Small creek fly-fishing in the Tahoe Basin
- Victor Babbitt
The Tahoe Basin offers some of the best small-creek fly-fishing available in the Sierra Nevada. There are more than 60 tributaries to Lake Tahoe, some too small to fish, some closed to fishing all year and the others only open from July through September. Fly-fishing these creeks takes a special kind of angler; an angler that appreciates catching fish, not trophies. Small creeks with names like Meeks, Blackwood, Trout, Eagle and Cascade all hold four- to ten-inch-long brook, brown and rainbow trout. These brilliant-colored wild fish are well and distinctively marked.
A small creek is defined as a stretch of water that you could jump over at most points, from one to as much as six feet wide, and from four inches to four feet deep. Creeks usually run through a meadow, where sections of the banks overhang deeper water and offer greater cover for trout than in the shallows higher up. These fish can be found in water no deeper than four inches and no wider than a foot or so.
It is possible to make numerous catches in an afternoon, and don’t be surprised if a larger fish takes your fly. Big fish come up from The Lake to spawn, and some stay in the creeks all summer.
If you are a dry-fly angler or a beginner, small-creek fly-fishing has a lot to offer. The fish in these creeks are considered opportunistic feeders because of their homes’ high-elevation and limited populations of aquatic insects. These fish are not very picky and will readily take dry flies — they have to, if they want to survive the short season. You can throw just about anything at them, and they will respond with aggressive rises. Suddenly, you’re hooked up with an acrobatic and energized fish that will fight with the best of them.
With a one-weight or ought-weight fly rod, small-creek fish become formidable foes and will test your casting skills. The Sage Fly Rod Company makes a rod called the TXL, which comes in weights starting as small as a 000 and up to a 3-weight. A shorter fly rod of six to eight feet is a must since a lot of your “casting” is more like dabbing. A double-taper fly line for roll casting will do best and even works well for the bow-and-arrow cast, an integral move on small creeks. Accuracy is also required to place the fly right where it needs to be on these mostly overgrown creeks. For flies, beetle, ant and grass hopper patterns work well. Attractor patterns like royal humpies, royal trudes and royal wolffs are must-haves.
Fish in small creeks are easily spooked, especially in low-water years, so use your best approach. Sometimes crawling along or hiding behind a bush will keep the fish at ease. Earth-tone clothing will help camouflage and blend you in with the natural surroundings. Mosquitoes can be a problem, so be prepared with bug spray or bug-repellent clothing.
With a little effort and a bit of imagination, it’s easy to find these little gems and many others. While you can certainly check out the smallest of waters along the road’s edge, it’s worth it to hike in a few miles away from the crowds for the improved fishing quality. And, as always, please remember to catch and release all wild trout.
For information on these creeks and other Tahoe fly-fishing hot spots, call Tahoe Fly Fishing Outfitters at (530) 541-8208 or visit tahoeflyfishing.com.
Victor Babbitt is a District 5 commissioner for the El Dorado County Fish and Game Commission.