What a year for the Truckee Meadows watershed. It’s the year everyone knew we needed, but didn’t dare hope for. Lake Tahoe filled up with it’s greatest rise in history. The recent heatwave dumped 12 billion gallons into the system. Even the beaches around Tahoe have “disappeared” from the incredible amounts of water we have now. Many have recently said… Read more →
I love my job.
Though I have much to learn about the area, it’s clearly apparent how special and unique the natural resources are in the Truckee River Basin. The angling community here is as passionate as any I have seen, and their protection and care for the rivers is very encouraging to behold. I couldn’t ask to be with more environmentally motivated people. That said, let’s look at the current state of affairs on the Truckee River and consider what is next for this river and its tributaries.
A Change in Season
Fall in Truckee is in full swing, with the added benefit of some snow storms from the impending El Niño. If you are just now looking to see aspen changing colors, you’ve already missed it. The trout in the Truckee River and the Little Truckee River have finally taken a deep, cold breath (figuratively) after this historically difficult summer. During the drought this year, the river was taken care of in profound ways. The angling and conservation minded community has ultimately been a catalyst for the preservation of our fish and water resources. So, hats off to you all for the care, concern, and collaboration that you have extended in this past season.
We are optimistic for the potential that the El Niño brings to the area; the Truckee River is due for a high flow event to wash away the sediment that has silted in many
pools and runs in the Truckee River. If the forecast is correct, we will be getting a wet winter and that flushing flow will come down the Truckee. The trout will benefit immensely if the predictions come true. Rivers have an amazing ability to bounce back after times of drought and peril.
“I can tell you that a typical angler here on the Truckee will not be repeating the often-heard Colorado refrain of “Bro, I had a 50 fish day on the river!”
Little Truckee River and Truckee River
The Little Truckee River has been thriving with life recently. The brown trout spawn is in full swing. Many of trout are moving onto their spawning beds. Lake-run brown trout from Boca Reservoir are making their pilgrimage to their spawning grounds. This means many of the fish in the river are feeding on eggs. Also, many of the larger trout are moving out from their hiding spots and into new water. This time of year you can sight fish to these behemoths actively feeding in runs. If you are unsure whether a fish you see is spawning or not, please avoid casting to it!
In terms of aquatic insect life, small mayflies, midges and stoneflies have been showing up. The flows for the Little Truckee are currently running at around 47-50 CFS and the Truckee is running at 76 below Boca Bridge and 97 at Farad respectively. There has been silt in the water as the release at Stampede Dam is letting out water from a low Stampede Reservoir.
As mentioned earlier, most of my fly fishing career took place in Colorado. I can tell you that a typical angler here will not be repeating the often-heard Colorado refrain of “Bro, I had a 50 fish day on the river!” But they will be bringing in fish that rival or better the quality of any Colorado stream. I feel incredibly fortunate to have been shown the area by some phenomenal fishermen.
Truckee River Nevada Side
The Truckee River on the Nevada side was battered, beaten, and bloodied through the long, dry, hot summer. Some of the gauges on the Truckee River in Nevada showed temperatures up to 82 degrees. To put that in perspective, the optimum temperature for trout is 52-53 degrees. However, there are some hopeful signs, gleaned in a recent conversation with a NDOW fisheries biologist, Travis Hawks. During a recent boat shocking survey Travis stated that NDOW found trout at
every single sampling site that they surveyed all the way down to Derby Dam. He stated that the fish numbers were lower and the survey was an abbreviated version of the usual annual survey, but that the fishery appears to have survived in some form throughout the river. The fish sampled were in the upper size classes, 18”+ and he hopes that these fish will pull off a highly successful spawn which will pass on the genetics of these survivors.
Current and Future Conservation in the Area
This past year has been a great time for conservation. Trout Unlimited finished the Little Truckee Fish Habitat Improvement Project this last September and we have already seen fish utilizing the logs and boulders placed in the river from the crew at HRS (Habitat Restoration Sciences). All in all, there are more than 100 logs and 270 boulders that are providing habitat for the fish in the Little Truckee River.
With this project in the books, Trout Unlimited hopes to continue restoration work and create an environment in which we can further initiate and inspire new projects that directly benefit the streams and river in the Truckee watershed. We are excited to announce that we are in the planning phases of new restoration projects for the Truckee River, and we continue to seek input from anglers as these projects develop. For example, TRTU is excited to partner with the Truckee River Watershed Council and Tahoe City PUD on the construction of the Truckee River Streambank Stabilization Project. This project seeks to improve the habitat and stabilize stream-banks degraded by heavy recreation use on the first four miles of the Truckee River below Tahoe City, CA. Specifically, TRTU will purchase the fish habitat materials – boulders and trees – and provide construction oversight to ensure in stream structures are accurately placed during the 2016 construction.
All in all, the more care, thought, and planning that we put into the watershed together as a community of anglers, the more we are likely to see this area thrive. Thank you again to all you who watch over the river and stay up to date on the issues that loom in this watershed. I hope you are able to make the best of this season of fishing to come!
P.S. Check out the Restoration Video:
Sam Sedillo works for Trout Unlimited as the Sierra Cascades Field Coordinator out of the Truckee TU (TRTU) office, alongside the knowledgeable David Lass, the California Field Director of Trout Unlimited. He works on restoration projects, volunteer operations, fish sampling, and Trout Unlimited chapter outreach. He recently moved to Truckee from Colorado, where he completed his degree in Natural Resources Management and Fishery Biology. He’s spent the majority of his angling career there fishing for trout with tiny flies in tailwaters. This, to nobody’s surprise, prepared him for spending most of his days on the water in Truckee fishing for trout in tailwaters with tiny flies.
It is fall in the Tahoe basin. This means cold nights and warm days, or the typical “Indian Summer” weather pattern that we seem to experience every year. Several river clean-ups have taken place which I love to see. A big thank you to all those that pitched in. The Truckee River right now as I write this is on the cusp of what most would consider to be fishable. The water is cooling down but there still isn’t a lot of water volume. Make your own choice on whether to fish it or not, but keep in mind the long term health of the fishery no matter what you decide. Let’s briefly talk about some details.
The Little Truckee:
Fish are in really great shape, and pressure is light. There are not very many places in California that have fish the size that we do out on the LT. It’s a real gem of a tailwater, and fall is likely the best time to fish it. Fall hatches include Baetis, or small blue wing olives, Psuedo’s, think very, very small blue wing olives, and caddis. The caddis are small, but sometimes fish will key in on them. There have been some browns pushing out of lake and making their annual spawning run up the river. Kokanee also make the push out of Boca. Flows were down for the enhancement/ restoration project at 16 cfs, then came up for a week to 115 cfs, and are now at 45 cfs. The dry fly fishing should start getting really good as we get into October.
Truckee River (California Side):
After a very rough summer of low water levels on the Truckee River flows are at about the same as they were this time last year. Not ideal, but fishable in stretches and cooling down. The water in the Truckee River right now is coming out of Donner Lake (57 cfs) with no water coming out of Boca. The river between Donner Creek, and the inflow of the Little Truckee RIver at Boca has not seen much of any water in months. I took a walk up along the there the other day, it is low, but it is annually low like that every season during this time of year. I did not fish it, so I have no idea the state/ condition of the river along there. Let’s hope for the best up along the ‘Shire.
The Truckee River is right around 75 cfs in Hirschdale and about 85 cfs near Farad. TMWA is draining Independence Lake as well as Donner right now. There is 60 cfs going into Stampede. Hopefully that water will come down into Boca and be released into the Truckee River. If we see the river flowing around 100 cfs in Hirschdale, then you’ll probably hear a more upbeat fishing report from me.
Truckee River (Nevada Side):
The river is suffering badly from the lack of flows and drought. It is not advised to fish the river below Verdi until flows come up.
Pyramid Lake in Nevada opens October 1st. Some significant changes have been made to Pyramid Lake regulations this year. Based on the same weather pattern as we had last year, it should fish much the same on this year’s opener. High pressure is in place and it doesn’t look like it will budge anytime soon. High pressure is always in place September in Reno/Tahoe. I imagine surface temps will be up well into the 60’s, keeping the fish down in the thermocline looking for water that is 58-59 degrees. That should be anywhere from 30-50 feet, and maybe even deeper.
What does that mean for the opener if you’re a fly angler? It means that you need to get the bugs down, and you need some kind of boat, or float tube. You will need to fish Tui-Chub pattens. We vertical jig with our Rio Outbounds, type 6, 330 grains, right from the boat. Retrieve your baitfish files straight up and hold on.
During the early season (October), the water cools and the bait balls are close to shore bringing the cutthroat within striking distance of the fly angler. Some beaches have more Tui-Chub than others. If you can find the bait balls, you will find the fish. A lot of folks like to fish the deeper drop-off beaches early in the year. It will be crowded on the opener. If you are launching a boat, be prepared to be there a while.
Unlocking Pyramid Lake:
I will be at the Reno Fly Shop in Reno taking about early-season Pyramid Lake strategies, rigs, gear, tying flies, on Wednesday, September 23rd. If you can’t make it, Doug O. and I will be doing two seperate clinic dates on October 31st, and November 14th. These are comprehensive clinics, covering everything you will need to know to successfully fish the lake.
See you out there!
Matt “Gilligan” Koles
Gilligan’s Guide Service
Gilligan brings to the river over 25 years of experience fishing and tying flies for Truckee River trout. Gilligan’s Guide Service runs trips year round on the Truckee River in California and Nevada, West and East of Reno, the Little Truckee River, and to Pyramid Lake in Nevada, home of some of the biggest freshwater trout in the world. If you spend time with Gilligan, be prepared to learn a lot and bring a snack for his guard dog Elliot.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
This is what it looks like when the Watermaster drops the river by 250 CFS in 90 minutes.
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!