California Fly Fishing 3 min read

DIY Guide to Fly Fishing the Mokelumne River in California

Ken Sperry

Posted by Ken Sperry

April 4, 2020

Mokelumne River in Calfornia

Flowing west from the rugged Sierra Nevada mountain range, the Mokelumne River’s mighty waters hold more than their fair share of trout, steelhead, and salmon. Additionally, the River has an excellent aquatic insect population and breathtaking views that every outdoor enthusiast is sure to enjoy.

The best time to visit the Mokelumne River depends heavily on which species you are most interested in catching.

Be sure to check out our guide before embarking on your angling adventure so you are well-equipped to take on the energetic and spirited fish of the Mokelumne River.

About Mokelumne River

Fly Fishing in the Mokelumne River

The Mokelumne River is a 95 mile long river in Northern California. The River rises in the Stanislaus National Forest in the Sierra Nevada mountain range. The River’s three branches enter the Pardee Reservoir before flowing into the Camanche Reservoir. The River crosses Central Valley, then receives its main tributary, the Cosumnes River, and joins the San Joaquin River

The Mokelumne River gets its name from the Plains Miwok tribe. “Moke” means “fishnet” and “umne” is a suffix meaning “people of.” The area surrounding the River was originally inhabited by the Yokuts, Miwok, and Wintun tribes. European parties began to explore the area by the late 18th century, and by 1830, the first European settlement had been established. The area attracted many prospectors during the Gold Rush era, as the Mokelumne was a major gold-producing stream. 

At the Mokelumne River, you will find steelhead, rainbow and brown trout (wild and stocked), and Chinook salmon. The River is also a popular destination for white water kayaking, recreational gold panning, and birdwatching. The surrounding area also provides plenty of challenges for adventurers. Daring rock climbers take on the large granite domes near Salt Springs Reservoir while intrepid backpackers immerse themselves in the Mokelumne Wilderness

The Mokelumne River is a great choice if you like to round out your fishing trips with other outdoor activities. But if you are only interested in the fish that the River has to offer, you won’t be disappointed either.

Mokelumne River Map and Fishing Access Sites

map of fishing access spots on the Mokelumne River in California

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

Best Places to Fish the Mokelumne River

The 8-mile tailwater section below the Camanche Reservoir provides some of the best spots for steelhead on the Moke. Because the River flows through privately owned land, a drift boat provides the best access.

Wade access to the stream is tricky, but there is a productive section near the Mokelumne River hatchery boat launch. Available boat launches are shown on the map above.

Best Time to Fish the Mokelumne River

Summer is considered the most productive time to fly fish for resident trout in the Mokelumne River. Steelhead smolt and half-pounders move in and out of the river periodically, typically during the early months of fall and then again in February through April.

In January, mature steelhead arrive and good steelhead fishing carries on through winter into spring when spawning begins. These fish average from 20 to 25 inches and run six to eight pounds.

Fly Box – What You’ll Need

At the Mokelumne River, you’ll see Blue Winged Olives, Pale Morning Duns, and Tricos. Caddisflies also play a significant role in the aquatic insect population, with Little Blacks, Spotted Sedges, October Caddis, and Green Sedges being the most important.

A double nymph rig consisting of a small beadhead Pheasant Tail paired with a Bird’s Nest cover most of the mayfly and caddisflies you’ll encounter. In the winter, you’ll want to include your favorite egg patterns in your double nymph rig.

Gear Recommendations

A 9-foot 5-wt fly rod with floating line is perfect for fishing dry flies and nymphs on Mokelumne River most of the year. In the winter, you might want a 6-wt rod to handle the bigger steelhead that can run up to 28 inches. A tapered 9-foot leader, with tippet size 3X to 5X to match the flies you are throwing, is pretty standard.

Mokelumne River Fishing Report

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

Fishing Regulations

The lower River is closed from the end of March to the end of May, in order to protect spawning steelhead.

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 Mokelumne River in California would be the Sacramento International Airport. You can travel to any major or municipal airport in Northern California and arrive at your destination after a few scenic hours of driving.

The River’s beauty ensures that there are plenty of camping options nearby. The Mokelumne River Campground is located in Pioneer, California, and situated right along the River. Visitors promise the experience is very peaceful, but you’ll need bug spray!

The Pioneer Inn and Suites is a wonderful choice if you would rather rest somewhere indoors after a full day of fly fishing. They offer an onsite seasonal pool and pub, with clean rooms and friendly service.

The Mokelumne River produces a good number of trout and steelhead, and fishing the River is sure to be a memorable experience. If you’re careful about matching the hatch, you’ll have luck tackling this unique River.

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

Feature image by Kharker