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Truckee River Fly Fishing

The Best Fly Fishing on the Truckee River

The Truckee River begins high in the Sierra Nevadas just south of Tahoe, California. The river can be divided into three main sections that offer anglers different opportunities at several trout species. Cutthroat trout, brook trout, brown trout, rainbow trout, lake trout, and kokanee (sockeye salmon) can all be found in the river system. The Upper Truckee River begins in the Meiss Meadows where a handful of small ponds hold the native Lahontan Cutthroat Trout. The small creeks join south of the small town of Meyers and flow north into Lake Tahoe. From the outlet of Lake Tahoe, on the west side of the lake in Tahoe City, the river continues to flow to the north through the town of Truckee and Boca where it meets the Little Truckee River. The Little Truckee tailwater between Stampede Reservoir and Boca Reservoir is another excellent trout fishery offering visiting and local anglers a different experience than the main stem of the river. Regulations on theses sections of the river differ and can be found on the California Department of Fish and Wildlife website.

Fly Fishing the Upper Truckee River

Showers, Round, Elbert, and Dardenelles Lake are located within Meiss Meadows and are the source of the Truckee's headwater streams. These alpine lakes offer fly anglers willing to make the hike from Hwy 89 the chance at hungry brook trout as well as the native Lahontan Cutthroat. The cutthroat are limited to Showers lake and the portions of small stream above and below it. These won't be like the humungous Lahontans found in Pyramid lake but are respectable fish willing to take a dry fly through the warm months of the year. The brook trout have a similar appetite from spring through fall in both the lakes and the small streams that run through the meadows. Terrestrial fly patterns are great in these small water sections as well as on the lakes. As you move downstream anglers will begin running into local brown and rainbow trout populations. While some rainbows and browns will live in the Upper Truckee year round, larger trout will move up from the lake each year to spawn. The spawning trout can easily break the twenty inch mark and will stay in the river for a couple months around their spawning period. Rainbows will make there way upstream sometime during the early Spring. March is a great time to start seeing trout move up. After they conclude their business by May they will head back down to  

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the lake to continue to get bigger. In the fall both Brown Trout and Kokanee will move up the river. This can be the best time of year to visit as the local trout will take advantage of the increased food sources as the loose roe and dying kokanee add a valuable protein source to the system. Along with egg imitations, streamer patterns can be excellent in eliciting aggressive strikes from trophy sized pre and post spawn browns who tend to stay in the river longer and take advantage of the struggling Kokanee toward the end of their spawn. While the river here is more the size of a large creek, several deep holes and larger log jams offer excellent cover for big trout. Spring caddis and stonefly hatches are the best to match for local trout from April through June. Hatches move to the low light hours during summer and a myriad of nymphs will be anglers best bets during the day, along with a hopper dropper once the terrestrials begin showing up. Washoe Meadows State Park, Lake Valley State Recreation Area, and the Tahoe Rim Trail to the PCT via the Big Meadow Trailhead offer the best access to much of the Upper Truckee River.

Fly Fishing the Little Truckee River

The most popular section of the Little Truckee River is the tailwater that flows from below Stampede Reservoir into Boca Reservoir. This four mile stretch of river has plenty of wild rainbow trout and brown trout for anglers to target. Being smaller water than the main stem of the Truckee River, it offers a much more relaxing time on the water and better wading conditions. Midges and BWOs are staples in winter and spring. As the snow melts in spring, this section of the Little Truckee doesn't see the dirty water like other rivers in the area due to it being a tailwater. Late spring and summer bring the best dry fly fishing of the year with the PMD and drake hatches. As these dwindle come mid summer, terrestrials and dry dropper set up work great. Fall is the time of year to target trophy fish. Streamers and egg patterns are effective and give fly anglers a chance at a new personal best. Lake run browns and kokanee will enter the river in October to spawn. Before and after their time on the redds, the brown trout will feed opportunistically. Keep a low profile while wading in the fall as big trout in skinny water don't take much to spook. This section of the river is designated as artificial only and catch and release for all fisherman. 

The section of the Little Truckee River above Stampede Reservoir is a smaller freestone stream. This section does allow some trout to be harvested. Camping is available to visitors along the main stem and several tributary streams. Brown Trout are the most common target for anglers with some Kokanee moving up in the fall. 

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Truckee River Tailwater Fly Fishing

Beginning on the west side of Lake Tahoe, the Truckee River Flows for over 100 mile into Pyramid Lake, Nevada. The river is stocked with Brown trout, Rainbow trout, and in recent years, some Lahontan Cutthroat trout. The trout season on this section of the Truckee runs from May through mid November.  Despite it being one of the most trafficked rivers in the U.S. for its size, the river continues to yield impressive numbers of trout, as well as holding a good population of trophy sized brown trout. The tailwater fishes differently throughout the year as the seasons and conditions change. 

Fly Fishing the Truckee Tailwater in Winter

Winter is the most difficult time to fish the Truckee as water is low and clear, access is limited, and hatches are few and far between. On the positive side, many visitors opt for the ski slopes, leaving the water to the anglers looking to wet a line. The lack of angling traffic makes the limited access to the river more convenient. Winter is not the time to venture too far from the parking lot. Nymphing will produce the most trout this time of year with zebra midges, and small mayfly and stonefly patterns yielding a majority of the fish. Larger stonefly nymphs and flashier egg patterns can work well at times, especially when the trout's activity level is on the incline. Hatches of BWOs and midges occur on overcast and warmer days. The hatches can be short lived so anglers prepared to make a quick switch will fare better. 

Fly Fishing the Truckee Tailwater in Spring

Spring brings better angling along with more volatility to the Truckee River. Pulses of snowmelt raise the water levels throughout the spring, sometimes helping the trout, sometimes hurting the fly fishing opportunities. From BWOs early in the season to March Browns, to larger stone flies, to the caddis hatches that last into the early summer, bugs will be abundant in the spring so pay attention to the activity on the water. Higher water conditions can hinder the dry fly bite but opens up a new window to cover large amounts of water with streamers. Bigger is better here when looking for predatory browns and overly aggressive rainbow trout. Heavier streamer patterns will also garner more attention as they are able to drop through the water column more quickly.

Fly Fishing the Truckee Tailwater in Summer 

Summertime brings the remaining caddis hatches from spring along with the more sporadic quill and PMD hatches. There isn't a bad technique to utilize in the summer as fly anglers can play to their angling strengths or learn something new on the river. If it's numbers you're after, it is difficult to look past euro nymphing methods that can best allow anglers to break down runs. Hard current seams, riffles, and larger obstructions in the river tend to hold the most fish during the summer months.

Fly Fishing the Truckee Tailwater in Fall

As the water levels lower by the end of summer, trout will seek out the deeper holes and additional cover in the river. Terrestrial patterns and dry dropper rigs give anglers a perfect opportunity to target aggressive trout holding along undercut banks and shoreline cover. Into October, fall caddis hatches will transition to BWO's as temperatures cool. This is also the time when brown trout will begin their spawning runs and streamers come back into play. Deeper holes, undercut banks, and the heads of runs are great places to find these pre and post spawn brown trout staging and stalking their next meals. While the heavier streamers shine in the spring, light weight streamers with more action, such as the Drunk and Disorderly and Double Deceiver will drawn more attention from trout in skinnier water.

Best Flies for the Truckee River

Having a diversity of flies on the Truckee River is always helpful. The heavy angler traffic during the warmer months leave trout wary at times and accustomed to the standard flies. Defaulting to smaller flies during the coldest months of winter is a safe bet. Midges and BWO's during the late fall or early spring will often be on the larger end of the spectrum.

Best Dry Flies

BWOs- Adams variants in the size 18-26 range 

Midges- Matts midge, griffiths gnats, and midge emerger patterns in size 20-26

Caddis- Elk hair caddis and x-caddis patterns in the size 12-18 will produce best in spring and fall.

PMDs- Sparkle duns and adams variations in the size 14-18 range will produce all summer long during low light hours.

Terrestrials- Hoppers, beetles, and ant patterns will work when trout are looking up in summer/fall

Best Nymph Patterns

Stonefly imitations/ pats rubber legs in the size 6-12 range

Mayfly imitations such as a hares ear, pheasant tail in the 12-16 range with euro style flies providing the most efficiency

Caddis imitations such as the walts worm or caddis pupae in the 14-18 range

Junk flies such as a mop jig, squirmy worm, or egg imitation can get the attention of greedy trout year round.

Best Streamer Patterns

Heavier sculpin patterns work best in spring such as a helmet head sculpin or headbanger sculpin.

Patterns such as the Hollow Point, Drunk and Disorderly, Zoo Cougar, and other articulated deceiver patterns will provide the most action during low water in the fall, grabbing the attention of hungry brown trout.

Truckee River Tailwater Fishing Regulations

Regulations for the Truckee River differ in California and in Nevada, as do the stocking methods and practices. Before visiting the river check out what you need to know from the Nevada Department of Wildlife and California Fish and Wildlife Department.


For more information about America's best trout streams and others in the area, check out our articles on Fly Fishing California, Fly Fishing Nevada, Fly Fishing the Sacramento River and Fly Fishing the Russian River.

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