The Truckee River has a long and storied history, most of which will surprise you in the fact that she is doing well as she is now. Running a 105 mile stretch from its Alpine start at Lake Tahoe to its terminus in the desert at Pyramid Lake, the Truckee River covers much terrain and changes her face in such ways that is has been coined “The Big Two Face River”. This is not only due to its transition from an Alpine River to a Desert River, but because she has developed a fishery unlike any other in the West….one that frequently defies conventional angling wisdom and practices.
From the original discovery by John C Fremont in 1844, who coined the Truckee River the “Salmon Trout River” to its official namesake of the “Truckee River”, named after a Paiute Indian living at the headwaters of the Humboldt River, the Truckee River has existed through both ecological feast and famine. Unfortunately, a majority of this famine was induced by man. In her early years, the Truckee was full of Lahontan Cuthroat Trout, and they were as thick in the river as they were in Pyramid Lake and Tahoe. The settling of the area saw these LCT’s fished out at a tremendous rate to supply Fish markets San Francisco to the West and Ogden, Utah to the east. In 1889 this was estimated that around 125 tons of fish were removed, and that is in one year alone.
Further development and settlement in the Reno/Truckee area saw the construction of sawmills, implementation of agricultural and municipal diversion, power supply supplementation, sewage lines, and an unregulated fishing industry. Periods in the 19th and early 20th century saw the river heavily polluted and choked with sawdust and process chemicals, and when she ran dry from diversions raw sewage was being dumped in her on a regular basis…..in her barren and dry river bottom.
The complete chronology of the Truckee River can be found on the State of Nevada’s Division of Water Resources website. This is a complete and comprehensive resource up to 1997, take a look at it and learn about the Truckee. Guaranteed your respect and appreciation for her will increase tenfold.
The Truckee River of present day is a far cry from what she resembled as a fishery prior to 1844. The LCT and Cui-Ui were fished out, and in the case of the LCT it was fished out to extinction in the late 1930’s. The need for a viable source of food did not diminish, however supplementation of food supplies via rail lines made the Truckee River not a main focus of protein sources for the bustling mines in Virginia City or the growing metro area and rail hub of Reno, NV.
In place of the LCT’s we found importation of the first foreign fish species into the upper river above Verdi, NV in 1887. These were Brook Trout and Whitefish. These held until 1880 until the importation of McCloud River (AK) Trout in 1880 and of course later the Brown Trout made its way into the Truckee. This of course is the fishery we are used to today, minus the Brook Trout. (The only Brook trout remaining can be found in Thomas Creek in South Reno).
In recent years our Truckee River has suffered through devastating drought years, however is making a remarkable recovery. On another note NDOW has taken great strides to maintain the fishery with “Put-n-Take” supplementation of LCT, and positive management of the Rainbow, Brown, Cuthroat, and Whitefish populations.
Perhaps one of the most significant contributions to the Truckee Rivers Health and Legacy has been the efforts put forth by the Nevada chapter of The Nature Conservancy. A 10+ mile stretch of the river has been restored to its original form, the primary stretch of this is known as the McCarran Ranch Preserve. Other sections include Mustang Ranch, 102 Ranch, Lockwood, and the Tracy Reach. This is a shining example of how Nature and Human Industry can co-exist, and that it is possible to bring back the natural flows of the river. Bringing back the historical native species is perhaps not as easy, we find many obstructions and dams in areas that prohibit (and have for over 100 years) the natural progression and spawning runs of the LCT’s out of Pyramid and into their native spawn beds around the Dowtown Reno area.
With no fish ladders in place it makes progression impossible, however plans have been made and are in the works to introduce these devices into the current dam structure. This is good news, however long over due as it has been a hot topic since its first mention in January of 1879 in The Nevada State Journal. The current rhythm of recreational fishing in the Truckee is proving that we can sustain the current fishery, however it is up to us as individual anglers to practice best methods for preserving the fishery and educating those who neglect our waterway on a daily basis.
To learn more about the local work that the Nature Conservancy has done please visit https://www.nature.org/en-us/get-involved/how-to-help/places-we-protect/mccarran-ranch-preserve/ or click on our podcast with Chris Sega of the Nature Conservancy….this is an excellent podcast and we highly recommend you take time to listen to it.
The future of the Truckee River is headed into some unknown territory. Where we do have pretty good regulation and protections on the river, we still have some pretty old regulations and diversions in place that really serve no purpose.
Another aspect to consider is that in recent years we have seen a large increase in the amount of transient garbage on the river banks in the east that includes some highly biohazardous materials (needles, medical waste, etc) that deserves some attention. By enabling and engaging the local community on the Truckee River we can promote individual responsibility and ownership of the river’s health, and in the long run this will be the strongest method to ensure the health of the river.
Looking forward we will also see the incorporation of the fish screen and fish ladder at Derby Dam. This is a monumental step to ensure the passage of the Lahontan Cuthtroat Trout….something that hasn’t happened since 1905. Whether or not you are in favor of this action, you would have to agree that it will be a sight to behold. Imagine these large trout running up the riverbed towards their ancestral spawning grounds (Most of which are in downtown Reno section)…..it will be rather remarkable.