The fly gods have blessed Upper California with many outstanding repositories home to good size trout. The McCloud may have the distinction of possessing more 18- 28-inch trout then anywhere in the state other then Eagle Lake. Located in Siskiyou County south of Mt. Shasta, this river is one of main feeders to the Sacramento River system. The strain of rainbow particular to the McCloud is the Oncorhynchus Mykiss ssp. This river has a reputation going back at least 100 years and it is well deserved.
Fly fishers beware and read carefully, if you are al all uncomfortable with stumbling across fat rattlesnakes or hearing the occasional roar of a healthy mountain Lion, maybe this river is not for you. Bears and all manner of wild creatures exist here and this is their neighborhood period. The narrow paths winding along the canyon have offered many adventurous fly throwers confrontations with Rattlers, especially late afternoons.
If your still thinking about taking on this special water, simply watch your step and you will quite possibly be rewarded with hook ups that tear your arm off. Trout habitat conditions and constant hatches combined with deep green healthy water have created a big trout nursery worth investigating. If you’re an old hand at fly fishing and have spent much time following wild rivers, then little surprises like snakes, wasp nests, bears, will not deter your quest for arm breaking hits! On the other hand if a little danger out in the wilderness causes you to flinch? Maybe table tennis or slamming back brewskies in your over stuffed chair may be the way to fly?
One special aspect of these exceptionally healthy big trout is the fact their eggs have been shipped to many other countries because of their hearty profile. Trout are the ruling class as many other species have come and gone including Dolly Varden. A population of both Loch Leven Browns and German Browns share the water, the browns can be caught with much patience and skill, of course most fly fishers will be hard pressed to fool one!
The monster three foot plus Loch Levens are rarely taken or even sighted. Season is same as most of California, last Saturday in April till November 15th. Those who take the time to check for any special regulations will sleep better knowing the rules.
The other standard operating procedures such as fast dangerous water in early spring, working deep diving nymphs and keeping a vest full of caddis and mayflies in sizes #8-16 depending on water conditions and clarity.
The golden McCloud rule is learn to work very deep and forget about skipping your favorite streamer just under the surface, it won’t work in this river. You will be able to use midges, blue winged olives. Fly rods in the 4/6 weights will do nicely, sink tip line and a good assortment of split shot or whatever weight system your comfortable with is mandatory.
If you’re a seasoned pro and have a few weighted woolly buggers and several rubber legged bugs, quickly changing McCloud atmosphere might call for them, depending on time of year carrying an extra set of rain gear and paying attention to exactly how far you have ventured is not a bad idea. Many fly fishers get so focused and into the hunt, they fail to pay attention to where they dropped their pack or how far away is the truck? In later fall months the weather can be changeable quickly.
This river is divided into two sections consisting of the reservoir or lake McCloud and the lower zone winding about 8 miles. The headwaters are created by the influx of several smaller streams. If you stay on Hiway# 89, which shadows the river, look for “Cattle Camp Road” or “Loop Road”. This road will lead you to “The McCloud River Loop Road”, about six miles from town of McCloud. Once you’re on Loop Road, you drive about 5 miles before it reaches Fowler Camp. Be aware we are talking the usual dusty country type roads at this point, not exactly fit for the family people mover.
One word of caution especially in late fall , water flow drops can cause deep pool opportunities. If you hire a local guide and explore more difficult terrain where a few wild trout exist, it might be worth it. This Loop area is usually busy at peak season Local guides here can make your day and make follow up trips a breeze. Savvy fly fishers have always hooked up with local guides first time out. Loop road will lead you to Fowler Camp the last exit open to public. Many fly fishers make a whole day adventure out of this river, Access to lower Lake McCloud begins from the town of McCloud heading south on Squaw Valley Road about Eight scenic miles of eye candy!
A boat launch can be found taking the left fork in the road or go right two miles to Ah-Ni-Na Nature Conservancy. If you continue on to the left ending at Spill Way Pool and Ash camp. Heading toward Ash Camp one can drive around the lake about 4 miles, park and walk a few hundred yards and enjoy a wonderful stroll or drive down the hill to a pool.
This whole area can be productive depending on time of year and water levels. When fishing the Nature Conservancy area maintain strict careful catch and release rules with barbless hooks. Here finding a good foot map or asking as many questions as you can will save your day. The rewards can be worth the extra planning, big, smart, healthy trout.