Fly Fishing San Joaquin River
Easily one of the most superb fishing spots in the state, the San Joaquin River drains most of the area from the southern border of Yosemite south to Kings Canyon National Park. This makes it the 2nd largest river drainage in the state. Seeing the river as it makes it is way out into the San Joaquin Valley does not do it much justice as most of the water has been diverted for agricultural uses.
The middle fork of the San Joaquin receives most of the notoriety as it is near to the very popular Eastern Sierra fly fishing areas around Mammoth Lakes. It is also the most accessible.
The North fork of the San Joaquin is the smallest fork. It is a wilderness stream with no road access. The section I do fish is a 3-mile hike down into a canyon. A large population of wild rainbows inhabit the lower and middle sections with more brook trout the higher you travel into the headwaters. There are even a couple of lakes that have golden trout.
The South fork is the largest arm of the San Joaquin. It also has been dammed, channeled and piped for power purposes, but still provides great fishing; both below and above the Florence Lake & Edison Lake. In addition to trout, Fall-run chinook salmon can still be found in the lower part of the San Joaquin River.
The main fork of the San Joaquin River above and below the Mammoth Pool reservoir (Upper San Joaquin River) is where many of the larger fish are caught each year. The 8-mile tailwater section below Mammoth Pool is in a very deep canyon with very little access. Once on the water, the fishing is fantastic. This is one of the best fishing spots for the beginning fly fisher.
The main river above Mammoth Pool is rarely fishable before September due to high flows. Again, no road access here, and what trails are available are long and steep. Far Northwest of here, the San Joaquin River and the Sacramento River converge in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta and eventually drain into the San Francisco Bay.
Hatches on the San Joaquin are as diversified as its many different kinds of waters. Early season Golden Stone Flies (#12 - 14) along with Blue-winged Olives (BWO - #18 - 20) will give way to caddis hatches after the runoff recedes. (Getting restless waiting for early season fly fishing? Check out our winter Steelhead and Trout options.) The higher up in elevation, the more opportunistic the fish become. Most attraction patterns will work if properly presented. So grab your fly fishing gear and book a fishing trip! An adventure of a lifetime awaits.
Interested in Yosemite fly fishing? Read our guide here!