Q&A with Travis Hawks, NDOW – Trout Behavior, High Water and Trout Response

We have an active group over at the Reno Fly Podcast Group on Facebook.  There listeners of the podcast can ask questions of me, the special guest of an episode and each other.  The discussions have led to tons of information being shared and discussed.

It became obvious that EP26 with Travis Hawks (Nevada Department of Wildlife) created a bunch of questions and interest. I reached to Travis, @mountainhawks and @travishawks to see if he would be willing to respond to a few of the questions.  He was very helpful and was stoked to have the opportunity to expand on several of the topics we discussed in the recording.

If you are interested in participating in the group on Facebook follow this link and check it out.

Travis Hawks

Travis Hawks

Here are the questions and Travis’ responses.

I was listening to the latest podcast with Kelly Galloup and he said something very interesting about how all his research lead him to believe that trout move all over the place and are rarely in the same spot. I find this confusing since listening to your podcast and others saying that fish move to different areas very rarely and can find the same fish in the same hole even after flood events. Just asking if that trend is confined to just the Truckee or do fish move from area to area? – David Walker

  • First let me state that all my answers are based off of work I’ve done in this region, things I’ve noticed, conversations with my boss (Kim Tisdale, 15+ years on the Truckee River), and discussions with anglers and people familiar with this river.  I wouldn’t even begin to question Mr. Galloup’s experience with cold water fisheries, he has more time on the water than I could ever dream to have. I imagine the true answer to this question, specifically relating to the Truckee, lies somewhere in between my statements on the podcast and Mr. Galloup’s.  That being said, I continue to stand by what I said originally, the older, trophy class fish, seem to have a home range in the Truckee and don’t do much deviating from that range.  I reviewed some old reports from the 90’s where our agency used telemetry to monitor a number of large rainbows and browns over the course of a couple years.  The results of this monitoring showed that while a handful of the fish disappeared and were never found again (possibly harvested or preyed upon, or out migrated to somewhere several miles away, or just got really good at hiding), the majority stayed in a relatively small area.  One female rainbow spent 2 years in the same small pool.  Every time they went out to find her she was there, they actually truthed this with snorkel gear because they were so amazed at how little she moved.  I think that when you start to talk about the younger fish, 2-4 years old, you see a lot more movement.  These are the ones that aren’t quite big enough to hold off the territorial older fish and are, in a sense, searching for their own home range.  They may find a suitable home only to get kicked out by the 6 year old male brown that spends his spring and summer months there.  Eventually those fish will find a spot that provides all the resources they need without the added stress of competition.  As these fish age and get bigger they may eventually move into the optimum habitat by becoming more aggressive towards other fish.  Seasonal movements can throw this all out the window because when it’s time to spawn mother nature takes over, those fish may move 10 ft to develop a redd or they may go 2 miles.  One other thing to keep in mind is that the Truckee is relatively shallow.  Optimum pool/riffle sections are somewhat limited and when a mature fish moves into one of those sections it may be less apt to move on and instead, for lack of a better term, sets up shop until something bigger comes along and tells it to move on.  Like I said, these are my observations specifically related to the Truckee and a few other small regional waters, nothing I’m saying is the hard and fast rule but in my limited time here it is what I’ve seen.   – Travis


My question is similar to David’s– will the recent flooding (and high water events in general) spread fish downstream in any significant number? i.e. can we expect to see a few more fish out East? Similarly I’d be curious to know if low and warm water conditions cause significant numbers of fish to move upstream in search of cooler, more oxygenated water? – Brian Johnson

  • Hey Brian, this winter has been nuts so far (I’m not complaining), it has hit the river hard in a great way.  The peak flows have been perfect in terms of flushing the gravels but not over-banking and pulling sediment back into the system.  I realize it’s been less than ideal for angling but we will reap the benefits for years to come, not to mention when we do get the few breaks where the flows stabilize and turbidity comes down the fish are hungry.  To your question about if the higher flows will push fish downstream, yes but specifically it’s the smaller juvenile fish.  The juvenile fish are the ones that are more likely to end up down the system as they are less equipped to deal with the higher flows.  How many fish will end up down that way is hard to know but the habitat in the canyon is fantastic and in the past it has shown the ability to hold high numbers of fish.  The results of this may not be seen for 3 or 4 years but the fish ending up down there now will have a great opportunity to grow and reproduce down there.  It should also be noted that the lower river did take a hit during the recent drought but it by no means died out.  We’ve sampled good fish down there and I’ve spoken to several anglers who have had great days down there in the past several months. Travis

Marble Bluff Dam on the Truckee River

Marble Bluff Dam on the Truckee River

On the podcast, you discussed the potential for the tribe to pass fish up river… Will the mid-season closure of Pyramid Lake coupled with the recent flooding of the river, and the record mountain snowpack expedite the chances of fish being passed up river earlier than predicted? – Brian Clarkson

  • I honestly don’t know, that is entirely up to the USFWS and the Pyramid Lake Paiute Tribe.  We recently had our annual Lahontan Cutthroat Trout meeting with several agencies and the USFWS again expressed that they would be passing fish above the Numana Dam.  I asked on numbers and they weren’t sure, it will depend on the numbers to show up and the river conditions.  I wish I could give a better answer but that’s all I know at this point. – Travis

What impact if any will high water have on the distribution and assemblage of the bugs in the river? Will we see any impacts as a result of scour in some areas and deposition in others?

  • First, I need to say, I am by no means an entomologist.  That being said, I can only imagine it will increase the distribution and abundance of bugs.  Similarly to spawning trout, gravels and clean rock are important in their life cycles.  With the flushing of the river that is taking place it stands to reason that there will be quite a bit of newly available habitat for them.  Also the higher flows can wash species downstream and cast them in new areas where they can propagate and colonize. – Travis


Recent Truckee River survey results

We have historically high snowpack and anticipate significant spring runoff. At what point will there be impacts to the rainbow trout spawning? – Jim Litchfield

There are going to be negative effects this year.  There is no way around it.  With the snowpack we have and the volatility of the weather this year I have no doubt we will see some destruction of active redds from high flow events.  I’ve read over a few studies specifically related to late winter/spring spawning trout and for the most part, in extreme years the spawning success and recruitment is limited.   We’ve got data of some rainbows in the river building redds as early as now and if you go out and look at the river today you will see a chocolatey beast.  It’s not conducive to spawning.  Hopefully we get a more stable, cooler, weather pattern and we get a gradual run-off, that will limit the negative effects but everything we’ve seen so far says that is not going to be the case.  A little bit of positive though is that one of the studies I looked at showed that in the years following a high flow event during the winter or spring spawning season the species rebounded strongly and have several years of higher than average recruitment.  They attributed this to the increased spawning gravels and habitat made available by the high flows and flushing of the system. – Travis

Fly fishing for Carp has become pretty popular on the Truckee in recent years. What impacts (if any) do you believe Carp have on trout populations? – Mike Anderson

  • I don’t believe the carp themselves have a huge impact on the trout populations.  Their presence is indicative of poorer habitat conditions that don’t favor trout in general (warm, shallow, silt filled).  There may be seasonal overlap of the species but for the most part they prefer different habitat types and I don’t see the carp affecting the trout. – Travis

ryan with brown

The transects didn’t capture the area in east Sparks, specifically the area between Lockwood to E. McCarran? – Ryan Mahannah

  • We don’t have any transects in between Rock Park and McCarren Ranch.  We try to stick to the historical transects, where we have the best access, where it is conducive to our equipment, and where time allows.  Our surveys just offer a general snapshot of the 4 river zones we have access to.  They aren’t designed to be comprehensive and cover every stretch of the river, as much as we’d like them to. – Travis

Thanks again to Travis and all of the folks over at the Reno Fly Shop Podcast Group for being supporters of the podcast and submitting questions.  If we get interest in other episodes I will definitely reach out the special guest and ask the to give us some time.

As always if there is a topic you would like to to hear on the podcast or an individual you would like to hear interviewed shoot me an email at jim@renoflyshop.com and I will put it in the queue.

Keep in touch.


Be first to comment