Go big or get skunked: the Wild Trout section of the Truckee River

The Wild Trout section of the Truckee River offers trophy browns and 'bows -- and plenty of skunk days.


By Dave Lass

“I got skunked.”

This is a common refrain from those fishing the Wild Trout section of the Truckee River between the Town of Truckee and the California-Nevada border.

Believe me, there are plenty of trout, many of them in the fabled 20 inch class, in this stretch of water. But the Truckee’s reputation as a technical fishery is well deserved. Some of the world’s best fly anglers live in this area, and even they get blanked.

Still, you always come back for more. Despite flowing only a stone’s throw from Interstate Highway 80, this reach of the Truckee River is too lovely, too fishy-looking, too…perfect. No serious angler can help themselves.

From the Town of Truckee the river takes on a freestone character as its gradient steepens. However, the Wild Trout section of the Truckee receives the majority of its water from four tailwater sources, which makes it fish more like a limestone stream.  

What this means for anglers is bigger water, bigger hatches, and bigger fish.

The unwritten rule around here is catch-and-release only. Not many rivers can grow the numbers of large wild trout that this section of the Truckee supports, so locals actively “enforce” this rule.

Some of the largest trout in the river live in the “Grand Canyon” of the Truckee. This reach receives the least angling pressure, and has good access from highway off-ramps and pullouts. Another attraction here is the Skwala hatch that comes off in late winter, where big fish are drawn to the surface to feast on large adult stoneflies.

Anglers visiting during the summer months should consider tight line or Czech style nymphing using crayfish and stonefly patterns with a caddis pupa dropper.

The San Francisco Fly Casting Club owns two miles of the Truckee, downstream of Glenshire Bridge to the I-80 Bridge -- please respect this private water. The club’s involvement with the Truckee River dates back to 1904. They are true friends of the river and strongly support TU’s conservation work.

TU’s three chapters and staff in this area are working hard to make the fishing experience in the Truckee River watershed even better. This work includes meadow restoration, native Lahontan cutthroat trout recovery in the headwaters, habitat enhancements, flow improvements, youth fishing camps, Trout-in-the-Classroom programs and a robust social media presence.

If you like a technical fishery with huge rewards, the Truckee River downstream of the Town of Truckee is calling. Next, we’ll start our journey on the Nevada side of the Truckee River, a place where trophy trout thrive among casinos and brothels.  


Dave Lass is California Field Director for Trout Unlimited.

Overview photo courtesy Stefan McLeod Photography.



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