As of 2012, I will no longer be guiding on the McCloud River (See discussion on the main “Guide Services” page). However, the following information on this magnificent river is useful and up to date so I am keeping it posted here for interested anglers to read.
The beautiful, Wild Trout Stream-designated McCloud River originates south east of Mount Shasta, and flows westward toward the town of McCloud for about 15 miles from its headwaters. The Upper, Lower, and Middle Falls, near Fowler’s Camp (about 5 miles east of McCloud), provide visitors with spectacular photo opportunities and anglers with some special opportunities during certain times of the year. Below Lower Falls, the river flows into a canyon characterized by volcanic formations, into a deep volcanic ravine. Big Springs, famous for its photo opportunities (located about one mile below Lower Falls) adds about 800 c.f.s. of sparkling 44° water, which increases the flow to over 1100 c.f.s. at certain times of the year. From Big Springs, the river passes through eight miles of private land on its way to its terminus at McCloud Reservoir where the water is held pending transfer to the Pit River. The river below the reservoir is a classic tailwater fishery, which flows through mostly private land for thirty miles before it hits Shasta Lake. For an excellent article on the McCloud see: http://flyfisherman.com/dgmccloud/ . Also, for some interesting historical information on the McCloud (and the Upper Sacramento) see “Shasta Headwaters,” by Craig Ballenger, Frank Amato Publications, Inc., 1998.
The Upper McCloud
Often misconceived as a “windshield” fishery, the Upper McCloud is a mystery to many anglers. Consequently, it often gets passed over in favor of the lower river, where indeed there are larger fish. However, guides and anglers familiar with the Upper McCloud and how and when to fish it consider it an interesting and challenging fishery. Personally, I consider it to be a wonderful resource for teaching newer fly fishers how to catch fish on nymphs and dry flies. There are a few “secrets” to this part of the river that, for those who unlock those secrets, can produce excellent angling for large, brilliant McCloud River rainbows.
Access to this part of the river is relatively easy. Beginning at Cattle Camp, about 15 miles east of McCloud, there is a loop road off of Highway 89 that follows the river downstream to Fowler’s Camp. At Fowler’s Camp, which is a large public campground, there is some excellent pocket water between Middle Falls and Lower Falls. Below Lower Falls, there are a series of islands and a lot of excellent pocket water riffles and runs. The resident fish are mostly McCloud Redband rainbows, which have been stocked worldwide since the 1880s because of their hardiness and beautiful, vibrant colors. There are a few Brown trout to be found in deep holes-and sometimes these can be brutes. Although most of the fish are 4 to 10 inches, experienced anglers have taken larger specimens.
The Lower McCloud
The Lower McCloud is one long series of magnificent emerald pools, riffles, runs and pocket water. The fish here are Shasta Rainbows from 6 to 20 inches in size. There is also a healthy population of wild Brown Trout that can reach ten pounds; most specimens, however, are much smaller than that. Great care must be taken in wading the lower river; the rocks are large and sharp, due to their relatively young age and volcanic origin. A wading staff is essential.
To get to the lower river, take Squaw Valley Road at the McCloud city intersection of Highway 89. This road takes you in a southerly direction, ending up at the reservoir. Once you reach the reservoir, follow the road that follows the lake shore around to the right, and leads to the dam. This classic tailwater fishery begins at the base of the dam, where there is a misty pool (euphemistically called the “blow hole”) full of fat fish. The next four miles, access to which is via the road crossing the dam, are open to the public.
After the big pool at the base of the dam, there is a long stretch of tricky but productive pocket water down to Ash Camp, a rugged and very basic campground. Parking is available near the base of the dam; however, if you wish to fish the Ash Camp area, simply follow the road for about a half mile down to the camp and park there. At Ash Camp, Hawkins Creek adds significant flow to the McCloud from the Grizzly Peak drainage. In some respects, the river segment from the dam to Ash Camp can be considered a “low flow” section. You can fish right around the campground, or cross the foot bridge which is just above camp, and follow the long trail downstream. From the trail there are a number of access points. The trail extends to Ah Di Nah, several miles downstream.
There are two other areas open to the public along the lower river. The first of these is the popular Ah Di Nah campground, and the other is the Nature Conservancy McCloud River Preserve. To reach these areas, take a well marked dirt road that T’s into the road around the lake about midway between the head of the lake and the dam. The road is bumpy and dusty, but you will soon come to the well marked campground where you can park. The Ah Di Nah stretch has special regulations for wild trout (single barbless hook).
To get to the Conservancy water, simply bypass the Ah Di Nah campground and go to the end of the road. Park there and take the trail for 1/3 mile into the preserve, where you’ll have to sign in. The preserve is limited to 10 anglers at a time, with barbless catch and release regulations. You can reserve one of five spots daily by calling the preserve office ahead of time. For information: http://catalog.co.siskiyou.ca.us/community/10000221aa.html
The river below Ah Di Nah and the Conservancy section is private and closed to public. From there to Shasta Lake the land is owned by the McCloud River and Bollibokka clubs.
McCloud River Hatches
May generally produces mayfly, midge and stonefly hatches. June is best for dry fly action, especially in the late afternoon when the mayfly and stonefly hatches peak. Later in June caddis are abundant. By mid-July the mayfly hatches are late in the evenings, with heavy midge and caddis activity.
Nymph fishing is usually more productive than dry flies. For those who like to swing flies, there is some streamer fishing in August and September. You have a chance of a jolt from a large Brown Trout or Rainbow using this method. Fall marks the beginning of the October Caddis time, although larval imitations such as Bill’s Stick Caddis will work during the entire season. Blue winged olives also hatch during this time. Late in the season large stimulators will work for the adult October Caddis, but before then the larva and emerger should be used.