California Fly Fishing 4 min read

DIY Guide to Fly Fishing Merced River in California

Ken Sperry

Posted by Ken Sperry

May 9, 2020

Merced River in California

Located in Yosemite National Park, the Merced River is one of, if not the most, stunning bodies of water in the United States.

The River’s natural beauty has a tendency to eclipse the Merced’s value as a fishery. But the Merced boasts an excellent trout population, proving that the River is more than just a pretty face.

Anglers can enjoy breathtaking views while catching rainbow and brown trout on the River’s pristine waters. There are special regulations on these waters, though, so you will want to make sure to check out our guide before visiting this unique and memorable fishery. 

About Merced River

Fly Fishing the Merced River

The Merced River is a 145 mile long tributary of the San Joaquin River in Central California. The River rises at the confluence of the Triple Peak Fork and Merced Peak Fork. From its headwaters, the River flows north and receives its tributary, Lyell Peak Fork. The course then shifts northwest, collects the Red Peak Fork  and flows into Washburn Lake. 

The River then continues northwest and enters Merced Lake. The River snakes west through Echo Valley and a narrow gorge. The River drops over Nevada Falls and Vernal Falls, which is known as the Giant Staircase. It receives Illilouette Creek and flows into Yosemite Valley, where it is joined by Tenaya, Yosemite, Bridalveil, and Pigeon Creek. State Route 140 follows the River out of the west entrance to the national park. The River’s largest tributary, the South Fork Merced River, joins from the left.

The River receives the North Fork and enters Lake McClure, formed by New Exchequer Dam. The River then flows west through the Central Valley, and joins the San Joaquin River at Hills Ferry. 

The Merced River in Yosemite National Park

The River is popular with outdoor enthusiasts as well as fly fishermen. The Merced River attracts white water rafters, boaters, and hikers. Additionally, the old Yosemite Valley Railroad is now the site of a scenic hiking trail. At the River, you’ll find wild rainbow and brown trout. The trout in this River have a large variety of aquatic insects to choose from making it an excellent fly fishing destination. 

Merced River Map and Fishing Access Sites

map of fishing access site on the Merced River in California

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

Best Places to Fish Merced River

Highway 140 runs along the River and there are many turnouts for parking. The steep rock walls make access difficult in this area. You’ll want to stay in the deeper pools and pockets. See the map above for access points inside and outside the park.

Inside Yosemite National Park, the water is catch and release only. There is a limit of brown trout of five or ten in possession a day. You may only use artificial lures or flies with barbless hooks. 

Stream Flow and Current Conditions

Be sure to check the stream conditions before heading out to fish Merced River. The USGS stream gauge near Yosemite, 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.


  • Temperature: 45.14 ° F
  • Streamflow: 1650 ft³/s
  • Gage height: 5.35 ft
Temperature GraphStreamflow GraphGage height Graph

Best Time to Fish Merced River

The season for Merced River is from the last Saturday of April to November 15. 

The best time to visit the stream is just after the runoff ends in June, or early July. Fishing in the spring and fall can also yield positive results. The most important hatches are the Little Yellow Stoneflies and Golden Stoneflies. Other important mayfly hatches include Blue Winged Olives, Pale Morning Duns, Dark Red Quills, Yellow Quills, Tricos, and Pale Evening Duns

There is also a plentiful population of caddisflies, including Little Short Horned Sedges, Little Black Caddis, Spotted Sedges, Green Sedges, and October Caddis. You’ll also see sculpin and terrestrial insects, such as ants, grasshoppers, beetles in the summer.

Fly Box – What You’ll Need

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

  • Parachute Adams (#14-18)
  • Elk Hair Caddis (#12-14)
  • St. Vrain Caddis (#16-18)
  • Pheasant Tail Nymph (#12-14)
  • Black Stonefly (#12)
  • Blue Winged Olive (#16-18)
  • PMD Emerger (#16-18)
  • Prince Nymph (#12-14)
  • Gold Ribbed Hare’s Ear (#12-14)

Gear Recommendations

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

Merced River Fishing Report

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

  • Perfect Fly Fishing Report
  • Orvis Fishing Report

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 Merced River in California is Fresno Yosemite International Airport. You can also travel to Oakland International Airport, which is about 180 miles away from your destination. You can travel to any major or municipal airport in Central California and arrive at the River after a few hours of scenic driving.

Camping at Yosemite National Park is an unforgettable experience. You’ll be treated to gorgeous views while angling and there are plenty of outdoor activities for non fishing inclined members of your family to enjoy.

The White Wolf Lodge is located 30 miles from Yosemite Valley and offers more private accommodations. They offer canvas tent cabins, and wood cabins. 

The Merced River’s beauty is guaranteed to leave an impression, and the trout will make you want to come back for more again and again. Start planning your trip today!

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

Feature image by Kylir Horton