By AUSTIN ZIMMERMAN
Throughout the fly fishing community of Truckee/Tahoe, there is a prevailing feeling that this fall will be extra special. The combination of mild weather, lighter crowds, and the abundance of opportunity make autumn a great time to be outdoors. And this year, with the benefits of the long winter, deep snowpack, and smoke-free skies, we’re set up to have spectacular season.
Our nearly record-breaking snowpack was a gift for the community that keeps on giving. Although most of the white crests have disappeared from view, our local lakes are full and the streams flow continuously with cooler waters benefiting from the gradual runoff. In years past, higher temperature days and smoke-filled skies limited the ability for us to fish freely in the area. Today, the conditions are optimal for fly fishing whether you are an experienced angler looking for a bucket-list experience, or completely new to the sport and looking for the right time to give it a try.
We have countless bodies of water within an hour’s drive of Truckee that are excellent for fishing. Yet most people think of our international gem, Lake Tahoe, and the one outlet for the big blue lake, the Truckee River. Fly fishing in our region centers around the Truckee River as its size and accessibility make it fishable all year long. The river flows for 121 miles northeasterly from Lake Tahoe down the slope of the Sierra Nevada range, through Reno, and out into the Great Basin where it ends on the reservation of the Paiute Tribe at Pyramid Lake. The river is fed by numerous high-mountain lakes and streams that each provide unique fishing experiences. Smaller streams like Prosser Creek and the Little Truckee River continue to flow nicely this time of year as they are fed by the cold, still-water lakes above them. Prosser, Stampede, and Boca reservoirs are also very fishable from the shore or from float tubes during the fall when the crowds have thinned and the fish are active. Using traditional spinning rods with bait is allowed on these lakes if you’ve got the gear for that. With endless places to fish in our area, you just have to pick what’s most interesting to you, gear up, and go.
Walking and Wading On The River
Fly fishing has been around for centuries, mimicking a terrestrial insect drifting on top of the water to coax a fish to take it. Yet we’ve learned that most of the food for the fish is under the surface. Being able to adjust for different conditions and try different techniques is part of the game that attracts many to this activity. A thoughtful variety of flies is key to having a good day on the water. Dry flies that sit on top of the water surface are designed to imitate small flying insects like mayflies, as well as larger bugs like the grasshoppers that have decorated our local trails for the last few weeks.
While the summer months provide the opportunity to walk and wade freely along the river’s edge in shorts, the arrival of fall and cooler temps signal us to unpack our waterproof waders and boots. This is the season of layering, being prepared for 30-degree mornings and 70-degree days. Walking and wading along the river in the fall is extra special because the angler is treated to all the colors of the changing season. The lower river levels also make some areas more accessible and less dangerous than during the spring runoff. Yet care must always be taken when out in the wild to be aware of your surroundings, taking note of the local wildlife that we share this place with. It’s common to see many varieties of waterfowl, plus busy beavers, river otters, deer, coyotes, and black bears, too.
Searching For Giant Browns
As the days get shorter, time on the river becomes more precious. The more experienced anglers know that this is the time of year that our more elusive brown trout become increasingly aggressive as they near their annual spawn. Overcast or rainy days create a better opportunity as well, as the fish are less on edge and more active when weather is present. This is when we bring out our streamers (flies that mimic bait fish) and start walking downstream instead of upstream, casting across the river and swinging these larger offerings in front of the larger predatory browns. A grab from one of these browns while stripping your line through the current is something you don’t forget. Landing one is another story, especially since regulations require that the barbs on the hooks are “pinched down” to avoid unnecessary harm to the fish, and to make our catch-and-release rule easier to accomplish.
Falling From The Sky
This time of year also brings a literal fall of activity from the sky. The October caddis event is not to be missed if you enjoy dry fly surface fishing for rising trout. Sometime in early October through mid-November, one of the last hatches of significant proportions will occur, causing more activity on the river. These larger winged bugs tend to create a more aggressive surface take from rainbow and brown trouts, a perennial highlight of every Truckee River fly angler. Another exciting hatch of the fall is from blue winged olives, a short-lived mayfly commonly known as BWO. What they lack in size they make up for in quantity, often blanketing the surface of the water in such significant numbers it’s no wonder they are one of the go-to offerings in the area.
Mystical Fishing At Pyramid Lake
October signals the opening of the new fishing season at Pyramid Lake. The “salty pond” is home to our region’s most prized native trout, the Lahontan cutthroat, once free to roam all the way up the Truckee River, and once thought to be completely extinct. Yet in 1979 a remnant of the original population was discovered in a small brook near Pilot Peak on the Nevada/Utah border. In the years that followed, efforts were made by U.S. Fish and Wildlife and the local Pyramid Lake Paiute Tribe to develop a hatchery and reintroduce the native fish. Over the last few years, the average size of the fish has been growing larger and larger, which has helped make Pyramid the premier cutthroat fishery in the world, with the potential to land a 40-pound trout.
Early season at Pyramid is all about going deep to get onto the fish. Shooting line from the shore is common, but getting out on a float tube or boat using fast sinking lines with heavy streamers will work the best early in the season. These fish will often be keyed in on the bait balls of tui chub fish, and if you can find schools of them, you will likely find some fat cutthroat gorging on these baitfish. Consider hiring a guide, or joining a group class at Pyramid to learn how to best enjoy the experience out there.
Fall is here and the colors are just starting to change up and down the Truckee River canyon. If you’re interested in learning more about fly fishing, stop by Truckee’s dedicated local fly shop downtown, read the fishing reports online, and talk to that friend who you know is into it and might share some tips.
~ Austin Zimmerman is the assistant manager at Trout Creek Outfitters in Truckee, which was founded by the shop manager and his brother, Miles, and Scott Ferguson in 2020. When he’s not working inside the shop, he’s either out on the water with friends, or lugging his camera gear into the backcountry to capture some of the beauty of our natural environment.