A Comprehensive Guide to Year Round Fly Fishing in Yosemite National Park
Updated: Nov 13, 2021
Yosemite National Park and the surrounding National Forests crawl up and over the Sierra Nevada and spans 1000s of feet of elevation and several distinct watersheds, so you can find incredible fishing 365 days a year regardless of conditions.
Due to Yosemite National Park's incredible waterfalls, the vast majority of the park was traditionally fishless with only rainbow trout and Sacramento suckers making their way into Yosemite Valley, and other endemic species like California roach, Sacramento pikeminnow, hardhead, and riffle sculpin remaining further down on the Merced River near El Portal. Similar species along with steelhead and salmon once populated the Tuolumne River near Groveland, but were never able to make their way up into the Poopenaut or Hetch Hetchy Valley. The eastern Sierra was also devoid of trout until 1876, thanks to the owner of a high-country sawmill...'He brought 13 golden trout in a coffee pot on his horse,' says fish Biologist Phil Pister. A dozen are said to have survived the trip and were planted in a nearby creek.
This leads to the question, how did the Sierra become a landmark fishing destination without fish? Well, fish planting of course! Fish stocking has its initial roots with sheepherders and prospectors traveling over the sierra each summer, but it officially dates back to 1877 and continued through 1991, with agencies stocking over 33 million fish in Yosemite's waters. Due to these practices you can now also find crappie, bluegill and small mouth bass, brown, brook and golden trout, as well as piute cutthroat in the National Park. People also believe there to be Dolly Varden and American grayling in the park boundaries as well. If this isn't enough, fish planting through the California Department of Fish and Wildlife still happens on the outskirts of Yosemite every summer, so there are a host of species just outside the Park in Stanislaus, Sierra and Inyo National Forests including the mammoth Lahontan Cutthroat in the eastern sierra that is endemic to Truckee and Carson rivers.
Spring | April - June
Most anglers will say that early spring is their least favorite time to fly fish in the Sierra due to the rapid snow melt and variable weather conditions. In addition to fly fishing during the warmth of the afternoon, try these areas:
Smaller, seasonal creeks like South Fork of the Merced, Crane Creek, Tenaya Creek in Yosemite Valley and Rush Creek in the Eastern Sierra.
Dam controlled rivers such as Tuolumne River and Lee Vining Creek. Pro Tip: Check out dreamflows.com for cfs before you go.
Lake fishing near creek inlets on lakes like Bagby Reservoir, New Melones Lake, Cherry Lake and Crowley Lake
Summer | July - September
You can fish almost anywhere in the Sierra during the summer month, but we recommend
starting out in Yosemite Valley for big browns in July and slowly moving your way up in elevation to high country lakes for feisty brook trout and the elusive goldens later in the summer.
4000 ish feet (1225 meters) is our go-to elevation in July. The Merced River in Yosemite Valley boasts big brown trout and highly tuned rainbows. These trout are veterans and watched you get our of your car, so don't be upset if you just end up with a Sacramento sucker on your line. If you are looking for trout with less experience, then check out the south fork of the Tuolumne - packed full of rainbow stockers, this little river is fun for all ages and experience levels. The East Walker River is also a great choice for big 20 inchers through October on strict catch and release practices and gear restrictions.
6000 ish feet (1850 meters) is where you head when Yosemite Valley gets a little too hot and crowded. Check out Kibby Lake and Kibby Creek for solitude and rainbows on an incredible day hike or if you are feeling extra adventurous then try backpacking to Lake Vernon in the Hetch Hetchy region for hard fighting rainbows. If you are up for a seriously scenic drive then check our Kennedy Meadows on Highway 108, north of Yosemite, for rainbows and browns on the Middle Fork of the Stanislaus River.
8000 ish feet (2500 meters) is the elevation of Hot Creek in the eastern sierra which boasts some really impressive thermal features downstream of the hatchery and great fishing throughout the summer. You should also check out Tenaya Lake, the largest subalpine lake in Yosemite for rainbows the occasional football sized brook trout. After some fly fishing, swimming and picnicking at Tenaya Lake, head up to the Lyle Fork of Tuolumne River in Tuolumne Meadows for an abundance of small browns, rainbows and brookies.
10,000 ish feet and beyond (3000 meters) September and October were made for fly fishing the high country lakes in the Sierra. Our favorite hikes include Elizabeth Lake for all-you-can-catch brook trout, Steelhead Lake in the 20 lakes basin for unprecedented views, and Conness Lake for Yosemite's elusive golden trout. If you are not feeling like a hike, then check out Saddle Bag Lake, Lake Elery, Walker Lake and Lundy Lake all on the eastern slope outside of Yosemite. Pro-tip: Make sure the lake you are hiking to has fish! Some barren lakes in Yosemite include Budd Lake, Lukens Lake, Harden Lake, Dog Lake, Lower Cathedral Lake, Poly Dome Lakes, Boothe Lake, Gallison Lake, and Babcock Lake.
Fall | October - November
As we already mentioned, the fall months in the Sierra are all for lake fishing! The high country roads are generally open through October and into November so you can access the lakes mentioned above! No worries if the roads close though, we have options for both sides of the Sierra:
The eastern Sierra is incredible in the fall with loads of fiery Aspen trees. The June Lake loop is known for both its fishing and its fall color, and we love fishing for rainbows, browns and the occasional lahontan on Silver Lake. Mammoth Lakes basin also offers phenomenal fall colors as well as big rainbows on Lake George, Lake Mamie and Convict Lake. If you are set on river fishing, then of course, we recommend the famous Owens River.
The western Sierra does have some fall colors tucked into its evergreen forests, but we also have amazing brown trout fishing in Hetch Hetchy Resevoir and Cherry Lake. If you prefer rivers then check out the Poopanaut Valley on the Main Tuolumne for day to remember, both for the brown trout and the intense hike. The Stanislaus river near Knights Ferry has a celebrated Chinook Run followed by a host of hungry rainbows through October 31st.
Winter | December - March
Winter fishing is easily our favorite time at Echo Adventure Cooperative due to our proximity to the Tuolumne River.
Tuolumne River | This river has incredible lake runs of rainbow trout and Kokanee coming up from Don Pedro Reservoir. The warm weather in the river canyon, relative solitude compared to the summer months and the massive rainbows keep our repeat guests coming back all winter long.
Merced River | El Portal on the Merced River has equally awesome weather with great fishing for resident rainbows and browns.
Stanislaus River | Knights Ferry looks and occasionally smells like a veritable salmon graveyard when it reopens on January 1st, but the rainbows LOVE all the salmon eggs left behind and are just at the end of their feeding frenzy. Make sure to visit right as it reopens through about January 15th or so.
Regulations vary widely depending on where you are in relation to the park boundary, so we highly recommend catch and release with artificial lures on barbless hooks; however, here are some general regulations:
If you are over 16 years old then you'll need a fishing license. Available online, or in Groveland, Ca at Echo Adventures Yosemite Basecamp and Miner's Mart.
You cannot fish from bridges, piers, or dams.
Lakes, ponds and reservoirs are usually good all year and you can keep 5 trout per day with 10 trout in possession.
Most streams rivers and canals are good from the last Saturday in April (fishmas) through November 15, with a five trout daily bag limit and ten trout possession limit, with no gear restrictions.
Those same streams, rivers and canals are good from November 16 through the Friday preceding the last Saturday in April with a zero trout bag limit and only artificial lures with barbless hooks.
Some interesting exceptions are noted below, but please make sure to check the regulations before you make your plans!
Yosemite National Park
Yosemite does not allow live, dead, or scented bait.
You cannot transport live fish at all for any reason.
You cannot fish from horseback
Yosemite Valley, Wawona, Frog Creek, Adair Lake and Hanging Basket have very specific regulations, so click here to find those details.
Tuolumne River, West of Yosemite National Park
Fishing all year.
Only artificial lures may be used.
You can keep 2 trout. #mediumfish
Mono and Inyo Counties on the eastern Sierra
Most water is open to trout fishing all year.
Closes to bass fishing from November 16th - last Saturday in April.
12 inch minimum
Outfitter and Guide Services
No fly fishing outfitters are located in the park, so drive out a bit and support these locally owned outfitter and guide services!
Western Sierra | Yosemite to Groveland
Echo Adventure's Yosemite Basecamp Outfitter - Solitude, Patagonia, Rio, RL Winston, St. Croix, Bauer, Galvin, Lamson, Cheeky, Simms and Fish Pond
Western Sierra | Yosemite to Oakhurst
Yosemite Rivers Fly Shop - Orvis, Umpqua, Rep Your Water and Simms
Eastern Sierra | Lee Vining to Mammoth Lakes
Troutfitter - Umpqua, Sage, Redington, Rio, Echo, Temple Fork Outfitter, Simms, Rep Your Water and Fishpond