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photo by Greg Vinci


has been written over the years about the great Steelhead, Striper and Salmon fishing on the lower reaches of the American River below Folsom Dam but neglected are the headwaters section that is comprised of approximately 150 miles of waterway upstream from the dam. The upper forks get little attention partly because fly fishermen tend to be lazy.  What I mean is, few fly fishermen these days are willing to hike down into canyons in 95 degree heat, dodging Rattle Snakes and stepping around Poison Oak.  Some of the younger fly fishermen have no fear of such things and definitely do make the effort which rewards them with some excellent fishing.  One older fly fisherman who has no fear or Rattlers and Poison Oak is Bill Carnazzo whoís guided this area for the past seventeen years.  Where most guides concentrate only on easily accessed waters with trophy sized trout, Bill offers trips to the upper American Watershed that provide plenty of fish, itís just that you sometimes have to invest a considerable amount of physical effort to get to them.   For your efforts you will fish waters that have rarely seen a fly fisherman.

The upper American River watershed consists of three forks: the North Fork, Middle Fork and South Fork.  Of the three, the South Fork allows the best access as it parallels US Hwy 50 between Sacramento, CA and Lake Tahoe.  Here there are many turnouts where you can park your vehicle and scamper down the embankment to fish the river below.  In the section upstream from the community of Kyburz, the river runs through a deep gorge which is relatively inaccessible.   The California Department of Fish & Game plants several sections along Hwy 50, usually at the bridges or campgrounds along the way.  The water gets low and warm as you get into August, so the best fishing is in the Spring, Fall & Winter.  Of the three forks, the middle fork and the south fork have the most reliable flows and some of the best fishing The middle fork, runs through a deep canyon and though it can only be easily accessed in a few spots with a little walking you can get to some excellent fishing.  The upper reaches of the middle fork are accessed either from the dam at French Meadows Reservoir or from the inlet to the reservoir.  The road parallels the middle fork above the lake

  The fish species that are primarily found in the Americanís upper three forks are Rainbow Trout and the Small Mouth Bass which live in the lower sections closer to Folsom Lake.  Bill Carnazzo theorizes that many of the wild Rainbows in the middle fork above French Meadows Reservior (which doesnít get planted heavily)  are remnants of Steelhead that became land locked when the dam was built as they spawn in the fall and winter.  The south fork definitely gets planted on a regular basis at several locations. 

Bill says that the basic six fly patterns are all you need to fish the three forks.  If your fly box holds an Adams Parachute (or tied tan for PMDs), Elk Hair Caddis, Parachute Ant for dries and a Pheasant Tail, Caddis Pupa, and a Stonefly for nymphs you will be in good shape. 

There is a lot more to the American River than the famous lower section so if you live in the area and are sitting around wondering where you can go fly fishing, remember that the three forks of upper American has some great fishing.  For those who want to do it the easy way, fish the south fork that runs along Hwy 50.  
For those who donít mind a more rugged experience, the middle fork and north fork can offer a true wilderness experience