Countdown To The Trout Opener: Hit The Jackpot In Tahoe-Area Fisheries

We’re counting down to Saturday’s statewide trout opener with stories from our April trout-tastic issue. Today: Six fisheries to hit the jackpot in and around Lake Tahoe.

Besides getting lucky at the casinos, Lake Tahoe anglers can also hit the jackpot fishing in the massive body of water. This happy young angler had the thrill of a lifetime when this big Mackinaw came knocking during a trolling adventure with Capt. Mike Nielsen. (TAHOE TOPLINERS SPORTFISHING)

By Cal Kellogg

Up before the spring sun slid over the mountains, Lucy the Labrador and I postponed breakfast; I didn’t even bother making coffee. The goal was to be on Stampede Reservoir right at the break of dawn to bang a limit of quality kokanee quickly before the sun climbed high in the sky and the bite went into the typical midmorning slump.

Lucy and I found the sockeye in an enthusiastic mood and hooked 11 fish in the first 90 minutes of trolling from the Hobie Pro Angler kayak. We lost a few salmon and released a couple dinks, but we had the kayak back on the trailer and a limit of five 14-plus-inch kokes cleaned and in the ice chest just before 9.

By 10:30, I’d secured a shaded campsite at the Little Truckee Campground off Highway 89. After a breakfast of scrambled eggs and kibble for Lucy, and eggs, tortillas and cheddar cheese for me, we enjoyed napping in the back of the SUV with the back hatch open until early afternoon.

After a walk, it was time to break out the fly gear. The Little Truckee River – more of a creek than a river – is notorious for its skittish trout and ample fishing pressure. On this weekday afternoon, neither of these pieces of conventional wisdom proved to be true. I found the rainbows enthusiastic and never came across another angler.

I started out working deeper areas with a variety of nymphs. With sub-surface offerings drawing minimal action, I noticed a small yellow stonefly fluttering around and then saw two more. I quickly clipped the nymph off my tippet and replaced it with a No. 10 Elk Hair Caddis. Three casts later, a rambunctious little rainbow devoured the fly and I enjoyed wild action for the next two hours.

In all, I landed and released about a dozen trout. They were all small rainbows topping out at about 12 inches, but the thrill of seeing them explode on a dry fly made up for their lack of size! A dinner of chicken fajitas chased by a couple huge brownies my wife had baked for me topped off an amazing day.

The next morning, Lucy and I banged another five-fish kokanee limit. They joined the previous day’s salmon in the cooler. Lucy and I were on I-80 by 10:30 and I was looking forward to spending the next day and a half smoking up some cherry-red “kokanee candy” back home.

Such was the kickoff of my 2023 Tahoe-Truckee fishing season, and I’m planning to enjoy similar, perhaps even better action this spring!

A big, broad-shouldered Stampede kokanee slides into the author’s net. Spring should provide some great fishing opportunities at these high-elevation fisheries. (CAL KELLOGG)


The central Sierra in the vicinity of Lake Tahoe and the nearby community of Truckee offers easy access and a diverse array of opportunities for visiting anglers. Interested in trout? You’ll find plenty. Is stream and river fishing your passion? The Truckee and Little Truckee will put a smile on your face. Salmon? Mackinaw? Smallmouth bass? Guided fishing trips? Camping? Groceries and other services? Yes, yes and yes; the Tahoe-Truckee region offers all of this and more.

Better still, after a slow start, the 2023-24 winter kicked into high gear after New Year’s and blanketed the high country with plentiful snow. This means visiting anglers will enjoy full lakes and good river flows throughout the spring, summer and fall. All we need to do is wait for enough of the white stuff to melt to provide adequate access and then it’s game on!


Any discussion of central Sierra fishing should begin with mention of Lake Tahoe, which is a massive body of water 22 miles long, 12 miles wide and over 1,600 feet deep, making it the second deepest lake in the United States behind Oregon’s Crater Lake.

Tahoe is so large that if you’re standing at the shoreline on one end of the lake, you can’t see the far shoreline even with powerful binoculars because the curvature of the Earth puts it below the horizon!

These facts are all fun and games, but anglers will want to know what the big lake offers in terms of fishing. It offers a lot, including limit-style action for Mackinaw, or lake trout, in the 3- to 6-pound class, trophy Macks beyond the 20-pound mark, elusive browns up to and beyond 10 pounds, plentiful rainbow trout ranging beyond 7 pounds and clouds of kokanee during the latter half of the summer.

Spring is a wonderful time to visit Tahoe. While you won’t typically find good kokanee fishing this time of year, you will enjoy solid action for Macks and rainbows, and you might get lucky and cross swords with a big brown.

If you’re a first-time visitor to Lake Tahoe, I think you’d do well to take a guided trip or two before setting out on your own. With some experience under your belt, you’ll be able to score on your own, whether fishing from a boat or kayak.

If you opt to fish Tahoe from a small craft, remember that the lake is huge and subject to stiff winds that come up quickly. Good judgment sets the stage for a long life, so don’t take chances.

A lot of folks overlook the exciting bank fishing Tahoe offers. Sure, the lake is huge, but in the spring a lot of fish gravitate to the shoreline. I know folks who enjoy good results while

fishing for rainbows and Mackinaw along the east side of the lake soaking PowerBait and inflated worms. All it takes is a willingness to do some hiking combined with a shot of patience.

If you’re looking for a guided fishing experience at Lake Tahoe, the folks at Tahoe Sportfishing offer excellent trips focused on the best available fishing. You can check them out at

This Truckee River rainbow jumped all over a yellow stonefly imitation on a warm spring afternoon. (CAL KELLOGG)
This beautiful wild rainbow exploded out of the Little Truckee River to slam the author’s Elk Hair Caddis fly. (CAL KELLOGG


If Lake Tahoe is king of the central Sierra, the Truckee River, which flows out of the big lake, is the crown prince. It’s known for producing trophy-size browns and rainbows. Throughout its journey from Lake Tahoe to the Nevada border, the Truckee is a river of many characters. Some areas are broad and placid, while other locations offer brawling cascades of whitewater. Some stretches fall under general fishing regulations, meaning you can use bait, barbed hooks and trebles, while others require the use of single barbless hooks and artificial lures only.

An entire article could be written about Truckee River fishing regulations, but I’m not going to burn a bunch of space here going into detail. Just know that if you are going to fish the Truckee, you’ve got to study the regulations and tailor your approach to the stretch of river you are fishing. The upper river, from Lake Tahoe to Truckee, is basically the general regulation stretch. There are large wild fish in this stretch and it’s also the area planted with catchable trout by the California Department of Fish and Wildlife.
Standard spinner and salmon egg tactics will score you a limit of pan-size planters on the upper stretch. If you want to hook into something larger, CountDown minnow plugs and nightcrawlers offer the best chance of success.

Moving downriver, anywhere that nonregulated gear fishing is legal is best fished with the aforementioned plugs and ’crawlers. You’ll catch some smaller ’bows and browns on these offerings, but if you get lucky, you might find yourself hooked up with a big brown over the 5-pound mark.

As you proceed downriver from the area near Boca Reservoir, Interstate 80 and frontage roads offer good access, but this is the stretch where special regulations kick in. This area is best worked with fly gear. If you use single-hook barbless flies and don’t retain any fish, you don’t need to worry about the regulations.
To hook the big trophy-caliber browns the Truckee is noted for, baitfish-imitating streamers are the way to go. If you want more action but smaller, average-size fish, indicator nymphing can produce very good results. There are a number of fly-fishing outfitters that can cut the learning curve down if you’d like to start a relationship with Truckee River trout. The Reno Fly Shop is a great resource for Truckee River fishing information and guided fishing trips. Check them out at

Dawn at Stampede Reservoir is prime time for battling the lake’s hard-charging kokanee salmon. (CAL KELLOGG)


Stampede, Boca and Prosser Reservoirs, along with the section of the Little Truckee River I described in the beginning of this piece, are all located in close proximity to Truckee and are accessed via I-80 in the case of Boca and Stampede and off Highway 89 if you’re headed to Prosser or the Little Truckee.

Stampede is arguably the most popular of these lakes due to the outstanding kokanee fishery the reservoir features. A few years back, Stampede’s salmon population got a little too large and the fish became stunted, topping out at around 12 inches.

More recently, we’ve seen a reduction in salmon numbers and the result has been limit-style action for quality fish ranging from 14 to 16 inches.

Early-morning fishing with standard corn-tipped kokanee lures offers the best action at Stampede, but you can catch salmon all day long and into the evening.

Prosser Reservoir is packed with beautiful cutthroat trout like this awesome specimen. (CAL KELLOGG)

Next to Stampede, Prosser is my favorite reservoir in the Truckee region because of the incredible cutthroat and rainbow fishing the lake provides. I’ve consistently caught big numbers of cutthroats to 18 inches while kayaking Prosser, and I’ve also tangled with impressive rainbows that range up to 3 pounds and fight with determination.

Spoons in a variety of sizes and colors score well at Prosser for boaters, kayakers and bank anglers alike. Prosser has a 10 mph speed limit and is fairly small in size, making it an ideal destination for kayak trout anglers.

Boca is known for having a lot of boat traffic because it is the closest large body of water to Reno, and it doesn’t have a speed limit. While Boca can get pretty busy on weekends, the lake does offer a shot at big rainbows and browns and some outstanding sleeper kokanee action.

The sleeper of sleepers in the Truckee region is smallmouth bass fishing. For years, I’d heard rumors of smallies being caught at Stampede, Boca and Prosser, but I paid them no attention since trout and kokanee were always my target species. While I still haven’t targeted Truckee-area bronzebacks, I did catch three bass incidentally last season – two from

Prosser and one from Stampede. The Stampede fish slammed a kokanee spinner perhaps 100 yards from the boat ramp. I was pulling the spinner on one of my leadcore outfits and the 3-pound bass fought so hard that I thought I’d stumbled into a big rainbow. I was pretty shocked when the angry-looking, tiger-striped bass came into view.

At Prosser, the bass I caught were both in the 2-pound class and they smashed trout spoons in open water. I got one down near the dam, but the other one came uplake near the launch ramp. These experiences make me wonder what a skilled bass angler might encounter at these high Sierra impoundments.


Clearly, I’ve only given the central Sierra fishing opportunities offered in the Tahoe-Truckee region the lightest possible glossing over. My goal was to open your mind to giving the area a serious look to see if it offers something that sparks your interest.

Major highway access is good, hotel lodging is plentiful and there are many campgrounds to choose from. The town of Truckee offers a long list of resources, including restaurants, supermarkets and fuel. For local fishing information and fishing gear, Truckee’s Mountain Hardware ( is a great place for visiting anglers to stop and kickstart a great Sierra adventure. CS

Editor’s note: Cal Kellogg is a longtime Northern California-based outdoors writer. Subscribe to his YouTube channel Fish Hunt Shoot Productions at user/KelloggOutdoors.