California Fly Fishing 3 min read

DIY Guide to Fly Fishing the West Carson River in California

Ken Sperry

Posted by Ken Sperry

June 7, 2020

West Carson River in California

The West Fork of the Carson River is the perfect location for fly fishermen of all skill levels. With plenty of wild and stocked rainbow, brook, and brown trout to spare, seasoned anglers will be able to hone their skills, while newbies will have a blast getting their feet wet in this unique fishery.

Flowing through scenic counties in California and Nevada, the West Fork of the Carson River is sure to provide a memorable fishing experience.

Check out our guide so you can be sure you’ll find success at this beautiful fishery.

About West Fork Carson River

Fly Fishing in the West Carson River

The West Fork is a 35 mile long tributary of the Carson River. It runs through Alpine County, California and Douglas County, Nevada. It rises at Lost Lakes in the Mokelumne Wilderness of Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest.

Flowing north into Hope Valley, the River turns east and emerges from the mountains near Woodfords. The River then continues north into the Carson Valley in Nevada, and joins the East Fork at Genoa. Together, these forks form Carson River.

The West Fork is heavily stocked by the Department of Fish and Game, and the Alpine County Chamber of Commerce. At the West Fork, you’ll find rainbow, brook, and brown trout, as well as Lahontan Cutthroat trout. The trout typically measure between 8 and 12 inches. 

The upper section of the River flows through meadows, making slow turns and forming fast riffles. The water east of Pickets Junction, on the other hand, flows much faster and boasts plunge pools, broken runs, and pocket water. Your approach will have to be different depending on which section you decide to tackle.

Because the West Carson River runs parallel to Highway 88, access is very easy. The River is very popular with anglers of all skill levels. You’ll want to be careful when wading, as there are large boulders in many sections.

The West Carson River Map and Fishing Access Sites

map of fishing access sites on the West Fork Carson River

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

Best Places to Fish the West Carson River

The junction where Highway 88 and 89 meet is known locally as Pickets Junction. Here, you’ll find a handicapped fishing access point, along with cement platforms and restrooms. If you are fishing the upper meadow section, use long leaders and a stealthy approach so as not to scare away the trout. In the lower reaches, you will want to fish in the deeper pools if you are looking for stocked fish, and the smaller pockets for wild trout.

Stream Flow and Current Conditions

Be sure to check the stream conditions before heading out to fish West Carson River. The USGS stream gauge near Woodfords, 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.


  • Streamflow: 241 ft³/s
  • Gage height: 11.84 ft
Streamflow GraphGage height Graph

Best Time to Fish the West Carson River

The West Carson River has good insect hatches throughout the year, and is open to anglers from the last Saturday of April to November 15. There is a limit of five trout per day, ten in possession.

The planting begins in the late spring and continues throughout the summer.

Fly Box – What You’ll Need

Here is list of general fly pattern recommendations for West Carson River:

  • Blue Winged Olive (#16-20)
  • Pale Morning Duns (#12-14)
  • Midges (various) (#20-26)
  • Ants (#12-16)
  • Caddis (various) (#10-20)
  • Little Yellow Stonefly (#14-18)
  • Yellow Quill (#12-16)
  • Grannom (#14-16)
  • Little Green Stonefly (#16-18)
  • Trico (#20-22)

Gear Recommendations

A 9-foot 4-wt fly rod with floating line is perfect for fishing dry flies and small nymphs on West Carson River. A tapered 9-foot leader, with tippet size 3X to 5X to match the flies you are throwing, is pretty standard.

West Carson River Fishing Report

Area fly shops, guides and websites that can provide a West Carson 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 West Carson River is the Alpine County Airport in Markleeville, California. You can also travel to the Reno-Tahoe International Airport and arrive at your destination after about an hour of scenic driving.

Crystal Springs Campground is a quiet camping option situated in Markleeville. Located under beautiful pines, the campground is a favorite choice among outdoor enthusiasts. Another nearby option is the Markleeville Campground, which offers shady sites and spectacular views. 

The West Carson River is an excellent option for anglers of all skill levels. New anglers will be able to catch stocked trout, and seasoned fishermen can challenge themselves by going after Lahontan cutthroat trout.  No matter your experience, you are sure to have a memorable time fishing the West Fork of the Carson River.

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

Feature image by Skooiman