The East Fork of the Carson River in California holds the Lahontan Cutthroat, a rare species of trout that is considered federally threatened, and the Paiute Cutthroats, an even rarer species only found in Carson River’s tributaries.
It’s safe to say that fly fishing the East Fork of the Carson is a unique experience.
Access to the East Fork can be difficult depending on which section of the River you choose to tackle.
Additionally, your success will rely on the flow conditions based on the amount of snowfall that year.
Check out our guide to ensure you find success on the East Fork’s waters.
The East Fork is a 61 mile long tributary of the Carson River, and is the largest of the Carson’s tributaries. It rises at Sonora Peak in Alpine County, California, and flows north over Carson Falls. It continues to the Silver King Valley and meets Silver Creek before turning north. At Markleeville, the East Fork receives Markleeville Creek, and flows north into Douglas County, Nevada. In Nevada, the River passes through the Washoe Indian Reservation. It meets its terminus at Carson Sink.
At the East Fork of the Carson River, you’ll see wild rainbow and brown trout, along with Lahontan Cutthroat Trout, Whitefish, and Paiute Cutthroats. The aquatic insect population varies depending on the pH level in certain areas. The East Fork has many tributaries that provide productive fishing opportunities, including Silver King Creek, Wolf Creek, Noble Creek, and Pleasant Valley Creek.
In addition to drawing anglers, the River is also popular among river rafters and wildlife enthusiasts. The East Fork flows through rattlesnake country, so be sure to watch where you step.
Click map icons to get directions to fishing spots, boat ramps and USGS stream flow data
Access to the East Fork is great in some areas, and more difficult in other places. In the upper sections, access can be tricky when there has been heavy snowfall. The stream above Carson Falls is not available to anglers. Below Carson Falls, the section upstream from Wolf Creek is very difficult to access, and consequently very few fishermen visit this area.
You can access the waters by various trails, some of which can only be reached by horseback. The Dumont Meadows trail will bring you to the headwaters, and the Silver King Trail will take you to the lower sections of headwaters. If you take Highway 89, you can access the lower wild trout area near Markleeville. The most popular area to fly fish is the section between Silver Creek and Wolf Creek, and access to this area is very easy.
Be sure to check the stream conditions before heading out to fish the East Carson River. The USGS stream gauge near Markleeville, CA provides a good indication of current conditions.
The graph below shows the stream flow (discharge) for the past 7-days. If flows are considerably above or below historical norms (yellow triangles on the chart) then fishing conditions ma not be ideal.
You can fish the East Fork of the Carson River year round. The best fishing typically occurs in the summer.
The most important hatches of the East Fork are Caddisflies, Stoneflies, and Mayflies.
Blue-winged Olives get things going in March followed by March Browns in April. PMD’s, Salmonflies, Green Drake, Golden Stones and Little Yellow Stones provide non-stop action in June and July.
A variety of caddis come off May through October to keep things interesting. Terrestrials are also effective August through October.
Here is list of general fly pattern recommendations for the East Carson River:
A 9-foot 5-wt fly rod with floating line is perfect for fishing dry flies and small nymphs on the East Carson River. A tapered 9-foot leader, with tippet size 3X to 5X to match the flies you are throwing, is pretty standard.
Area fly shops, guides and websites that can provide an East Carson River fly fishing report are listed below:
The state of California requires that all people who are 16 years of age and older have a valid fishing license. There are resident and non-resident sport fishing licenses available. You can purchase a one-year, 10-day, two-day, or one-day license. Some areas also require a permit. You can purchase the license and learn about the most current regulations through the California Department of Fish and Wildlife.
The nearest airport to the East Fork of the Carson River is the Reno Tahoe International Airport. You can also travel to the Sacramento International Airport, and enjoy a scenic car journey to your destination.
Markleeville Campground is an excellent option if you are looking for campgrounds in the area. Situated underneath shady pines and on the banks of the Markleeville Creek, the Campground is a favorite among anglers.
If you would rather stay indoors, the Creekside Lodge offers clean rooms, affordable rates, and complimentary WiFi.
The East Fork is a beautiful and unique fishery that is sure to leave an impression. Once you’ve experienced this fishery, you’ll understand why the Paiute Cutthroats never want to leave this River.
Feature image by Matkatamiba
Ken is an avid fisherman of 40+ years who loves to explore and find new places to fish. He created DIY Fly Fishing to help you do the same.
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