California Fly Fishing 4 min read

DIY Guide to Fly Fishing the McCloud River in California

Ken Sperry

Posted by Ken Sperry

February 18, 2020

McCloud River in California

The trout in the McCloud River are sure to leave an impression. You see, the river is home to the famous Oncorhynchus Mykiss species of rainbow trout. This species has been used to stock streams all around the world, from Argentina and Chile to New Zealand. Of course, the stream has more to offer than its flashy and famous inhabitants.

This river runs through heavily forested areas, and its pristine water is dotted with massive boulders. In addition to supporting an excellent trout population, the River’s cool waters ensure a plentiful aquatic insect hatch as well. 

So pack your bags and prepare to be starstruck: You’re about to meet the most famous trout in the world!

About McCloud River

Fly Fishing in the McCloud River

The McCloud River is a 77.1 mile long tributary of the Pit River, which in turn flows into the Sacramento River. It rises about ten miles southeast of Mount Shasta in Siskiyou County, California. It flows west and forms a series of waterfalls east of McCloud.  This area is known as the McCloud River Falls, or the Falls of McCloud River. The waterfalls flow over basaltic lava flows, forming an attraction of jaw-dropping beauty.

Below the Falls, the River flows south-southwest through the Lake McCloud reservoir. It then passes through a canyon, located at Shasta-Trinity National Forest. From there, the river joins Shasta Lake about 15 miles north of Redding.

The McCloud River joins the Pit River east of the Pit River Bridge. McCloud is fed by smaller tributaries, with the most notable being Mud Creek, Tate Creek, Squaw Valley Creek, Hawkins Creek, Claiborne Creek, and Chatterdowns Creek.

McCloud River Map and Fishing Access Sites

map of fishing access spots on the McClould River in California

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

While the River begins in a meadow area, the water gradually flows through rougher areas, with plenty of riffles and boulders. The thick canopy coverage ensures that the water remains cool throughout the year. Because the River’s headwaters come from underground springs, the pH level is higher than most freestone streams. The McCloud’s pH level fosters a great aquatic insect population. The most common trout you will see are rainbow and brown trout.

Some areas of the stream are harder to access than others, so we recommend planning your trip carefully. As much of the river flows through private property, you will want to pay close attention to signage and regulations. You also should be particularly mindful where you step, as many anglers have reported seeing rattlesnakes and poison oak. The river also attracts bears, eagles, foxes, deer, and cougars. In other words, you are guaranteed to have an adventure if you visit the McCloud River.

Best Places to Fish the McCloud River

The most popular place to fish the McCloud River is in its lower reaches. To reach the Lower McCloud River, travel north on Interstate 5 and take Exit 736 onto Highway 89. If you travel east for about ten miles, you’ll reach the small community of McCloud. Turn right on Squaw Valley Road, and you will reach the Lower McCloud River.

Additionally, the area near Fowler Camp also provides great fishing, as well as the area below Lakin Dam. While most of the Lower reaches are controlled by private clubs, there is a stretch of public water that begins at Ash Camp and ends near Ah-Di-Na camp. Access to the Nature Conservancy section is very limited, with only ten anglers per day permitted to fish that area. You can make reservations by calling this number, 415-777-0487, although five slots are decided on a first come, first serve basis.

It is recommended that you do not tackle the tougher areas of this stream alone, as it is very easy to hurt yourself navigating the rugged terrain.

Best Time to Fish McCloud River

The season for the McCloud River runs from the last Saturday in April to November 30th. The best time to visit is May or June, but you can find success fishing throughout the summer, as the water temperature remains cool throughout the year. You’ll also have luck fishing in the fall, as that is when the larger brown trout spawn.

The McCloud River has excellent aquatic insect hatches. From the opening day of the season, you’ll see Blue Winged Olives, Pale Morning Duns, and Giant Salmonflies. Little Yellow Stoneflies are also very prevalent here. In the summer, Green Sedges and Little Sister Caddis make up the majority of the hatches. In the fall, the Giant October Caddisfly is the most important hatch.

Fly Box – What You’ll Need

Here is list of general fly pattern recommendations for McCloud River:

  • Blue Winged Olive (#14-18)
  • March Brown (#12-16)
  • Midges (various) (#16-20)
  • Tube Worm (#14-16)
  • Caddis (#12-18)
  • Golden Stonefly (#6-10)
  • Gray Caddis (#12-18)
  • Green Drake (#8-14)
  • Pale Morning Dun (#14-18)
  • Salmon Fly (#4-6)
  • Little Yellow Stonefly (#12-16)
  • October Caddis (#6-12)

Gear Recommendations

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

McCloud River Fishing Report

Area fly shops, guides and websites that can provide McCloud 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

The nearest airport to the McCloud River is Redding Municipal Airport, which is about fifty miles away from the town of McCloud. Additionally, you could travel to Crater-Lake-Klamath Regional Airport, which would only add 13 miles to your journey. While the River isn’t located close to any major airports, we promise that the scenic car journey will be worth it.

It wouldn’t be the perfect fishing trip without the perfect campground to go with it. Fowlers Camp Campground is situated near three waterfalls, making it a beautiful location to stay during your visit. However, if you would prefer indoor accommodations, McCloud Timber Inn is a quaint choice with a great atmosphere and reasonable rates.

Visiting the McCloud River in California is truly an awe-inspiring experience that will, unfortunately, make other fisheries dim in comparison. Still, we guarantee the trip is worth it.

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

Feature image by Siskiyou County Visitors Bureau