in that regard, but this year she’s going to need as much help as possible, and we as anglers should probably give her as many breaks as possible. There’s hundreds of places to see and fly fish just a short drive away. Now that’s a lot of exploring and fly fishing you can do if you’re willing to lace up the boots and do a little work. I don’t know about you, but exploration of the natural world is a big part of what brought me into fly fishing.

Now fly fishing means something different to everyone, so please don’t feel like I’m trying to tell you how to enjoy yourself. We all find value in it, in our own way. I realize some folks prefer rivers to lakes or reservoirs. Whether its the active nature of moving through a river, the intimacy of the environment or the dynamics of the currents. I get it, rivers have something different. Still, if you’ve ever fished a little backcountry pond, they have a lot of those same qualities, sometimes even in greater quantity. Many of them also have some very nice fish if you put in your time.

 

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My old blue Outcast float tube and a gorgeous backcountry Lahontan.

 

Desolation Wilderness, Donner Summit, and the Lakes Basin

When I first moved to Tahoe maybe 15 years ago, I went through a phase of heavy exploration of the lakes within a few hours. I fished dozens of lakes, from shore, with boats and especially with a little blue float tube I purchased way back when. In reality, I hardly scratched the surface in terms of the fishing. There is so much water if you were willing to drive or hike. I found browns, goldens, cutties, brooks, bows and even some hybrids. Besides trout, I also found smallmouth bass, I even got to catch some catfish on the fly. It really is endless. A great resource for backcountry water is “Fly Fishing the Tahoe Region” by Stephen Rider Haggard. Also anglers with a taste for the backcountry like Ralph and Lisa Cutter, Jim Landis or to a lesser extent myself, are worth talking to.

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My buddy Mike Terepka with a high Sierra golden. This was an amazing day of fishing, amidst a month long fly fishing trip we made around the west.

We’re not going to give you GPS coordinates of something special we worked hard for and explored to get to, because we want it to be just as special for you. Still, you might be able to get some nuggets of California (or Nevada) gold, if you word it right. I hope you take advantage of this blessing in disguise, explore the water and explore what fly fishing means to yourself.

Take care and good luck.
Dan

Dan LeCount is a fly fishing guide in the Truckee area with a passion for the natural world. Dan is also a contract fly designer with Umpqua Feather Merchants, a rod builder, published author, photographer and artist.  He has worked in the fly fishing industry for almost 17 years and is a 4th generation fly fisher. He can also freestyle like a madman if you get him drunk enough. 

 

 

River Update – Guest Blogger: Brian Johnson

This is the first in a mini-series of guest blogs coming from respected and experienced local river enthusiasts.  Our hope is that these insights would be helpful in not just informing the public but also reminding all of us to protect the treasure that is the Truckee River.

Current State of the Truckee

This is is the third (or is it fourth?) year of a drought being experienced here in the Western United states.  Last year was among the three worst years for precipitation since we started tracking it in 1895 and — despite better than average precipitation this year– the Sierras experienced the lowest measured snowpack since 1950. To obtain a further sense of severity, consider that the US Department of Agriculture has declared all counties in both Nevada and California to be in a Drought Emergency, the Governor of California has declared a state of emergency and has mandated a 25% water reduction, and our primary water supplier here in Washoe county (TMWA) will be tapping into drought reserves that haven’t been utilized in 20 years.  And, as most of you know, the majority of our water comes from our beloved fishery: the Truckee river.

 

RECORDED PRECIP

Division 1 Precipitation – 1895 to 2015 via NOAA.gov

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Snowpack in the Sierras

To put it very simply:  the Truckee river, as a fishery, is in trouble.  Last year the river got down to dismal levels of flow during the hottest months of the year (In Reno we saw 14 cfs in a river that normally runs 200-500 cfs during the same time period) and this summer will bring similar conditions.  In “normal” years the Truckee river is supplied with ample water for recreation, domestic, and agricultural use from Boca Reservoir, Stampede Reservoir, and storage in Lake Tahoe.  The last I checked, Boca is at about 15% of capacity, Stampede is just over 13%, and the California Department of Fish & Game partnered with Trout Unlimited Truckee 103 to relocate the famous fanny bridge trout since water is no longer available from Lake Tahoe.

 

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Boca Reservoir – May 2015

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Stampede Reservoir (and my daughter) – May 2015

All that to say we are already seeing extremely low flows on the Truckee river and should expect it to continue (and worsen) throughout the summer.  If there is any upside to this, it’s that the Truckee Meadows Water Authority (TMWA) has been conservative in their drought preparation with 9 years of drought reserves in several reservoirs and underground reserves.  That said, it is my understanding that TMWA will release water from their drought reserves for domestic, agricultural, and industrial uses (including supplying their own power generation plants) but there is no guarantee that recreation or wildlife will be considered in these releases.

 

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2015 to date. Awful. For comparison the Truckee ran 300-600 cfs average during the same time period in 2012.

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Truckee River through Reno on 5/14/2015, pardon the iphone capture

So What Can We Do?

Last year the fishing community and river users showed unprecedented support for a voluntary hoot owl closure on the Truckee river.  This year it is imperative we do the same.Read more

Send In Your Pictures

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Photo courtesy of the Nevada Department of Wildlife

Greetings.

We’d love to keep updated information about the river conditions.  If you take pictures of any stretch of the Truckee River, send your pictures in over at the contact page. We’ll post them here for all to see what’s going on, and not just hear about it.

We’re hoping to see some precipitation in the next week.  In the mean time, hike the river with a garbage bag and make a dent in pushing back years of abuse.  Thank you to those of you who have already chipped in.  Your time hauling out plastic means more than any blog post or trophy shot.  See you out there!

TRK

 

October Update

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An interview with partner guide Jan Nemec:

Thanks Jan for joining us today.  The river seems to be having a banner year in terms of difficult conditions.  That said, no more 100 degree days are forecasted this year.  Are we in the clear?
In extreme conditions like what we have now, air temperature is only one factor.  Escaping the extreme high temps of summer is near.  Yet with the flows as low as they are, particularly on the Nevada side, the fish are stacked on top of each other and highly stressed currently.


Is it ethical to fish for concentrated schools of trout when Truckee flows are extremely low (below 70 cfs)?

I believe the answer is no.  Let me explain.

The term ‘fish in a barrel’ is never used to describe an honorable attempt at fishing. What we are currently left with is trout and bait fish populations that flourished when flows had been high. Now, low flows have that same large population condensed into very few livable areas. Much of the food has also dried out, stranded in stagnant pools and left along the receding shoreline.

Picture this: a 10 square mile city gets condensed into a few city blocks.  With that kind of concentration, crime is up, people are combative, and stress levels soar.  For the fish, this is their reality on the Nevada side currently.

Why not thin the population and take some fish to insure some don’t starve to death? Until we see a drop in baitfish, the best approach is to leave the trout alone.  If the bait-fish disappear too, then taking fish may be a better option.  Bait fish populations remain strong both west and eat of Reno. These will likely dwindle as they get eaten and poor water quality elements start to play their part.  In fact, the water quality right now is of major concern.
Why does dirty water come with low water conditions? 
Simply put: the normal flows help flush the water system.  When flows are down, small sources of pollution become major factors. Our recycled waste water isn’t clean like snow melt or spring water.  Many parasites and bacteria are also always present in the Truckee becoming more concentrated just as the trout are. When flows are reduced those parasites and diseases find hosts much easier. As of now only a few fish show signs of infection, this could increase greatly if stress is put onto the fish. Its also good to remember that every time a fish is handled it also wipes away its natural antibacterial slime coating. In normal conditions, that’s not helpful.  In these conditions, that’s devastating.

At what flow should fisherman consider stressful for trout on the Truckee River?
Around 100 cfs and below is the short answer.  Until water temps become closer to the trout’s preferred water temperature of 49-53 degrees they aren’t able to fight attacking infections and parasites.  In the mean time, try the Cali side in places where flows are steadily over 100 cfs.
Thanks Jan for your time and for helping us protect the resource we have.
TRK

Hoot Owl Closure: Update 1

This is what it looks like when the Watermaster drops the river by 250 CFS in 90 minutes.

This is what it looks like when the Watermaster drops the river by 250 CFS in 90 minutes.

THANK YOU!

First and foremost, we want to thank you all for using the internet for what it does best, getting the word out!  We’ve had an overwhelming and supportive response from trout lovers near and far: CalTrout, Moldy Chum, and Lost Coast Outfitters to name a few.

Secondly, many of you have emailed asking about the Reno Fly Shop appearing in local press talking about the “hoot owl closure”.  To be clear, we haven’t been contacted by the Reno Fly Shop and they were not involved with any aspect of our video or this blog.  While it’s confusing why they would take credit for what the small but scrappy readership of this blog has done, the main thing is that the word gets out and we give the trout a fighting chance.

If you want to fish the Truckee, hire a seasoned guide to help you find stretches where they have enough water to safely catch and release.  Alternatively, here is a good post over at one of our partner blogs describing other options to scratch your fishing itch.

We are deeply grateful for your support and voice!
TRK

Water temps are up on the Truckee River

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Everyone who lives near the Truckee River knows water is down and temps are up.  So what?

Well, the word is out that the ol’ watermaster will be dropping flows on the Truckee River real soon.  The wildlife of the Truckee are a hardy bunch, but flows below 100 CFS as expected will be devastating for the trout.

We’re asking that all you who fish the river would join us in a voluntary “Hoot Owl Closure”.  For the months of July and August, get off the river before noon strikes, and avoid fishing in the afternoons and evenings.  The collective effort of even 100 of us banding together to protect the  treasure we have in our backyard can make a huge difference.  Watch this video for more information.

 

A Proposed Hoot Owl Closure on the Truckee River from Catch, Snap, & Release on Vimeo.

 

Will you join us? 
Tell the world you’ll support the trout of the Truckee River by simply commenting here, and we’ll shoot you a free TRK bumper sticker and put you in the monthly drawing for a free hat.