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.
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.
Click map icons to get directions to fishing spots, boat ramps and USGS stream flow data
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.
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.
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.
Here is list of general fly pattern recommendations for the Lower Stanislaus River:
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.
Area fly shops, guides and websites that can provide a Stanislaus 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.
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.
Feature image by David Berry
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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