California Fly Fishing 4 min read

DIY Guide to Fly Fishing the Lower Stanislaus River in California

Ken Sperry

Posted by Ken Sperry

April 4, 2020

Lower Stanislaus River in California

The Lower Stanislaus River can be dangerous, so if you are planning on taking on this mighty River, you’ll want to be meticulous in your preparation. In addition to the turbulent waters, the River contains long runs and deep riffles, making fly fishing treacherous in some areas.

Fortunately, the large rainbow trout found in the Lower Stanislaus make the River worth the trouble. The rainbows average in size from 12 to 16 inches and can be very picky about what they eat.

Check out our guide so you can safely tackle the Lower Stanislaus River and experience this uniquely challenging fishery.

About Lower Stanislaus River

Fly Fishing in the Lower Stanislaus River

The Stanislaus River, known locally as the “Stan”, is a tributary of the San Joaquin River. The main stem is about 96 miles long and flows southwest through the San Joaquin Valley, joining the San Joaquin River south of Manteca. The River has north, middle, and south forks.The Lower Stanislaus River refers to the four mile long stretch below Goodwin Dam, between Goodwin Canyon and Knights Ferry.

The area was originally inhabited by the Miwok tribe, who were driven out by Spanish explorers in the 1800s. The River is named after Estanislao, who led an unsuccessful uprising of natives in 1828 and was defeated on the Stanislaus’s waters. During the Gold Rush era, the River attracted many prospectors, with many miners and their families settling along the banks. 

At Stanislaus River, you’ll see wild rainbow trout, chinook salmon, and steelhead. The River is also a popular destination for whitewater rafting, mountain biking, and even snowmobiling. This is the perfect location to explore if you enjoy a plethora of outdoor activities. 

The River has also experienced its share of controversy. Water rights has long been a source of contention between farmers and the federal restrictions designed to protect the endangered salmon and trout populations.

The River has a plentiful insect population and you will want to match the hatch closely. Be sure to check the conditions before you embark on your angling adventure, as the water levels can change quickly.

Lower Stanislaus River and Fishing Access Sites

map of fishing access spots on the Lower Stanislaus River in California

Get Directions to the Fishing Access Points shown above with the DIY Fly Fishing Map

Best Places to Fish the Lower Stanislaus River

Access to the River is good, but throughout the year, there are shifting regulations that make certain areas off limits, so you will want to stay updated with the most recent information when planning your trip. The section from Goodwin Dam to the Highway 120 bridge is artificial lures and barbless hooks only.

You can access the stream from Goodwin Dam Recreation Area and the Two Mile Bar Recreation Area. There are many public access points along the River, with trails and picnic areas lining the banks.

Stream Flow and Current Conditions

Be sure to check the stream conditions before heading out to fish Lower Stanislaus River. The USGS stream gauge near Ripon, California 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.


  • Temperature: 61.16 ° F
  • Streamflow: 1470 ft³/s
  • Gage height: 43.23 ft
Temperature GraphStreamflow GraphGage height Graph

Best Time to Fish the Lower Stanislaus River

The fall, winter and spring are the best time to fish the Stan. Once April arrives additional water is released from the dam to accommodate the irrigation needs of area farms, and typically stays that way through the summer.

The most important hatches you’ll see are caddisflies, mayflies, midges, and stoneflies, typical of central valley tailwaters.

In the fall, you will see salmon starting from mid October. The rainbow trout season ends on October 31. Steelhead begin to appear in mid February, and they don’t leave again until May.

Fly Box – What You’ll Need

Here is list of general fly pattern recommendations for the Lower Stanislaus River:

  • Blue-winged Olives (#20, 18)
  • Midges (#20, 22)
  • Pheasant Tail Nymph (#16, #14)
  • Birds Nest (#14, #2)
  • Aquatic Worms (#12)
  • Black Matuka and Olive Matuka Sculpin (#4, 6)
  • Brown Sculpin (#4, 6)
  • White Belly Sculpin (#4, 6)
  • Skwala Stoneflies (#10)

Gear Recommendations

A 9-foot 5-wt fly rod with floating line is perfect for fishing dry flies and nymphs on the Lower Stan. A tapered 10-foot leader, with tippet size 3X to 5X to match the flies you are throwing, is pretty standard.

The Lower Stanislaus River Fishing Report

Area fly shops, guides and websites that can provide a Stanislaus River fly fishing report are listed below:

Fishing Regulations

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.

Trip Planning Tips

To get to the Lower Stanislaus, you can travel to Sacramento International Airport or San Jose International Airport. You can travel to any major or municipal airport in California and arrive at your destination after a few scenic hours of driving.

If you are looking for reasonably priced accommodations in the area, you might try Tiki Lodge. They offer clean, simple rooms with a seasonal outdoor pool, free breakfast, and WiFi.

But we recommend you take advantage of the beautiful parks and campgrounds in the area and visit Stanislaus River Parks. Permits are needed for overnight camping, but you’ll be glad you went through the extra trouble; the serene glory of the Stanislaus River at night is sure to leave an impression.

When it comes to the Stanislaus River, there is much for any outdoor lover to explore and enjoy. As long as you take the necessary precautions, you’ll have a great experience with the Lower Stanislaus River.

Looking for more places to fish? Check out our DIY Guide to Fly Fishing California

Feature image by David Berry