Truckee River Project


The Truckee River watershed offers one of the most diverse fishing experiences in the West. One can find pure Lahontan cutthroat trout in the Truckee's headwaters in roadless backcountry above iconic Lake Tahoe, the country's largest alpine lake. A world-class wild trout fishery for trophy browns and rainbows begins immediately downstream of Lake Tahoe and continues for some 110 miles, offering incredible urban angling opportunities where it flows through the cities of Truckee, California and Reno, Nevada before terminating at Pyramid Lake. Pyramid Lake, thanks to years of dedicated conservation effort, has experienced a dramatic resurgence in trout productivity and is now one of the most unique fisheries in the world, where anglers can cast to massive Lahontan cutthroat trout that now reach close to 30 pounds.

The streams and rivers that comprise the Truckee watershed still deliver cold, clean water and remain strongholds for native California fish species, including the federally threatened Lahontan cutthroat. However, many decades of land use (among them logging and mining, resort and residential development, and the sheer popularity of the area as an outdoor playground) have altered natural functions, and there is significant restoration, flow and outreach work that must be completed to protect and enhance the marvelous fishing we have in the Truckee River watershed. In addition, many montane meadows -- a key habitat type for conservation of California’s inland native trout -- in the Sierra Nevada and Southern Cascades ranges have become degraded over the last century due to a variety of factors, resulting in significant loss of the critical ecological functions they serve including water filtration, flood attenuation, biodiversity, and water storage.

TU's Truckee River Program seeks to address these and other limiting factors for trout throughout the Truckee River watershed. Our work is based on four simple objectives:

  1. Protect fish and game habitat on public lands
  2. Create new native trout waters
  3. Enhance iconic wild trout fisheries
  4. Sustain conservation gains and fishing opportunities by engaging youth

Our vision for the future of trout and fishing in the Truckee River watershed -- despite myriad challenges -- remains optimistic. Our conservation work in the greater Lake Tahoe region is already paying dividends, and we are confident TU will continue to play a leading role in conserving, protecting and restoring the justifiably famous trout and angling opportunities found here.


Protect habitat on public lands
Because the majority of habitat in the Truckee River's headwaters is in public lands managed by the U.S. Forest Service, TU works to protect intact habitat on these lands and to serve as a catalyst for restoration of lands that have become degraded. For example, TU led a campaign to ensure protection of the Meiss Meadows area -- which contains the only self-sustaining population of Lahontan cutthroat trout in the Tahoe Basin -- during the Lake Tahoe Basin Management Unit's Forest Plan Revision process. The final revised plan calls for protecting Meiss Meadows from development and will ensure this important refugia for native trout remains "like it is today" for future generations of anglers.

Create new native trout waters

Lahontan cutthroat trout (LCT) have been extirpated from over 92% of their historic stream habitat and 99% of their historic lake habitat. Recovering LCT populations in headwater streams is a core conservation strategy for TU, and we are playing a key role in a collaborative effort between resource agencies and sportsmen to restore LCT to the Little Truckee River, which includes 35 miles of the upper watershed and almost 9 miles of a major tributary, Sagehen Creek.

Enhance iconic wild trout fisheries
As in many watersheds, restoring native trout may not make sense in all parts of the drainage, and where feasible cannot be done all at once. There is significant opportunity to harness the passion of local and regional anglers that are dedicated fishing the Truckee River and its iconic tailwaters, like the Little Truckee River below Stampede Dam. TU is committed to enhancing instream habitat in these waters that will ultimately create more fishing opportunities. Specifically, we are driving a multi-year restoration effort on more than two miles of the Little Truckee River, and partnering on restoration projects on Lower Prosser Creek and the Truckee River below Lake Tahoe.

Outreach and Education
While having a trout and ecosystem focus, at its core the Truckee River Project is about building a community of stewards who will ensure that the rivers, streams and lakes of the greater Lake Tahoe region sustain Lahontan cutthroat and other fish and wildlife species that support the regional economy and enhance quality of life for residents and visitors alike. Anglers can be a catalyst in building that community because they are passionate about and have personal connection to the trout and waters of the Tahoe area, and want to pass along this rich natural heritage to future generations. To that end, the Truckee River Project manages the majority of outreach TU performs in California, and operates the only TU youth camp in California and Nevada.


Little Truckee River Fish Habitat Improvement Project
TU is leading a project on the Little Truckee River that will restore over two miles of river that supports world-class fishing for wild brown and rainbow trout. As locals say, "90 of the fish occupy 10% of the water." This famous tailwater is heavily used by anglers, and expanding suitable habitat in the river and dispersing angling use are two priorities for the Little Truckee River Fish Habitat Improvement Project, which will be constructed in September 2015. TU will

add over 100 trees, 250 large boulders and excavate new backwater habitats to create new habitat that benefit wild trout at all stages of their life history.

Meiss Meadows/Castle Peak
These two Inventoried Roadless Areas are the true headwaters of the Truckee River and the Little Truckee River, respectively. Both areas are managed by the U.S. Forest Service, and TU has worked closely over the years with the agency and other stakeholders to better protect these headwaters. Specifically, TU was successful in educating and engaging sportsmen in the Tahoe National Forest's Travel Management Process, leading to reduced road densities in the Castle Peak roadless area and other parts of the Little Truckee River drainage. Employing the same strategies, TU successfully advocated for Wild and Scenic River designation on a reach of the Upper Truckee River that protects native Lahontan cutthroat trout.

Improving Instream Flow
Historic releases and drastic ramping rates from Boca Reservoir have heavily impacted the Little Truckee River. Flows are sometimes reduced to as little as zero cubic feet per second during late summer and early fall months when municipal water is no longer needed downstream, and TU volunteers have helped organize rescue and relocation of wild trout and native mountain whitefish when that happens. To correct the root of the problem rather than simply treat the symptom, TU helped to facilitate a dialogue between the California Department of Fish and Wildlife and the Bureau of Reclamation to better understand the conveyance issue and to present recommendations for minimum instream releases and targets for ramping. The outcomes of this successful dialogue will benefit the Little Truckee River and Truckee River in the years to come, and TU is currently seeking other opportunities to improve instream flow in the Truckee River watershed.

Staff Contact

David Lass

California Field Director

(530) 587-7110

Author of this Page

Sam Davidson

California Communications Director

(831) 235-2542


All photos courtesy of Stefan McLeod Photography.

Lake Tahoe
Truckee River
Little Truckee River
Meiss Meadows
City of Reno
Town of Truckee
Sierra Nevada Mountains

Lahontan Cutthroat Trout

Wild Rainbow Trout

Wild Rainbow Trout

Wild Brown Trout

Wild Brown Trout

Climate Change
Roads + Development

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