Liquidity crunch for river-oriented retailers |

Liquidity crunch for river-oriented retailers

Rob Sabo

The Truckee River flowed a paltry 100 cubic feet per second through Reno last week were, 33 percent less than the river’s’ 25th percentile for late August.

That’s leaving companies that rent water sports equipment and offer guided rafting and fishing trips on the Truckee River high and dry.

Tahoe Water Sports, which operates the inner tube- and kayak-rental facility at Wingfield Park in Reno, was shuttered last week, it’s digital sign advertising rafting trips on the American River in California. Wingfield Park itself was nearly vacant on a hot summer’s day when it normally would be packed with residents seeking relief from 90-degree summer heat by swimming or tubing the series of whitewater park rapids. In a normal summer Tahoe Whitewater Tours puts between 50 to 100 people on the water each day and provides shuttle service for rafters entering the river at Mayberry or Crissie Caughlin parks.

The story is the same at the river’s headwaters. Truckee River Raft Co. of Tahoe City, which provides equipment and shuttle service for rafters on a five-mile section of the upper Truckee River, is closed for the season in August. And Irie Rafting Company, which guides thrill seekers through the fastest rapids on the river at Floriston Gorge, has shifted all of its business to the North and Middle forks of the American River.

Some companies still are still eking out a bit of revenue from summertime play on the Truckee’s waters, though.

Jim Bell, owner of Sierra Adventures at 11 N. Sierra St., says he expected a severe late-summer swoon all season long. Revenues have declined roughly 70 percent since early August, when flows into the Truckee River from Boca Reservoir stopped due to low water levels at the lake.

But there’s still enough water in the river to run lazy rafting trips from Rock Park to Cottonwood Park in Sparks, Bell notes. River activity basically stops when flows dip under 100 cfs, he says, but anything higher than that and he can offer the trip through Sparks where the river is sandier and easy to negotiate.

“The bottom line is that customers have been happy to have been able to run trips,” he says. “We went past 200 (cfs) when we got the rains, and when it went below 100 we cancelled some trips because it was just too low for rafts. People still want to be in the water, but its pretty dead out there right now.”

West of downtown, Bells says he can run quick trips from Oxbow Park to Wingfield.

“It’s a nice little run and, they get the whitewater park,” he says. “And people don’t have to tube. We do bike rentals, and that’s just as nice. There are lots of other things you can do from our shop. Just because we have low water we don’t have to shut down our business.”

Jim Litchfield, owner of Reno Fly Shop, doesn’t have any year-over-year data on August revenues because the store only has been open four months last week. However, fishing-specific retailers across the West know August is historically a soft month due to low water levels, he says.

“These certainly are rare circumstances and conditions, but the fishing is still really good. People can still get out and have great time.”

Litchfield is referring customers and clients west of town as far as Hirshdale Canyon, where water flows faster and contains more oxygen. With low water levels on the Truckee River, Litchfield also has seen increased interest in equipment rentals and guide services for the upcoming season opener at Pyramid Lake in October.

“With our business plan, each month is uniquely different,” he says. “We are taking a very conservative approach. July is different from August, but that is the reality of the fly fishing industry. Our numbers are very consistent with the industry and region-wide for August.”