Upper Tuolumne River

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Current River Flows, Tuolumne River
Tuolumne River
Suggested Flies for Upper Tuolumne River River:
Western Sierra Hatch Selection

Other Local Favorites:

Dry Flies:
Parachute Adams #12-18
Parachute Ants #14-16
Cutter's Perfect Ant #14-16
Elk Hair Caddis #12-14
Yellow Humpy #12-14
Dave's Hopper #10-12
Royal Wulff #12-14
Purple Haze #16

Nymph Flies:
Pheasant Tail Nymph #12-14
Copper Johns #12-14
Gold Ribbed Hare's Ear #12-14
Prince Nymph #12-14
Bird's Nest #8-10
Zebra Midge #18

Directions: The Upper Tuolumne River can be reached from two directions. From the East, take Hwy 395 to Highway 120 just north of Lee Vining. This is the entrance to Yosemite by way of Tioga Pass. From the West, take Highway 120 from Manteca and becomes Tioga Road once you've entered the park. Highway 140 from Merced is another western entrance but you will need to go north on Big Oak Flat Road once you've entered the Yosemite Valley to connect to Tioga Road. From the south, you can take Highway 41 from Fresno to reach the Yosemite Valley and from there go onto to Big Oak Flat Road.

The Upper Tuolumne was historically devoid of trout due to Glacial activity. Native rainbows existed within the lower Toulumne but could not reach the upper sections due to waterfalls and steep inclines. For the past 100 years, the area has been stocked with Rainbows, Brookies, Browns, and Goldens. This stocking has been discontinued since 1991 and the resulting populations are self-sustaining wild trout. Although many of the high elevation lakes have become devoid of trout once again, many areas of the Upper Tuolumne river basin support a good number of trout. Most of these trout are in the 8-10 inch class although there are a number of sites with fish up to 15".

Above Hetch Hetchy Reservoir, the Tuolumne is within the Grand Canyon of the Tuolumne for 25 miles. This area extends up to Waterwheel Falls. It contains rainbows, browns, and brookies. Some consider this stretch to be the best fishing with Yosemite Park. Your most direct route to this area is by trail from White Wolf campground, a 7 mile distance. The trail follows the Tuolumne River upstream to Tuolumne Meadows.
The river runs about 5 miles through Tuolumne Meadows offering mainly brookies and browns. It is fairly shallow with deep undercut banks. The water is very clear so stealth is a priority. Dry Flies are your best bet within this section, using terrestrials such as Ants and Hoppers, along the banks.

The Tuolumne splits into two forks above the meadows. The Lyell Fork follows the Pacific Crest Trail (also the John Muir Trail) for ten miles to it's headwaters. The Lyell Fork has mainly brookies, browns, and some rainbows, with the brookies mostly in the upper reaches. Attractor drys such as Yellow Humpies and Royal Wulffs work well. A combination of a dry fly such as a Parachute Adams with a dropper such as a Zebra Midge or Pheasant Tail Nymph is excellent. It is a gentle, clear stretch of water running through meadowland. Most of the stream is 2-6 feet deep with some 20 foot deep pools.While most of the fish are 8-11 inches, there are some 12-14 inch browns that inhabit the undercut banks. Beyond the meadow section, the stream has freestone sections through numerous granite boulders forming pocket water. Stealth is critical in your presentation as the fish tend to be quite spooky. There are two places to park your car for access to the Lyell Fork. You can park at the bridge at Toulumne Meadows and follow the John Muir trail. You will need to hike about a mile upstream as the river section is usually crowded with swimmers from the campground. The other access point is at the Wilderness Permit Center about a mile past the bridge. A trail will take you to a footbridge across the Dana Fork and onto another footbridge on the Lyell Fork. The prime fishing is upstream from this point. A popular loop trail is from the Lyell Fork up Ireland Creek past Evelyn Lake. This takes you to a High Sierra Campground called, Vogelsang, which has cabins, hot showers, and a gourmet meal. Leaving Vogelsang, you can reach Toulumne Meadows by way of the Rafferty Creek trail. Reservations are required to stay at Vogelsang. It is 5.5 miles from Tuolumne Meadows, along Lyell Fork, to Ireland Creek. I'd suggest camping there. Next day, hike another 5 miles to Vogelsand with a 1600 feet gain. Vogelsand is at 10,300 feet. The return trip is 7 miles, downhill, along Rafferty Creek to Toulumne Meadows.

The Dana Fork is a pocket and riffle freestone stream. It also contains browns, brookies, and rainbows, with the rainbows being more prevalent within the faster portions of the stream. Dana Fork has less water than the Lyell Fork but more fish. The fish tend to be smaller in the 6-8 inch class. It is also an excellent stretch for dry flies. Like the Lyell Fork, the fish tend to be quite spooky and you need to use stealth in your presentation. Some areas are tight with obstructions such as Lodgepole Pines and you need to use bow-and-arrow casts to present the flies to the proper areas. The granite stream bottom can be slick so rubber-soled wading boots are recommended.

The area contain numerous fishing opportunities besides the river itself. Yosemite Creek can be reached from Tioga Road above White Wolf CG. This stream contains mostly Rainbows with an occasional brown or brookie. Goldens were planted here in the 1930's, so some of the rainbows may have the characteristic parr marks of a Golden.

Tenaya Lake (ele. 8,150 feet) is a natural lake that has Rainbows and Browns. Rainbows used to be planted but there exists a self-sustaining population of 'bows in the 6-9 inch class. The Browns tend to be larger but rarely caught. The best areas are along the southern shoreline which has a channel that runs about 30' deep. The late afternoon and evening bite is the best time for some dry fly action in the shallow areas near the inlets with Mosquitos and Mayflys. The season is the last Saturday of April to November 15th. However, the highway usually closes by the end of October and does not reopen until late May.

© 2013 Steve Schalla
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Lyell and Dana Fork