Merced Headwaters

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Merced Headwaters
Suggested Flies for Merced Headwaters Region:
Western Sierra Hatch Selection

Dry Flies:
Parachute Adams #14-18
Elk Hair Caddis #12-14
St. Vrain Caddis #16-18
AK's Quilled Spinner #16-18
Griffith's Gnat #16-20
PMD Emerger #16-18
Stimulator, Black and Tan #10-14

Nymph Flies:
Pheasant Tail Nymph #12-14
Gold Ribbed Hare's Ear #12-14
Prince Nymph #12-14
Bird's Nest #8-10
Black Stonefly #12


Merced River Directions

From the town of Merced on Hwy 99, drive 45 miles northeast on Highway 140 to the town of Briceburg. Continuing north the river parallels the highway into Yosemite National Park.

Notes:Merced River, Swingbridge
The Merced River holds the distinction of being the only water within Yosemite National Park that actually had native trout residing there. The rest of the park was historically fishless and trout were introduced to the lakes and streams starting in the the early 1900’s. By the 1960‘s, almost 100% of all the streams and lakes of Yosemite contained trout through continual trout planting. This practice ended in 1972 with the Leopold Report recommending to all National Parks that trout planting be ceased as the practice had detrimental impacts to the original wilderness aspects of those areas. The last trout planting in Yosemite occurred in 1991.
Rivers and streams within the Park have a season of the last Saturday in April to November 15th. Lakes and reservoirs are open year-long. The limits are 5 trout per day/10 in possession of any species but Brookies must be over 10 inches. The Merced has special regulations: From Happy Isles Bridge to the western Park boundary, it is catch and release only for Rainbows with a limit of 5 Brown Trout daily and 10 in possession using single barbless hooks and artificials. Due to snowmelt, it is not fishable until July when the Caddis and Mayfly hatches come off. Flow measurements are taken at Pohono Bridge within the Park. Safe wading flows are usually less than 200 cfs.
Major hatches are the PMD starting in June and extending until the end of September. Caddis are also prevalent. During late February to March BWO, Baetis, and Golden Stones are evident. Stoneflies will emerge during April and May. June is a good time for hopper patterns. Ants work throughout the summer. The river gets a lot of river rafting activity during the spring and early summer months. Wading can also be very risky during the Spring run-off period.
Most use a 5-6 weight rod with a 9 foot 3X leader and 4-8 feet of 3X-5X tippet. The best dry fly condition is during the late fall using size 16-18 flies. During mid-spring, deep nymphing is your best bet. You must weight the line about 4 feet above a weighted nymph.

Inside Yosemite Valley, the Merced is a meadow river, slow and deep. This area gets most of the fishing pressure from park visitors and holds the least amount of fish, Browns outnumber the Rainbows 2:1. A fish survey within the valley showed a count of 4100 fish per mile, most less than 8 inches in size. The last 3 miles of the valley to Happy Isles Bridge is rugged plunge pools and pocket water. Hardly fished, this section has browns and rainbows 8-12 inches.
The tributaries to the Merced within the Yosemite Valley provide some good fly fishing opportunities as well. Bridalveil Creek is has excellent fishing opportunities. It is a pool-riffle freestone stream with Rainbows and Brookies up to ten inches. A trail from Glacier Point Road to Glacier Point will take you to a bridge over Bridalveil Creek. Fishing is good on both sides of the bridge. Another tributary is Tenaya Creek. This is a slow moving creek that is seasonal as the creek is merely a trickle in late summer. During May and June, this creek holds a number of rainbows and browns within the valley floor. The upper portions of the creek going up to Tenaya Lake are devoid of fish. Illilouette Creek is another tributary that has plenty of rainbows up to ten inches above it's falls.Take Glacier Point Road to Glacier Point and hike on the Panorama Trail. The creek consists of pocket water and plunge pools. Also, along Glacier Point Road, is a trailhead to Ostrander Lake. This is a popular lake with Brookies up to 14 inches and some rainbows.

Above Nevada Falls, the Merced becomes more of a stream than a river flowing through Little Yosemite Valley. Most of the fish are browns averaging
10 inches with a few up to 12 inches, Rainbows will be found in these waters slightly smaller averaging 8 inches. As you approach Merced Lake, the
river has a number of rapids and cascades that flow from meadow areas that offer good fishing, Lost Valley and Echo Valley. In addition to browns and
rainbows, brookies appear in the Merced just below Merced Lake. Merced Lake (57 acres) at 7212’ ele. consists mostly of Browns averaging 10-12 inches
with some Rainbows slightly smaller. This lake gets plenty of fishing pressure but flies during the early evening hours can be quite successful. Above
Merced Lake, the river has a number of small browns 6-10 inches until they are blocked by the cascades below Washburn Lake. Washburn Lake (39 acres)
at 7640’ ele. has both brookies and rainbows 8-10 inches. The brookies outnumber the rainbows 3:1. There are no brown trout in Washburn Lake.
Above Washburn Lake are the headwaters of the Merced. A number of creeks feed into the Merced, each containing trout. Gray Peak Fork is
between Merced and Washburn Lake. Goldens that were planted in Adair Lake (9 acres) at 9700’ ele. have moved into the creek and have been kept as
a pure strain since rainbows cannot cross the cascades within the creek above the Merced River. The Goldens within the creek are 5-8 inches. At Adair
Lake, the Goldens reach 16 inches. To reach the lake you must follow Gray Peak Fork off-trail. Red Peak Fork is the first feeder creek above Merced Lake.
The creek is home to rainbows 6-10 inches, particularly within the pocket water and small pools. The source lake, Red Devil Lake is fishless.
Merced Peak Fork also has rainbows 6-10 inches up to it’s source, Edna Lake. Triple Peak Fork, just to the east, has brookies up to 9 inches.. You can reach Upper Edna Lake by way of the trail that follows Triple Peak Fork. Upper Edna Lake (46 acres) at 10,153’ ele. has rainbows 13-15 inches with some up to 18 inches. Lower Edna Lake (6 acres) at 9875’ ele has rainbows 6-9 inches but large numbers of fish. Neither Upper or Lower Ottoway Lakes have trout due to poor spawning areas.

Going northeast from Merced Lake is a trail that follows Lewis Creek. Florence Creek flows into Lewis Creek and you can hike off-trail up to the lakes following the creek which has rainbows 8-10 inches. Lower Florence has rainbows up to 16 inches but most are in the 10-12 inch class. Upper Florence will have rainbows mostly in the ten inch class. Further along the Lewis Creek Trail, you can reach Bernice Lake. Bernice is mostly composed of Brookies 8-10 inches and plenty of them. The YNP has discussed removing the brookies and restoring the lake to amphibian habitat but this has not been done as yet.

Fishing Regulations

Merced River from the Happy Isles footbridge downstream to the western boundary of Yosemite National Park at El Portal.:

Last Saturday in Apr. through Nov. 15. Only artificial lures with barbless hooks may be used. 0 Rainbow trout, 5 Brown trout per day. 10 brown trout in possession.

Merced River above Happy Isles footbridge:

Last Saturday in Apr. through Nov. 15. No restrictions. 5 trout per day. 10 trout in possession.

Other Rivers and Streams within Yosemite:

Last Saturday in Apr. through Nov. 15. No restrictions. 5 trout per day. 10 trout in possession.

Lakes within Yosemite:

Open all year. No restrictions. 5 trout per day. 10 trout in possession.


© 2018 Steve Schalla
This page is not to be copied without my explicit permission.
Cathedral Pool Ostrander Lake Illilouette Creek Sunrise Creek Merced Lake Florence Lake Bernice Lake Washburn Lake Swinging Bridge Obelisk Lake Lower Ottoway Lake Edna Lake unnamed lake near Isberg Pass