Young Fishy Dave Lass on the Truckee River.
By Sam Davidson
World class trout fisheries are laid like a string of pearls along the East Side of the Sierra Nevada, as if the Creator had the road-tripping fly fisherman in mind when he adorned the landscape. Crowley Lake. Hot Creek. The upper and lower Owens River. The East and West forks of the Walker and Carson rivers. Kirman and Heenan lakes. And tumbling out of the Sierra where the range begins to shape-shift into the Cascades, the magnificent Truckee River.
Recently work took me to the East Side. Over several days I drove through some of the most awe-inspiring country anywhere, with extracurricular stops here and there to conduct a little “field research.”
I’m pleased to report these waters all have plenty of robust trout, even in this crazy summer of parched conditions and voracious wildfire.
This is no accident. While the best angling sections of the East Walker and the Truckee are tailwater fisheries, and some of these waters are stocked, there are two primary reasons why all of these streams still have enough cold, clean water for trout.
One, their headwaters are in public lands, where relatively undisturbed meadows and soils act like a big sponge to absorb precipitation, filter it, and release it gradually into aquifers and surface flows.
Two, advocates for cold water fisheries, including Trout Unlimited and the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, have worked hard over the years to protect and restore good habitat in streams like these, and to ensure adequate streamflows for trout through balanced water supply management.
The East Walker
On Labor Day, I put in a couple of hours on the legendary East Walker, being teased by its trophy brown and rainbow trout. I felt I deserved this privilege, as I had joined perhaps thirty other people that morning in primping the river during the Annual East Walker River Cleanup.
This event is now in its third year. It’s the brainchild of local businesses (Walker River Outfitters and Ken’s Sporting Goods) and the Fishin’ Mission Foundation (FMF), a group of fishing buddies who have been coming to the Bridgeport area to fish for forty years and who have established this charitable organization to give back to the area.
TU strongly supports this initiative, and others like it around California. This year, the East Walker cleanup crew filled a dumpster with a few old tires, a grill, plenty of shotgun shells, and other refuse left by – who? This area is used primarily by anglers. Who among us leaves beer bottles and cans on the ground nowadays? Sheesh.
The post-cleanup BBQ is always memorable in its own right, and this year was no exception. A fancy new smoker-grill cooked plenty of steak and chicken to perfection – and blasted the facial hair off of some of the FMF boys before they figured out how to light it properly.
The Truckee River is one of the finest – and toughest – trout streams in the country. Four TU chapters (Truckee River, Feather River, Sagebrush and Sac-Sierra) chip in to protect, restore and sustain this famous river and its major tributaries.
Over the two previous weeks, TU members had turned out in force to help enhance spawning and holding habitat in the Little Truckee River and Prosser Creek. These are comprehensive, multi-phase, multi-partner projects that ultimately will increase the fishable water in this iconic area.
TU’s California Field Director, Dave Lass, is at the heart of these projects and other conservation work in the Lake Tahoe region. In addition to organizing work parties and fulfilling permitting and planning requirements for these projects, Dave plays a lead role in raising money to accomplish them.
Enter the venerable San Francisco Fly Casters Club – the second oldest fly fishing organization in the country. The Fly Casters in recent years have become much more active in supporting conservation work. They offered to host an event to help raise money for the habitat enhancement projects.
You see, the Fly Casters own three miles of land along the Truckee River. While most of the river below the eponymous town of Truckee is designated Wild Trout water, the Fly Casters are allowed to stock their section of the river with “Schwarzenegger trout.”
You can only fish this water by floating it – or by invitation of the club.
So Dave and the Fly Casters invited some non-members to fish the Fly Casters water for a day – and to listen to Dave and one of TU’s chief partners, the Truckee River Watershed Council, make a pitch for donations to help pay for the two habitat enhancement projects. The Fly Casters got the ball rolling by pledging $5000.
That morning, I told Dave to put me to work. He said, “Schmooze while you fish.”
Good habitat equals good fishing and hunting opportunity. Over the Labor Day weekend, I thought many times about the connection between my fishing then and the vision and labor of many sportsmen, of past and present generations. Conservation boils down to a tried-and-true financial equation: invest your resources wisely now, so that you and your children will reap the dividends well into the future.
That, my friends, is called paying it forward.
Sam Davidson is California Communications Director for Trout Unlimited.