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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.