Up in the High Sierras lies one of the crown jewels of the National Park system: Yosemite National Park.
As you pass through the front gate station and meander the roads that wind through the valley floor, you can understand why this park is held in such high regard by both tourists and the Park Service alike.
One of the lesser known benefits of visiting Yosemite though is its exceptional fly fishing in the many rivers, creeks, and streams that run throughout the park.
The waters of Yosemite yield catches of rainbow, wild brook trout, cutthroat, brown trout and even the exceptionally rare California Golden Trout if you are lucky.
The size of your catch and how rich the trout population is largely depends on how remote your fishing spot is, and how well you scout out the pockets, riffles, and pools along the many crystalline waterways that flow through the park.
The appeal of Yosemite isn’t just its mountain vistas and the giant sequoia trees that dot the landscape either. It is a place kept to wilderness with careful intent, and wandering a short distance off the beaten path provides you with a sense that you are deep in the wild far from civilization.
Fly fishing in such a place provides a peak experience few other national parks can match, and if you decide to make the trip you will find the experience offers far more in the way of rewards versus the cost and expense of your journey.
Click map icons to get directions to fishing spots, boat ramps and USGS stream flow data
There are many streams and rivers where fishing is permitted within the boundaries of Yosemite. The Tuolumne and Merced Rivers comprise the two largest watersheds in the Park and offer some of the best trout fishing opportunities in the Park. Let’s take a look at some of the best fly fishing spots on these rivers and others in the park.
The Tuolumne River flows through the upper eastern side of Yosemite at an elevation of about 8,600 feet. There are several reaches of the river that are worth exploring.
The Lyell and Dana Fork of the Tuolumne River are a great place to start. The forks merge in Tuolumne Meadows which is the best known and most popular section. Further downstream, the lower river below Hetch Hetchy Reservoir offers an excellent tailwater fishery.
An offshoot of the Tuolumne River, Lyell Fork runs right through Lyell Canyon, affording you a freestone stream among the pristine and scenic canyon walls.
The easiest access to Lyell Fork is via the John Muir Trail through Lyell Canyon starting at the Wilderness Center Trailhead. Not many hikers stop off to fish, so it is relatively easy to find a stretch of water to yourself throughout the day.
Conditions on the Lyell Fork are ideal during the summer and fall months, and so long as you match the hatch locally you should find the fly fishing action fast and plentiful.
The Upper Tuolumne River meanders through large meadows with classic undercut banks that provide shelter to hungry trout. A large campground and the Tuolumne Meadows Lodge make this a great place to stay and explore the River.
Trout in the Upper Tuolumne are not too selective given the limited amount of time fish have to fatten up on aquatic insects that emerge during the summer.
A well-presented dry is typically all that is needed. Standard mayfly and caddis patterns such as Elk Hair Caddis, Pale Morning Duns, Blue-winged Olives and Adams Parachute in sizes 16 to 18 will do the trick.
While the trout may not be too selective, they are easily spooked due to the crystal clear waters of this alpine stream that flows through smooth granite rock. Be sure to keep a low profile and present your fly well.
The river reach below O’Shaughnessy Dam (Hetch Hetchy Reservoir) constitutes the Lower Tuolumne. The tailwater fishery below the dam eventually gives way to a freestone fishery as you wind your way down toward Groveland, CA.
The Lower Tuolumne has much larger rainbows and browns than you will find in the Upper Tuolumne due to the consistent cold water from the dam and prolific insect hatches.
The O’Shaughnessy tailwater is accessible from just outside the northern park entrance on California 120. Evergreen Road (Hetch Hetchy Road) will take you to the river below the dam.
This is High Sierra fly fishing at its finest. The ten miles of the Merced River passes right through the Yosemite Valley itself, with most anglers concentrated around the 4 mile stretch between Happy Isles and Sentinel Beach Picnic Area during the busy summer months.
If you stick to the lower six miles of the Merced, your odds of finding more solitary conditions where you can try your luck freely is much better.
During the summer, the Merced is a popular rafting river, so plan to visit during the early morning or late afternoon/early evening if you want to ensure that your fishing is undisturbed.
To reach the Merced, drive to the Yosemite Valley and take Tioga Pass road, or you can park in the valley and ride the shuttle to the river.
Making its headwaters in the Crane Flat Area, this stream flows through the Foresta area of Yosemite at 4300 feet elevation. Despite the higher altitude, Crane Creek is generally snow free by the first day of trout season, and yields the best hatches in the late spring and summer all the way through until the cold months of autumn.
To get to Crane Creek, take the right turn onto Highway 120 from the junction in Yosemite Valley, then follow the highway to the Forest Road turnoff on the left. Follow that road 2 miles to the fork in the road, and take the right fork.
You can park on the shoulder here near the barns at the edge of Big Meadow. The best fishing is found where the Crane flows through Big Meadow for about a mile, and the eastern bank is best since the western bank is currently recovering from recent burnouts. The view of Big Meadow and the trout population more than compensate for the sooty stretches.
If you prefer more out-of-the-way, off-the-beaten-path fishing destinations, Tenaya Creek is one of the most underrated fishing destinations in all of Yosemite.
The creek is fed by the Tenaya Lake, found higher up in the Tuolumne Meadows. From the headwaters, it roars down Pywiack Cascade into the valley that lies in the shadow of Mount Watkins before emptying into the Merced River.
The best fishing is found on the 2.5 mile stretch below the cascade. The closer you are to the rapids and the cascade itself, the more quickly the fishing conditions deteriorate.
To get there, park in Yosemite valley and take the shuttle to stop #17. The Tenaya Creek is just a short walk from there.
The best time of year to fish Yosemite largely depends on the altitude and location within the park. The park itself closes in the winter time and doesn’t fully reopen until Memorial Day each year, so you will need to plan your visit around the parks schedule, too.
Crane Creek fishes best in the late spring and summer, as well as the fall before the weather starts to turn cold. Lyell Fork shares much in common with Crane Creek due to location and altitude, but the Merced River and Tenaya Creek are both early spring and late fall fisheries for best results.
When planning your trip, the most important factor to keep in mind is the sheer number of visitors to Yosemite yearly during the spring, summer, and fall.
Yosemite National Park is a must visit, “bucket list” location for thousands if not millions of people, and you need to prepare yourself accordingly for dealing with traffic on weekends during peak tourist season.
This also means being prepared by booking accommodations well in advance for a spring/summer trip due to the limited availability of camping spots inside the park and throughout the surrounding area. Preparation is the key to making the most of your fly fishing excursion to Yosemite.
As for flies, those vary by season and fishing destination within the park. Here are fly recommendations for each of the locations discussed in this guide:
Bear in mind that you should always check local conditions and hatches upon arriving at Yosemite to choose the best flies for each section of the river, as populations can vary from year to year.
You don’t want to pack too much in advance due to the ever changing conditions that exist on individual streams based on prevailing weather and temperature.
A 9-foot 5-wt fly rod with floating line is perfect for fishing dry flies and small nymphs in the rivers and lakes of Yosemite National Park. A tapered 9-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 an ABC Creek fly fishing report are listed below:
Regulations for fishing in Yosemite National Park are as follows:
The best airport to fly into largely depends on the season you plan to visit. Fresno-Yosemite International Airport (FAT) is located near the South Entrance and Mariposa Grove of Giant Sequoias roughly 2.5 hours drive from Yosemite Valley.
FAT has flights from more major US cities and on 7 major airlines, so it is usually the best bet for getting a bargain on booking your flight.
You can also fly into San Francisco or Oakland and then take the Bay Area Regional Transit (BART) to the Amtrak Station, and from there you can take the train to Merced and get on the Yosemite Area Regional Transit System (YARTS) to reach destinations in the park.
If it’s summer and the Tioga Pass is open, you can also book a flight to Reno and check out the music festival scene there before driving a few hours south west to the Tioga Pass entrance.
Regarding places to stay, Fresno is close by and offers many places to stay provided you don’t mind the extended drive to the Yosemite Valley every day you plan to fish.
Fortunately, if you don’t want to rent a car, you can easily take the YARTS, which makes many stops near lodges, hotels, motels, and various other accommodations to destinations in the park throughout the day, including the campgrounds.
Camping space is limited at Yosemite during peak season, so make sure you reserve a campsite early if you plan to rough it in the park.
Don’t forget to check local listings for vacation rentals nearby, too. It’s a great way to score a bargain on your stay.
Feature image by SKYPIC AERIAL PHOTOGRAPHY
Looking for more places to fish? Check out our DIY Guide to the Best Fly Fishing in America.
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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