Little Truckee River
The LT (Little Truckee) holds a very special place in my heart. I’ve witnessed sections of the once molested watershed really start to develop over the last fifteen years into a world class trout fishery. There are still parts of the upper river that need major restoration to reach its full potential. The rivers once wild course was diverted by cattle farmers in early 1900’s. Once restoration efforts are completed, the upper river should be capable of again holding good numbers of trout. I’ve seen what this river is capable of, In 2008 I witnessed a twenty plus pound, 36 inch brown trout landed on a seven weight and only 4X. The Brown would have been a clear contender for the California state record, but only dead fish can qualify and this fish was released. Trophy trout hunters from the area often search the inlets of both reservoirs in the Fall.
The headwaters/upper section of the LT begins in the form of outflow from the private fishery Webber Lake, traveling east more then six miles where it parallels Henness Pass/Jackson Meadows Road. Webber Falls is located just down stream of the Webber Lake outflow and is pretty impressive in the spring during peak runoff. The 50 foot plus waterfall can be accessed off Henness Pass Road directly across from the Lake of the Woods turnoff. Below the falls, majority of the upper stretch resembles a spring creek with good cut banks, broken occasionally by small riffles and small areas of soft pockets as it nears 89. Access to the upper stretch remains fairly easy with only a few private stretches that are well marked. Flows of the upper section are largely altered by runoff, spring flows can exceed 600 cfs and fall low water can almost dry out the river entirely. Arguably the rivers upper section fishes best at or slightly under 100 cfs. Both rainbow and brown trout can be found through the meadows during the spring and early summer and are typically smaller in size averaging less then ten inches.
At the intersection of Highway 89 and Henness Pass the upper river makes a hard turn southeast and continues along 89 for several miles. Access is fairly easy off Highway 89 where the river receives above average fishing pressure especially near the two campgrounds located on the river banks. The Upper Little Truckee River and Lower Little Truckee River Campgrounds also receive several trout plantings every season to help increase populations of both trout and fisherman. Fish and Game had been stocking the river with rainbows in various locations but this may change with budget cuts possible in the near future. In all the LT travels more then 16 miles before it enters one of the fingers on the western shore of Stampede Reservoir.
The Wild Trout section that stretches between Boca and Stampede Reservoirs is absolutely the most productive water on the river, making it also the most popular stretch to fish. The designated wild trout portion of the river holds great populations of Rainbows ranging in size from 8-18 inches with the occasional 20 plus inch trout landed. Good populations of intensely colored brown trout average close to the size of the rainbows, but typically top out much larger then the rainbows. The trout in the wild trout section are educated, rarely giving into the imitation, and never giving up easy. To fool either of these species in the LT and angler must use stealthy approaches with tippets that are light, but not to light, or the educated trout will simply break you off with one of there regularly practiced methods. I find a 5X leader to be enough in most situations but the 6X certainly doesn’t get left at the truck, while the really light 7X and 8X is useless against them.
Directly below the outflow of Stampede Reservoir the water is very close to a constant 45-50 degrees. The near perfect temperatures and somewhat constant flows make the insects abundant and healthy in turn the resident trout are well fed. During the summer months the most consistent hatches in the Tahoe area can be found on the LT in the wild trout section between Boca and Stampede Reservoirs. Less then four miles can be found between the two reservoirs, the upper meadow making up two thirds, and the lower canyon section making up the lower third.
The meadow begins just below the outflow where anglers may spot large feeding trout from a bluff in the slow run below. If you can’t hook these fish don’t worry, these are the smartest fish on the river. Below the bluff the river meanders through an open valley and pulls away from the road. The meadow has sweeping bends with undercut banks, sharp corners with pronounced seams, heavy cover from down trees and shallow gentle riffles into deep pools. Fish hold in a vast majority of this section, it’s best to cover any deeper water if no identifying rises are seen. Concentrate your subsurface efforts in or below faster water in the meadow section.
Referred to as the canyon section, the lower mile and a half of the LT runs by a campground then small canyon before it reaches the Boca Reservoir. At the top of the canyon near the campground the river makes its way back to the road. Through sections of the canyon the river hugs a large steep cliff on the west side where relief from the sun can be found earlier in the evenings then in the meadow. Freestone characteristics start to come into play where pocket water and riffles outnumber the undercut banks. The transformation that the river goes through from meadow to freestone in such a short period can make the quickly humbling even for the most advanced angler. Midges and mayflies make up the bulk of the insects in the meadow. In addition to midges and mayflies, caddis and stoneflies are found in the swifter and better oxygenated canyon section. This section fishes well particularly in the spring during higher flows. The inlet to Boca is at the bottom of the canyon and changes drastically from spring to fall water levels.
Depending on the season and water levels, Boca’s inlet can be very different. Typical springs have water levels in the lake high, making access to the inlet sometimes difficult due to its steep banks. In the fall waters levels can be much lower making the river several hundred yards longer then in the spring. If fishing this section in the fall use caution when wading in the mud, some areas can be very difficult and dangerous getting out of. Two campgrounds are located on the eastern shore of Boca’s inlet and stay pretty busy during the summer tourist season.
The upper LT between Webber Lake and Stampede Reservoir fishes prime immediately after the bulk of the runoff discontinues. Trout populations are only good for a short period before many are harvested. Spring runoff can end as early as April, or continue until late June. Snow pack and spring temperates determine the amount and timing of runoff. Flows are slightly higher in the upper stretch along Henness Pass Road prior to a diversion near the intersection of highway 89. Mid summer fishing is fair at best during the hottest two months of the year due to inadequate flows and scorching water temperatures. Mayflies and midges make up the bulk of the trout food with a few sculpin lurking near the bottom. Small fish can be fooled with terrestrials in late spring and early summer. Fair caddis and stonefly populations can be found around faster water. In the fall Kokanee from Stampede and Boca Reservoirs make their way into the LT to attempt to spawn. Brown trout are also drawn to the river from Stampede to spawn In the fall.
The money water between the two reservoirs has proven two perfect points; Wild trout regulations put in place in 2000 have dramatically increased the health of the river. They have also increased both fish population and fish average length by double. With this also comes the crowds to an already battered fishery,but as of today it seems to be holding its own. The fish have certainly learned, or evolved into a damn picky bunch unwilling to cooperate on occasions. Guides are also drawn to this section due to it very predictable conditions. Flows are also pretty consistant most of the season only spiking for short periods in the spring. Prime spring flows are 100-200 cfs but can top out over 500cfs, summer and fall flows drop significantly often less then 40 cfs.
Midges seem to be the most important subsurface food source in the river year-round. In order of importance PMD’s, beatis, green drakes (flavs) in faster water, gray drakes, and callibaetis near the inlet make up most of the mayflies around through the year. Caddis start light in the season and grow in size through November. Stimulators in size 8-16 and black E/C caddis cover the bulk of the caddis available through the season. Brave winter fisherman willing to make the trek or take other means of transportation to the river will find good hatches of beatis and small dark stones. In summer mayfly spinners can be important and small hoppers work well for an indicator before flows become to low. Vegetation becomes a nuisance along the bottom clinging to flies that are not suspended and allowed to dredge. Summer through fall requires all your skills to identify the insect of choice and imitate it successfully. Some small baetis, midges, and eggs are found in good numbers around the first snowfall. Winter fishing is good when temperatures are mild, mayflies can begin hatching in February and little dark stones can be found in spotty all winter. Sporadic midge hatches during the winter will often push anglers well over the edge trying to match the hatch.
To access the upper river from Truckee, take 89 north to Henness Pass Road and turn left/west. The entire stretch from Webber Lake to the intersection of highway 89 can be accessed directly off Henness Pass Road. Unfortunately several small private sections break up the upper river. Private property must be observed and respected. Down stream of the Upper and Lower Little Truckee campgrounds, higheway 89 parallels the river for roughly 3 miles before turns east and heads to Stampede Reservoir. The inlet at Stampede can be accessed by one of two dirt 4-wheel drive trails that get you within walking distance.
The wild trout section is very easily accessed only a few minutes off interstate 80 east of Truckee. To reach the wild trout section, take the Hirschdale exit/Boca and Stampede Reservoir exit and travel north following the signs to the reservoirs. Follow the main road past Boca and its inlet to the canyon section and a couple miles further to the meadow section. Pullouts can be found every hundred yards or so along the entire length.
Super light rods are fun, but a four weight is about as low as I’ll go when fishing the LT. A nine foot five weight is perfect for 90 percent of the fishing done on the LT. The only exception would be to target larger trout in the inlets or warm water species in the reservoirs. A reel with a good drag can be useful with the larger fish and floating lines will cover almost all conditions in the river. Full sinking and sink tips are good to have if reservoir fishing is going to be your main focus. Leaders range in length from 6 feet for fishing streamers to 12 feet when occasionally needed with dries. 3X-5X is perfect for streamers and nymphs but much lighter 5X-6X is used for dries and dry dropper rigs.
High-stick and Czech nymphing is deadly in pocket water during the spring when flows are around 100 cfs. Dry Dropper rigs are a necessity by summer to keep nymphs off the bottom. Vegetation covering the bottom in some places requires a suspended fly, opposed to a fishing a fly near the bottom. By late summer nymphing becomes challenging, short droppers are needed to keep out of the rapidly growing vegetation. Dries fish very well most of the day from late spring through summer and should always include a midge pupa 20 inches below it when possible. Keeping the flies smaller, no larger then 14, more often 18 will greatly increase your success. Streamer fishing is also a highly effective method in the spring which smaller flies again out fish the large. Dead drifting small streamers around undercut banks and deep runs will often entice the largest trout in the spring. The preferred method at both inlets near still water is slow retrieved fly.
Stampede Reservoir is the newest addition on the LT system, completed in 1969 to store irrigation water. The Reservoirs primary purpose now is to insure the survival of the native Cui-ui in Pyramid Lake. Water from the reservoir which eventually dumps in to the Truckee River, then continues to Pyramid Lake is used to keep the inlet of the Truckee at Pyramid high enough to allow fish to pass through and spawn. Covering roughly 3400 acres, Stampede is considered a good sized reservoir in the area, but remains a fragment of the size of Tahoe.
Hardware fisherman trolling typically target the Kokanee, Rainbow and Brown Trout and the few Lake trout available. Fly fisherman are rarely seen on the reservoir, those who do are smart enough to carry at least a six weight preferably a seven. Those fly anglers that do fish Stampede for trout, concentrate around the inlets in the spring and fall around spawning time. Smallmouth bass can be found from spring through mid summer when trout fishing slows, look for the bass around rocks, near the dam, and other heavy cover in shallow bays and inlets. Stampede is best fished out of a boat with slightly heavier rods in the five to seven weight range. Sinking lines are a must if your looking for fish near the dam or in deeper water.
The dam at Boca was originally constructed in 1939, enlarging a small mill pond used by ice companies and sawmills in what once was the town of Boca. Ice cut from the surrounding areas was used all across the country by rail as early as the 1860’s. Boca’s town grew quickly and shortly after the ice company came the Hotel and Boca Brewery. Below Boca’s dam a very short section with good pocket water but fair fishing and access can be found. Depending on the season and water levels, Boca’s inlet can be very different from year to year. Typical springs have water levels in the lake high, making access to the inlet sometimes difficult due to its steep banks. In the fall waters levels can be much lower making the river several hundred yards longer then in the spring. If fishing this section in the fall use caution when wading in the mud, some areas can be very difficult and dangerous getting out of. Two campgrounds are located on the eastern shore of Boca’s inlet and stay pretty busy during the summer tourist season.
Due to Boca’s size, depth, and location, it warms quickly and has become a hot spot for jet skis and ski boats in the summer. Bass fishing can be good at times around the rocks and boulders at the dam when fewer boats and jet skiers are present. Where the LT meets the main Truckee a large pool often referred to as the toilet bowl holds the occasional big trout, but is also a popular spot for hardware fisherman. Fly fisherman typically keep their efforts to spring and fall at the inlets or targeting the bass in the summer.