Truckee a tough river to fish
August 15, 2006
The Truckee River can be a very humbling river to fish. I moved to Truckee in 1978 and tried to learn to fly fish by teaching myself.
Neither that method nor the river were particularly good choices for a beginner. I never did master the river as a fly angler, although I was able to do well fishing with crawdad-imitating plugs.
Having moved to the west side of the Sierra in 1981, I have continued to fish the Truckee and keep in contact with locals who fish it regularly. Part of the reason that the Truckee can be so difficult is the water temperature cycle through the season.
Starting opening day in April, the flows are fishable, but the water temperatures are too cold for good fishing. As the season warms and the snows melt, the river runs high and cold. Then as the snow melt subsides, the flows come down and the water temps rise.
The Truckee River is unusual because of Lake Tahoe. As the snow melts, water is held back in the lake. Once the spring runoff is complete, water is released from the lake to keep the river flowing.
The problem is that the warm surface of the lake is the water that goes down river. This takes the Truckee from too cold to too warm in a very short time frame.
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This usually happens in June and for a couple of weeks things are perfect. The bugs are hatching and the trout are feeding. These are the days when most anglers can cast flies on the Truckee and convince themselves that we are proficient fly fishers. This scenario can last six to eight weeks on most western rivers, but on the Truckee the window is short. This year, with the above normal precipitation the area has received, the temperatures are in the prime zone for a longer time.
The above is the downside of angling on the Truckee, the basis for the excuses we will need when we return from getting skunked on this river. We go out with all of this high-tech gear, graphite rods, breathable waders, disc drag reels and perfect insect imitation flies, and can’t catch a fish bigger than eight inches.
Another more optimistic perspective on the Truckee is that we have the fish trapped in the river. They have no place else to go. They have to eat on a regular basis or they will starve to death. So it is just a matter of “getting things right” and we will be catching lots of trout.
Few anglers on the Truckee can catch trout on a consistent basis. They have spent years developing their skills and knowledge of the river.
The most reliable method they employ is to present a nymph just off the bottom traveling at exactly the same speed as the flow at the bottom. These anglers can detect the almost imperceptible movement of their line as the fish, which are not actively feeding, gently pick up the fly and spit it back out. A common fishing report I get from the Truckee is that “the fishing is good for those with the skill level.”
Well, finally, there has been a revelation that should have been obvious, but wasn’t to me.
One of my best angling friends, Bob Zeller, spends his summers at his cabin near Tahoe. Bob and I have spent many an evening fishing until dark on the Truckee.
The last half hour of light is the best bet to catch fish feeding on the surface. On many a trip, our results have been less than stellar. Bob and I have had many long conversations on vicissitudes of fishing, particularly about the trout on the Truckee River.
Bob called the other day with a fishing report about his best day on the Truckee in many a year. Bob thought that if the last half hour of light when the water is its warmest is good for fishing, then maybe the first half hour of light when the water is coolest might be even better.
Last week, he put the theory to the test. Bob had his car parked and had to wait at least 30 minutes for enough light that he could see his way to the river. His gear was ready to fish so that he lost no time rigging up. He landed six fish between 15 and 20 inches in the first 45 minutes of fishing.
After that, however, it was as if the switch was turned off. He did not catch another decent trout. He also noted that he did not see another angler while the fishing was on.
He did not change flies or tackle, only the time at which he fished. Getting up and on the water that early is not convenient. But it may be the key to “getting things right” in August on the Truckee River.
Denis Peirce is a fishing columnist for The Union, the Sun’s sister paper in Grass Valley. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.