By Dave Lass
It’s hard to imagine that a major river in the western United States, flowing next to an interstate highway for much of its length, and sporting an amazing population of trophy-class wild trout, would fly under the radar for many anglers.
But so it goes for the Truckee River.
I’ve heard the Truckee described by veteran fly anglers as “maybe the most underrated river in the West.” That may be due, in part, to the Truckee’s reputation as a highly technical fishery whose Ph.D. trout demand considerable skill and varied techniques from the angler.
The Truckee certainly is not underrated by fisheries managers and Trout Unlimited, who are working in partnership to sustain the incredible fishing opportunities in the Lake Tahoe region and to bring back the Lahontan cutthroat, listed as Threatened under the Endangered Species Act and the only trout native to the Truckee River watershed.
Since 2007, I have worked and fished throughout the Truckee River watershed. In a series of blog posts I’ll explore the Truckee top to bottom, examining the changes in character this fine river undergoes along its journey – and the exceptional angling opportunities found all along the way.
Meiss Meadows to Lake Tahoe
Most people don’t think of unspoiled backcountry when they picture California -- more often palm trees and David Hasselhoff in red swim trunks and Botox come to mind. The fact is, California has more Wilderness and lightly roaded backcountry than any other state outside of Alaska, providing exceptional, varied fishing opportunities for those willing to explore.
A prime example of such places is the Meiss Meadows Roadless Area, the true headwaters of the Truckee River and of iconic Lake Tahoe, the largest alpine lake in the country. The habitat in Meiss Meadows is critical to protecting water quality in Lake Tahoe, and supports the only self-sustaining population of Lahontan cutthroat (LCT) in the Tahoe Basin.
The lake and streams of the Meiss Meadows area provide the best opportunity in the entire Tahoe region for anglers to pursue pure strain Lahontans. My favorite place to fish in Meiss Meadows is the Upper Truckee River. Fishing classic attractor dry flies and small terrestrial patterns will coax the 8-14” Lahontan cutthroats to the surface of this scenic meadow-to-freestone stream.
There is something special about catching native trout in their historic range, and the Upper Truckee is one of only a very few alpine streams in California that are open to angling for native LCTs.
In 2011, TU launched a partnership with the U.S Forest Service’s Lake Tahoe Basin Management Unit to expand the native LCT population in the Upper Truckee River downstream to natural fish barriers at the head of Christmas Valley. Every year we organize college students from around California and Nevada to join a TU-led work crew and Forest Service fisheries team to spend two weeks in Meiss Meadows removing non-native Brook trout.
And it’s working. More native cutthroat are being found downstream in the Truckee each year, adding to the complex character of this remarkable river.
Next: Tahoe Dam to the Town of Truckee
Dave Lass is California Field Director for Trout Unlimited.