Upper North Fork and Middle Fork American River

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North Fork American River
Suggested Flies for the North Fork American River area:
Sierra Tahoe Hatch Selection

Stillwater Flies:
Woolly Bugger #4-10
Krystal Buggers #4-10
Clouser Minnow #4-10
Marabou Muddler #4-10

Gold Ribbed Hares Ear
Birds Nest
A.P. Nymph #10-16
Caddis Emerger
Burk's Hunchback Infrequens #14-16

Parachute Adams
Elk Hair Caddis #12-16
Yellow Humpy #14-16
Golden Stimulator # 6-10


Upper North Fork American River Directions

From Auburn, on Highway I-80, go Northeast 2 miles to Auburn-Foresthill Road. Turn East and go 18 miles to Foresthill. Continue on Foresthill-Soda Springs Road. Mumford Bar Trailhead is 13 miles from Foresthill on Foresthill Road . Beacroft Trailhead is 17 miles from Foresthill on Foresthill Road and Sailor Flat is another 5 miles further on Foresthill Road but the trailhead starts off a high clearance 4 WD road that goes 2 miles to the left. Most of these trails are 3-4 miles to the river and drop about 2000 feet. The American River Trail is along the North Fork and follows the south side of the river from Mumford Bar to Sailor Flat.
Access the upper reaches of the North Fork American from Soda Springs Road, a 4 wd dirt road that from I-80. A trailhead at The Cedars called Palisade Creek Trail will follow the North Fork to Palisade Creek and connect to Cascade lake near I-80.

Notes:Upper North Fork River at Heath Springs
The North Fork of the American is a State and National Wild and Scenic River. The river flows from Mountain Meadow Lake at 7,900 ft. and joins the Middle Fork American River near Auburn. Within the headwaters, three small streams join near The Cedars to form a significant flow. The river drops about 1500 feet as it enters Royal Gorge. Below the gorge is your best opportunity for access and fishing. There are three trails providing river access at Sailor's Flat, Beacroft, and Mumford Bar. The 8 miles long American River Trail links these trails along the river. The 37 miles stretch above the bridge at Iowa Hill Road near Colfax is in the California Wild Trout program, so that no fish are planted in this section. The bridge is also the only drive-in access to the North Fork Wild Trout section. The Wild Trout section ends at the confluence of Palisade Creek.
The river consists of deep pools, as well as cascading waterfalls, with riffles, runs, and pocket water. Steep canyon slopes frame a narrow bottom. Most of the fish are Rainbows in the 8-15 inch size. Occasionally, you'll find some larger Browns. Flows drop substantially by August and September. Fishing is open year-round with the General Fishing Season ending Nov 15th. From Nov 16th to the last Saturday of April, it is C&R only with single barbless hooks.
The North Fork American has typical hatches of Caddis, Mayflies, and Golden Stones. Crystal Buggers work well, try yellow, black, and olive colors. Also use attractor beadhead nymphs as well as dries such as Adams and Humpies.

North Fork of the North Fork American River: This is a tailwater tributary out of Lake Valley Reservoir. It consists of small pools with rocky runs and pocket water. Near the reservoir, the tributary is mostly Browns in the 9-12 inch class. The North Fork campground is about 3 miles downstream where Forest Road 19 crosses and is reached from the Emigrant Gap exit off I-80. This stretch gets planted with Rainbows, many Browns remain mixed with the Rainbows. The wild trout will occur a short distance either upstream or downstream from the campground. Rainbows will be 6-10 inches.

East Fork of the North Fork of the North Fork American River: This is a small stream with Rainbows in the 6-9 inch class. It contains small pools with runs and pocket water. It can be reached from Forest Road 19 about 7 miles past the North Fork campground.

Lake Spaulding: (700 acres at 5,011 feet elev) The lake resides within a glacial granite bowl but additional damming was done in 1912 to provide ample water for Hydraulic mining downstream. Best fished in early Spring and the Fall.  Department of Fish and Game stocks the lake with 15,000 rainbows and 5,000 brown trout along with Chinook Salmon. 

Lake Valley Reservoir: (300 acres at 5893 feet elev) 10 mph limit for boats. Rainbow trout are the only species of fish that the California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) currently plants at Lake Valley. The Department most years stocks around 4,000 pounds of rainbows in the reservoir. The lake also hosts a sleeper population of German brown trout. Contains Browns and Rainbows.

Kelly Lake: No motorized boats allowed. Contains Browns and Rainbows.

Cascade Lakes: No motorized boating allowed. Consists of three lakes, all containing self-sustaining Brookies. Only the Lower Cascade is supplemented with an additional 1000 fingerling Brook Trout each year due to high fishing pressure.

Long Lake: (6,620 feet elev) Stocked with about 2,000 rainbow fingerlings each year.

Kidd Lake: (89 acres at 6,628 feet elev) The lake was stocked with Brookies annually from 1952 to 1993. It has a maximum depth of 54 feet. There are four campsites and only those that rent a campsite are allowed to fish the lake.

Salmon Lake: (6,700 feet elev) Stocked with about 500 Rainbows each year.

Serene Lakes: (6,872 feet elev) This used to be three lakes: Sybil, Dulzura, and Serena, until a dam was built that flooded the three lakes together. The shoreline is owned mostly by home owners who also stock the lake with Rainbows and Brookies. Only about 100 yds exist for public access.

Loch Leven Lakes: Four Lakes. Lower Loch Leven is 12 areas with a 16 feet maximum depth. The lakes cannot sustain rainbows and the lake is shallow enough that Brookies do not survive either. Brook Trout were lasted planeted in 2000 and Rainbows up to 1997. Gill netting showed no fish in 2016. The other three lakes, Upper, Middle, and High were also subject to Brookie aerial drops that were suspended after 2000. There are no frog issues here and CDFW may resume stocking of rainbows. But for now, Most Likely fishless.

The Middle Fork of the American extends for about 15 miles from Oxbow Reservoir to French Meadows Dam. Most of this water is pools, pocket water, and riffles. Flows can fluctuate greatly throughout the day. The river holds mostly Rainbows in the 8-15 inch class as well as some larger browns within the deepest pools closer to French Meadows Reservoir. Nymph action is best during the early season while dry fly actions picks up in the later summer. A number of Golden Stone hatches occur as well as Caddis and Mayflies. Streamers are always effective within the deeper pools. There are no special regulations. Limit of 5. Duncan Creek is a tributary that feeds the Middle Fork of the American and is accessed from Mosquito Ridge Road where it crosses the creek prior to reaching French Meadow Reservoir. The creek contains small rainbows in the 6-10 inch class as well as a few browns in the upper reaches.

North Fork of the Middle Fork American River: This water consists of small pools, runs, and pocket water. The Rainbows tend to be on the small size of 6-8 inches. The river is within a very deep canyon which tends to cool the ambient temperature. There are good hatches of Mayflies and Golden Stones.

French Meadows Reservoir: (5,300 feet elevation) The lake contains primarily Rainbows, which are planted throughout the season, as well as Browns and Smallmouth Bass. It is primarily known as a bait and lure fishery but flyfishing opportunities exist as well. Use sinking lines with streamers such as Woolly Buggers and Leech Patterns in Olive, Brown, or Black colors. Try the areas around the downed trees and snags. Also locate the rocky ledges and drop-offs. You'll need a boat since there are few good access points from shore. Know the sink rate of your line and count down to the proper depth before retrieval. Add some twitching action to the fly. There is a callibaetis hatch that occurs sporadically so that nymphing can be good at those times. During late afternoon or at low light, try some surface flies such as Parachute Ants.
French Meadows Reservoir is also a good starting point for access to the upper Middle Fork of the American River. There are some good campsites at the inlet side of the lake with road access up to Talbot Campround at French Meadows. Trail access is available from there.

Hell Hole Reservoir: (4,700 feet elevation) It is fed by the Rubicon River and is within a granite gorge with steep walls. Primarily accessed by small boats, the lake is trolled for the large Mackinaws and Browns that reside there. There are no Brookies or Rainbows.
For flyfishing purposes, Hell Hole gives you good access to the Rubicon River. The tailwater contains Rainbows in the 12" class and some Browns. The tailwater is not very enriched as a food source since Hell Hole is considerably deep. But the tailwater does provide some good fast-action for dry fly fishing.
Above Hell Hole, the Rubicon can be reached by taking the trail off the North Shore of Hell Hole. A jeep road ends at Greyhorse Creek but you can follow the shorline up to Five Lakes creek. Cross over the Rubicon at this point and follow the Hell Hole trail along the south side of the river. The river contains 7-12 inch Rainbows with Goldens in the upper reaches of the Desolation Wilderness.
The tributary streams also offer flyfishing opportunities:
Greyhorse Creek: Contains Rainbows and Brookies.
Five Lakes Creek: Contains Rainbows, Brookies, and Browns.
The SF of Long Canyon Creek: Contains Rainbows.

Fishing Regulations

American River, North Fork, Middle Fork, South Fork and their tributaries above Folsom Lake (Placer, El Dorado, Amador and Alpine cos.):

Last Saturday in Apr. through Nov. 15. No restrictions. 5 trout per day. 10 trout in possession
Nov. 16 through the Friday preceding the last Saturday in Apr. Only artificial lures with barbless hooks may be used. 0 Trout

All Lakes and Reservoirs:

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

All other creeks and tributaries:

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


Hell Hole Bathymetric Chart


French Meadows Bathymetric Chart

© 2019 Steve Schalla
This page is not to be copied without my explicit permission.


Lake Spaulding Lake Valley Reservoir Kelly Lake High Loch Leven Lake Salmon Lake Kidd Lake Long Lake Devils Peak Serene Lakes Angela Lake Lake Van Norden Heath Falls Mumford Bar Upper MF American French Meadows Reservoir NF of the MF American Hell Hole Reservoir McKinstry Lake