Matt Heron: Pay your dues, be ready for magic on the Truckee River
Summer is here, and that means prime time fishing season on the Truckee River.
Truckee River trout bums understand you have to put in your time, pay your dues, and be ready for magic. And the magic does happen, and there are truly monster trout to be caught. That’s all without mentioning the unrivaled scenery, unlimited public access and incredible weather we have all come to enjoy about our home here in the North Lake Tahoe area.
The sum of all these parts makes the Truckee River my favorite place to fish.
The Truckee River watershed offers one of the most diverse fishing experiences in the West. One can find pure Lahontan cutthroat trout in the Truckee’s headwaters in roadless backcountry above iconic Lake Tahoe, the country’s largest alpine lake. A world-class wild trout fishery for trophy browns and rainbows begins immediately downstream of Lake Tahoe and continues for some 110 miles, offering incredible public access to both wildlands and urban angling opportunities before terminating at Pyramid Lake in the Nevada desert. Pyramid Lake is it’s own fishery entirely, and offers fishing for native Lahontan cutthroat trout that flirt with sizes reaching 30 pounds.
But this story isn’t about fish, it’s about access to the public lands where the fish live.
Without good access to these lands, it would be difficult if not impossible for me and many of my closest friends who also operate businesses dependent on public lands (ex. fishing, hunting, snowmobiling, rafting) to make a living that supports their families. The Truckee River is special — it is not, however, unique. Other nearby rivers like the American and Yuba also flow from and through public lands, with similar public access. These inspirational rivers bring millions of tourists and tourism dollars to the region each year, largely because their public lands status means they have been reasonably well protected from development and provide plenty of public access
The importance of public lands and rivers for our region might be best done by looking at the numbers. Take fishing, for example. In 2015, the grand total of sport fishing licenses issued in California was 2,529,992. That year nearly a million people purchased annual licenses, many of whom went fishing in public lands rivers and lakes. It’s not just tourists either – in Nevada, Placer, El Dorado and Sierra counties there were well over ten thousand licensed, resident anglers in 2017. These numbers translate to real dollars – according to the American Sportfishing Association, the economic output of anglers in the 4th Congressional District was $120.6 million.
Fishing is clearly an important economic engine for our area but, more than that, it is a way of life here. Without our rivers, the trout they support, and the public lands that are their source and buffer, our lives would be significantly different and, in my opinion, much worse.
Despite the many benefits of public lands, they are not getting the support they need from some of our elected officials. In fact, a contingent in Congress and elsewhere is actively trying to dismantle them. It is ironic that Rep. Tom McClintock is one of the leaders of this effort, as his district includes some of the most famous public lands fisheries in the West.
These folks support bad ideas like transferring federal land to states (who cannot afford them) or private interests (who would close them for public use and enjoyment). They also support downsizing or eliminating national monuments, many of which offer good fishing and hunting, and weakening the Antiquities Act, which has been used by sixteen presidents since 1906 to establish such designations. Just as damaging, in some ways, is their refusal to provide sufficient funding for the agencies that manage our public lands, especially as the cost of fighting wildfires draws ever more money away conservation and recreation programs that millions of people rely on.
That’s why I have a simple request for McClintock: stop trying to give away our birthright. Help sportsmen like myself conserve fish and wildlife and their habitat. Support local outdoors-based economies by ensuring our public lands and the agencies that manage them are well managed and funded. I’m a proud American who believes public lands are one our country’s greatest ideas.
Find yourself on the banks of the Truckee, a big, healthy wild trout on the end of your line, and you’ll know what I’m talking about.
Matt Heron lives in Olympic Valley.