Fly Fishing California’s Magical McCloud River

The McCloud River is the granddaddy of all rainbow trout streams, and considered one of California’s best wild trout fisheries. It is a mixture of public, personal, and that wonderful “in-between” water the place entry is fastidiously managed—all you must do is make a reservation. (Michael Wier picture)

This text was initially titled “A Reward of Rainbows” within the Oct-Nov-Dec 2021 situation of Fly Fisherman journal.

The McCloud rises within the Cascade Mountains of far northern California, a area dominated by the hovering presence of 14,179-foot Mt. Shasta. The huge aquifer adjoining to the mountain supplies the spring flows for this breathtakingly lovely river, a river of lengthy swimming pools and pocketwater in a wild, water-carved canyon. It’s a distant and magical place, with the traditional stillness of the old-growth fir and pine forest. Within the spring, the scent of untamed azalea and Shasta lilies drifts upstream on the nice and cozy air. Bears are widespread. Goshawks chase sooty grouse within the understory. Mountain lions hunt deer within the forest.

The river has sculpted picturesque riverside cliffs, ledges, and deep swimming pools within the grey basalt. Within the pocketwater, it flows amongst smoothed and variegated volcanic rocks, making a tapestry of small pockets and seams. Not like typical freestoners, which run excessive and turbid within the spring and step by step grow to be low and heat by the autumn, the McCloud stays chilly, clear, and fixed many of the yr, fed largely by spring water rising by the porous volcanic rock, typically in spectacular riverside cascades. About 9 miles southeast of the city of McCloud, a PG&E hydropower dam types Lake McCloud, a part of the McCloud-Pit Hydroelectric Mission. Under the dam, the McCloud River flows one other 12 miles into Lake Shasta.

The McCloud holds a singular place within the historical past of American angling. McCloud River redband rainbow trout have been so admired by early fish culturists that in 1878, their eggs have been despatched to hatcheries within the japanese United States and, in subsequent years, world wide, establishing rainbow trout as the most well-liked trout on earth.

fly fishing California's Magical McCloud River
McCloud River rainbow trout are prototypical redbands as a result of their forebears have been used to inventory streams throughout the U.S., within the Nice Lakes (and Canada) in addition to in New Zealand, South America, and Europe. (Val Atkinson picture)

Should you have been to catch a rainbow anyplace on the planet, and will magically look into its DNA as you held it in your internet, you’ll see genetic markers of McCloud River rainbow trout. Admired for his or her good colours, combating qualities, hardiness, and tolerance of quite a lot of water circumstances, no different North American trout species has loved such widespread distribution and acceptance.

The identical impulse that despatched rainbow trout eggs world wide introduced brown trout eggs from Germany and Scotland to California. By 1895 brown trout eggs have been being raised on the hatchery in Mount Shasta Metropolis. Whereas not native, wild browns are firmly established within the river. They spend the winter feeding within the lake and transfer into the river in early spring, taking over residence within the deep swimming pools and runs till autumn, once they start their spawning rituals.

Nymphing the McCloud

Whereas there are some large browns, native McCloud River rainbows are what attracts most anglers to the river. These deep-bodied, brightly coloured fish, sometimes 12 to fifteen inches, are normally caught with nymphs within the quick water, or on drys when one of many plentiful hatches brings them up. The usual strategy is short-line nymphing. This method was pioneered on the McCloud and the close by higher Sacramento within the ’50s and ’60s when Ted Fay moved to the city of Dunsmuir. He discovered to fish the pocketwater from an area Wintu Native American. The approach concerned casting a brace of closely weighted flies upstream into fishy pockets and bringing them downstream on a good line. Fay refined the approach and taught it to different fly fishers, and short-line nymphing was born. Ted lived on to grow to be an area legend and open a fly store, nonetheless in operation in Dunsmuir.

fly fishing California's Magical McCloud River
The McCloud River runs clear and chilly many of the yr, because of the quite a few springs flowing into the river—a lot of them within the type of spectacular riverside cascades. (Michael Wier picture)

Quick-line nymphing begins with a 9- to 10-foot rod for a 3- to 5-weight line, a frontrunner and tippet of in regards to the rod’s size, tapering to 4X, weighted nymphs or nymphs with BB split-shot on the chief, and a modest indicator.

Fly Fishing California's Magical McCloud River
(Illustration courtesy of Wild Waters Fly Fishing)

A wading employees is essential to success on the McCloud. With its cobble and boulder backside, there’s little or no gravel or sand to make wading simple. Entering into the fitting place to make excellent drifts is the important thing to success. Solid the shortest potential line, concentrating on your drifts exactly and dealing the possible water fastidiously. You’ll not often have greater than a rod size of fly line out your rod tip.

Should you use the favored Euro nymphing approach—which takes the thought of short-line nymphing a number of steps additional—you might have solely monofilament outdoors the rod tip. In both case, keep in mind the 4 “Ls” of short-line nymphing: Take a look at your goal. Lob your fly at that focus on in an arcing overhead forged that penetrates the water column vertically. Elevate the additional chief off the water and arrange your drift with a really slight curve out of your rod tip upstream to your flies. Lead the chief downstream by transferring your arm and torso and maintaining that relaxed curve fixed. You may be nearly—however not fairly—pulling your flies downstream. On this manner, you’ll be able to react to the slightest twitch or pause simply by a easy acceleration of your downstream movement.

Within the shallow runs and pockets that the rainbows favor, the much less you add to the chief the higher. My very own indicator system is three tiny bits of strike putty, every in regards to the dimension of a #18 Pheasant Tail nymph, rolled onto the chief beginning 3 ft above the highest fly, and spaced at about one-foot intervals up the chief. These are simple to identify within the water that can assist you align your chief out of your rod tip to your flies.

One other well-liked and stealthy indicator amongst Euro nymphing advocates and tenkara specialists is a 2-foot part of high-vis monofilament tied into the chief 3 ft above the highest fly as a sighter. This reduces drag to the flies and is supersensitive.

Fly Fishing California's Magical McCloud River
(Illustration courtesy of Wild Waters Fly Fishing)

The nymphing approach often called the 90-degree nymph rig or puff ball nymphing was developed within the Seventies, particularly for the McCloud’s deep swimming pools and runs. It has gained worldwide acceptance amongst steelheaders and trout anglers as a technique to get a fly deep and drag free. This method makes use of a marble-sized, bi-colored yarn indicator—the puff ball—tied to the top of a 5- to 7-foot 3X chief. Tie the tippet across the chief—above the indicator—and slide it down towards the indicator, making a 90-degree angle. Use 4X or 5X tippet, and set the size about one and a half instances the common depth of the water you’re fishing. In many of the McCloud’s pocketwater, that’s about 4 ft. Within the deeper swimming pools and runs, lengthen the tippet to accommodate the elevated depth. In both case, forged upstream and instantly mend to flip the indicator and weight above your fly, taking the strain off the fly. Watch the indicator fastidiously because it drifts down, and proceed to fix to remove drag.

Completed fly fishers detect most takes by on the lookout for tiny twitching or erratic indicator actions. A two-color yarn indicator helps spot these tiny actions earlier than the indicator truly stops or dives. Trout inhale and eject drifting nymphs many extra instances than we predict.

The dry/dropper variation of the 90-degree nymph rig substitutes a buoyant dry fly for the puff ball, with the tippet tied onto the bend within the hook. Standard patterns for drys are the Parachute Adams; the Chubby Chernobyl, Yellow Humpys, and varied stoneflies within the spring; and the October Caddis within the fall.

Fly Fishing California's Magical McCloud River
(Illustration courtesy of Wild Waters Fly Fishing)

Streamer Fishing

The McCloud’s brown trout—fish typically measured in kilos quite than inches—are within the river all yr, however they grow to be notably seen in late October and November as they dig redds within the shallow tailouts. They’re simple to identify, however they need to be left alone so we don’t impair their capacity to spawn efficiently. When fishing for rainbows this time of yr, keep away from wading within the spawning gravel, in order to not crush brown trout eggs.

John Rickard ( is a McCloud grasp information who’s been learning the river for 20 years. He likes to say that the McCloud has two teams of fish—the native rainbows, and the brown trout that eat them.

fly fishing California's Magical McCloud River
The easiest way to focus on the McCloud’s browns is to make use of streamers that imitate small rainbow trout. Within the fall, you may even see large browns on spawning gravel within the tailouts of swimming pools. Do not harass these spawners, and keep away from wading in these areas. (Jeremiah Watt picture)

With a purpose to catch a giant brown, provide them a fish. Considered one of Rickard’s favorites is Andy Burk’s Scorching Flash Minnow. Rickard makes use of a sinking-tip line, and casts the fly up into the present on the head of a pool, or alongside the cliff face of a deep run. He mends instantly to get the road and fly to sink deep, then he strips it alongside the underside and alongside the sides of present seams, or swings it in entrance of rocks.

Within the early spring and late fall, when the water is coldest, maintain the fly deep by stripping slowly. In midsummer, strip quick. Generally the fish chase the streamer after which flip away on the final second. While you see this, don’t simply forged again in with the streamer. Present the trout a smaller nymph on the following drift, quite than persevering with to drag your streamer by the pool.

John’s shoppers catch the best variety of giant brown trout in the summertime, when angling stress is decrease and the fish are plentiful. Along with streamers, the 90-degree nymphing system is the proper technique to get a fly down into the deepest water and drift it in a drag free manner. Right here, the modest mends utilized in pocketwater grow to be stack mends.

Start by casting your puff ball rig upstream, after which wiggle your rod tip to stack small loops of line above the indicator to create turnover factors, the impartial moments when the fly is straight beneath the indicator and drifting freely. With the 90-degree rig, as with short-line nymphing, take care to not add an excessive amount of weight to the tippet. The fly wants to answer the present because it drifts, showing pure.

One key to success within the McCloud is the visibility. Ordinarily, the McCloud is obvious sufficient to identify giant fish holding on the underside or on the tailouts of swimming pools.

Nevertheless, the aptly named Mud Creek flows from the Konwakiton Glacier on Mount Shasta’s southern flank. A thunderstorm on the mountain can ship a slug of glacial silt into the creek, down by Lake McCloud, and into the river. This generally causes the river to go milky, however this situation sometimes lasts only some days. That is the time to focus on shallow water, the place the daylight can penetrate the water and the trout can extra simply see your fly.

Rising Trout

The McCloud has glorious hatches, together with large bugs that convey large fish to the floor. Salmonflies, Golden Stones, Inexperienced Drakes, Grey Drakes, and October Caddis every seem of their season.

Past these large bugs, there are plentiful hatches of smaller bugs all yr, particularly Blue-winged Olives, Yellow Sallies, Pale Morning Duns, and quite a few small caddis akin to Brachycentrus and Rhyacophila.

Fly Fishing California's Magical McCloud River
Info courtesy of Dick Galland

If you are nymphing by the day, maintain alert for rising fish. Generally a hatch seems alongside a shady financial institution for a couple of minutes after which simply stops, as ephemeral because the little bugs themselves. An interval of casting little drys to eagerly rising trout can actually enliven a day.

River Entry

Because the early 1900s, the McCloud has been protected by miles of personal possession. William Randolph Hearst constructed Wyntoon, his fairytale Bavarian retreat on the higher river, in 1900. On the similar time, rich San Francisco sportsmen created personal fishing golf equipment on the center and decrease river. It was not till the completion of a hydropower dam and the creation of Lake McCloud in 1965 that the river grew to become extra accessible to the angling public.

Fly Fishing California's Magical McCloud River
(Map courtesy of the US Forest Service)

Entry to 2 sections of the higher river, together with the higher falls and center falls, is by way of U.S. Forest Service roads south of Freeway 89 outdoors of the city of McCloud. The realm supplies many miles of small freestone stream fishing with each wild and stocked trout. Personal property is effectively marked and begins a brief manner beneath the decrease falls and continues all the way in which to Lake McCloud.

Under McCloud Dam to Shasta Lake is strictly wild trout water with synthetic flies and lures solely. Test for particulars. There are 4 miles of public water from the dam to the U.S. Forest Service AhDiNa Campground, then 2 extra miles of public water till you hit The Nature Conservancy property ( The higher 3 miles of the Kerry Landreth Protect at McCloud River are open to catch-and-release fishing for a most of ten rods per day. To make a reservation, electronic mail or name (415) 777-0487.

Under the protect, the McCloud is personal water all the way in which to Shasta Lake. The Bollibokka Membership holds the ultimate 7 miles above the lake, and fishing there’s for membership members and their friends solely. Annual memberships are $500, and all of the memberships are dealt with by The Fly Store in Redding, California. For particulars, go to or name 800-669-3474.

The McCloud is a river of many elements, and as worthy of a pilgrimage because the Beaverkill or the Madison. Come for the historical past, the particular fantastic thing about the canyon, the clear chilly water, and the brilliant rainbows of their native habitat. It’s possible you’ll effectively fall underneath the spell of the McCloud, as so many anglers have over the previous 150 years.

Wild and Threatened

The McCloud River ranked quantity 7 on American Rivers’ 2021 Most Endangered Rivers checklist. The menace comes from a proposed undertaking to boost the peak of Shasta Dam by 18 ft. If accomplished, this undertaking would inundate 5,000 acres of land and practically a mile of the McCloud River above Shasta Lake. It might additionally flood 39 sacred websites of the Winnemem Wintu, the Native People whose ancestral lands embody a lot of the decrease McCloud watershed. The portion of the river that will be flooded is at present owned by Westlands Water District, who bought all the Bollibokka Membership property in anticipation of the dam being raised. Whereas the undertaking would theoretically add about 70,000 acre ft of water per yr for agricultural use within the Central Valley, that is actually a drop within the bucket of the 30 million acre ft agriculture makes use of yearly within the state.

fly fishing California's Magical McCloud River
(Val Atkinson picture)

The Trump administration offered $20 million for extra research on the feasibility of the undertaking. That prompted a lawsuit by California’s lawyer basic and a coalition of environmental and fisheries teams, to dam Westlands Water District from helping within the planning and building of the undertaking.

“The undertaking poses important antagonistic results on the free-flowing situation of the McCloud River and on its wild trout fishery, each of which have particular statutory protections underneath the California Wild and Scenic Rivers Act,” the Legal professional Normal Xavier Becerra wrote.

In 1989 the state legislature, in California’s Wild & Scenic Rivers Act, declared, “sustaining the McCloud River in its free-flowing situation to guard its fishery is the very best and most useful use of the waters of the McCloud River.” The Act protects the river by prohibiting any company of the state from helping or cooperating within the planning or building of an enlargement to Shasta Dam if the enlargement “may have an antagonistic impact on the free-flowing situation of the McCloud River, or on its wild trout fishery.”

fly fishing California's Magical McCloud River
A proposal to boost the peak of Shasta Dam by 18 ft would drown greater than a mile of the McCloud River. It might value the federal government about $2 billion, and ship an extra 70,000 acre ft of water to downstream agricultural customers. (Michael Wier picture)

Dr. Jeffrey Mount, senior fellow with the Public Coverage Institute of California’s Water Coverage Heart, thinks the chance that the undertaking will truly occur is slim. He factors out that the $20 million is to check the undertaking—not a dedication to start work. The ultimate undertaking is estimated to value $2 billion, and the federal authorities must pay half. Fifty p.c of the fee needs to be paid by one other funding companion. Westlands Water District can’t be that companion as a result of state regulation prohibits a public company from funding such initiatives. Mount additionally famous that California must approve the undertaking, and situation the permits. The state has proven little interest in elevating the dam and has quite a few methods to cease it.

Dick Galland based and operated Clearwater Home on Hat Creek from 1982 to 2005, a fly fishers’ inn, college, and outfitting service. He was West Coast subject editor for Fly Fisherman journal throughout that point, writing extensively about Northern California fisheries and fishing methods. He has been a CalTrout member since 1980 and has served in varied volunteer capacities, together with as a board member since 2011.

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