Denis Peirce: A day on Independence Lake in search of trout |

Denis Peirce: A day on Independence Lake in search of trout

Denis Peirce
Special to The Union
Cutthroat trout with trolling fly in its mouth.
Submitted by Wilfried Wietstock |

Getting there

To get to Independence Lake take Hwy 89 north from Truckee 17 miles to the Jackson Meadows road. A couple miles in take a left onto a marked dirt road. The road is generally good but a vehicle with good ground clearance is recommended.

Five years ago the Nature Conservancy purchased the land adjacent to Independence Lake. They have introduced a series of rules regarding the lake including no outside watercraft. They have three fishing boats available for public use at no charge along with kayaks and float tubes. The fishing boats are only allowed to be used every other week. To determine which weeks are available go to the web site:" target="_blank">Text">

Camping is no longer allowed. To get there early in the day camping in the surrounding area might be a good option.

The weather pattern of thunderstorms in the high country has allowed the mountains to remain cool and damp for May and this first half of June.

This has kept trout fishing in the high lakes good despite the drought and lack of cold water run-off from no snowpack. I decided now is the time to trout fish before conditions get too warm.

With the foothill weather predicted to be in the mid 90s, Tuesday was my day to go. A general rule of thumb is that when the valley temps get close to triple digits, there is a good chance for thundershowers in the Sierra, and this was the case on Tuesday.

The day dawned clear in the high country and by midday the clouds were building.

I wanted to test out a trolling fly pattern on the cutthroat trout in Independence Lake north of Truckee.

Independence Lake is one of the few remaining refuges of the cutthroat trout in the Truckee River drainage. This lake has had brook trout, browns and kokanee in addition to the cutthroats.

The browns have not spawned in the creek for 16 years and are believed to be out of the lake. There has been a concerted effort to eliminate the brook trout in recent years and there were only three of them caught last year. The kokanee are still plentiful and the cutthroat are also doing quite well.

I invited a friend, Wilfried Wietstock, to go along hoping to get some nice photos in addition to the company. We left Grass Valley by 6:15 a.m. and were at the lake two hours later. After getting our gear together, we were on the water trolling up the north shore.

I have been fishing at Independence Lake since I moved to Truckee in 1978. I have had my best catches fishing the perimeter of the lake following the line where the bottom drops out of site into the depths.

This line can be just a few yards off the shore where steep hillsides drop into the lake. In other areas the drop off can be out 30 yards or more.

Under glassy conditions and a bright sky, the bigger fish will drop out of sight into the depths but not go too far away. When the wind blows breaking up the surface and if cloud cover lowers, the lighting you have the conditions for hooking a good fish.

We trolled the mile or more along the north shore without a bite. There were lime green pollen rafts along the bank where the breeze had pushed it the previous day.

There had been an ant hatch recently and an occasional fish rose through the pollen to grab an insect. A typical pattern I have seen on this lake is to find smaller fish close to the bank with the larger ones farther out. Often I will troll with a rod or two and have another angler cast to the bank as we go. We reached the west end of the lake without a bump and crossed over to the south side.

Halfway down the south side. Wilfried spotted fish rising to the surface over a shallow flat. He had a spinning rod with a small spoon. A couple of casts produced the first trout of the day, a brookie about a foot long.

This was mid-morning under bright skies and a glass-like surface. The clouds were building over the summit which promised to bring more favorable conditions in the coming hours.

By 11 a.m. the breeze had arrived along with intermittent clouds shading the lake. Not being able to be on the water at dawn, this was the beginning of the time to tempt a good fish. I had chosen to fish a pair of 5-inch flies tied to represent the Lahontan Redside Minnow which is one of the two minnows dominant in the lake. A general rule at the lake is that a big lure will get you bigger fish.

On our second run along the north shore, one of the trolling flies just stopped. We had been moving in and out along the bank trying to vary speed and direction. Occasionally we would hang up on the bottom which would stop the fly and we would backtrack to free it up. This time, after stopping the line began thumping and going in a new direction. Wilfried grabbed the fly rod and the game was on. The fish was a good one and it did not disappoint him.

With a barbless hook rule in effect, you can’t give them slack and hope to land the trout. It was one of the cutthroat that the lake is noted for and a beautiful specimen at that. It came close to filling the length of a 20-inch net. After a couple of photos, it swam back to the depths from which it came.

We did pick up more cutthroats casting to the bank as we trolled but one was the count for the bigger fish we were targeting that day. We enjoyed an occasional light shower in the early afternoon and by late afternoon the heavy west wind arose putting whitecaps on the lake.

A strong wind is a regular occurrence on Independence. I like to be along the north shore as the wind picks up. Going into or with the waves is safer than trying to cross the lake if the wind waves really pick up.

With the beginning of hot summer temps this weekend, heading up into the high country is a great way to spend the day whether you go fishing or not.

Denis Peirce writes a fishing column for The Union’s Outdoors section and is host of “The KNCO Fishing & Outdoor Report,” which airs 6-7 p.m. Fridays and 5-6 a.m. Saturdays on 830-AM radio. Contact him via his website at

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