Your gateway to the best fly fishing that California has to offer                                                                                                             
photo by Greg Vinci

gets near the Pacific crest it flattens out and skirts Tuolumne Meadow, crossing the tributaries that feed the main fork of the Tuolumne River.   The headwaters of the Tuolumne River is fed by springs, and several creeks with the largest being the Dana Fork and the Lyle Fork.  The Lyle Fork gets some of its water from glaciers on the slope of 13,000 ft Mt. Lyle which is the highest peak in the park.  Both forks are easily accessible as they either run along or pass under the highway.  The forks run generally parallel separated by a low ridge and can be accessed and fished in one outing.  If you park at the parking area along Tuolumne Meadows Lodge Road and walk south, you will cross both the Dana Fork and the Lyle Fork in less than a miles walk.  The Dana Fork is more of a freestone waterway with a steeper gradient than the Lyle Fork which is larger and consists of a series of deep pools and flat water sections among granite boulders.   The Dana Fork produces the most fish,

but the Lyle Fork is known for some big Browns that cruise its deep pools.  The Lyle Fork’s pools are enticing to swimmers so once you arrive, getting away from people is imperative, if you want to catch anything. The fish you will find here, are mostly 8-11 inch Browns, Rainbows and Brookies.  Rainbow’s and Brook Trout predominate in the lower section but as you fish further upstream on the Lyle Fork, you find more and more Brown Trout.  After traveling a couple of miles upstream from the bridge where the John Muir Trail bridge crosses the river, you arrive in the territory where some truly trophy Brown Trout up to 24” are said to live.  Fishing can be fabulous in the spring (post run off) and early summer.  In wet years, water conditions stay good into August, but in dry years water gets thin enough that the fish concentrate into small pools and get real spooky.  In these kind of conditions, early morning and evening fishing are the times that you will be the most successful.  In the early part of the season, fishing can be great all day long but keep in mind that the water temperatures will be cold early on so mid day on will usually provide the most success.  The Lyle Fork and Dana Fork merge into the main fork of the Tuolumne near the visitor center and then course through the meadow paralleled by the Pacific Crest Trail.  For a good day hike, follow the trail from the visitor center along the river and fish your way to to Glen Aulin High Sierra Camp where you can camp overnight and then hike back the next morning.   

To survive at this high elevation the fish need to be very opportunistic as far as their feeding preferences are concerned.  Summer only lasts for a couple of months so when food presents itself their main instinct is to eat as much of anything as they can.  This means that you can present almost any type of fly to them and you will have a chance of getting their attention.  That doesn’t mean that the fish are stupid, it just means that you have less chance of picking the wrong fly in any given situation.  Where on other waters the fish will get into a pattern of only feeding on a particular life stage of a bug (we’ve all had the experience of watching trout refusing to take a surface fly, when they are zoned in on eating nymphs) in the high country Yosemite streams, the fish will continually switch back an forth between nymphs and floating adults.  It is important to keep in mind that the pattern you select is approximately the same size and hue as the naturals you see along the stream.  These fish love terrestrials so ants, beetles and small hopper patterns work when all else fails.  All of the generic patterns work.  A great pattern that crosses over from an ants to mayflies is a size #16 Royal Wulf or a Royal Trude in that same size.  Another great crossover pattern is a #16 Renegade.  Early in the season Blue Wing Olive patterns such as a #18 olive Parachute take fish though I personally prefer a more generic Parachute Adams as the gray hue is never wrong and to the fish it makes the fly acceptable no matter what color the actual hatching bug is.  When fishing the larger pools such as you will find on the Lyle Fork, the fish can get picky so spring creek tactics need to be applied.  There you may find that you do best with cripple imitations like Ralph Cutter’s EC Caddis, Randal Kaufman’s Timberline Emerger or Quigly Cripple style patterns.  If fishing during high water during the early season, you can swing black, olive or brown Wooly Buggers into the seams of runs and get fish. 

The correct tackle for Yosemite high country depends on the time of the year.  Early season water is high, cold and fast.  Nymph rigs should provide the capability to get the fly down quickly in roily water.  The Dana Fork for example is relatively narrow with lots of large granite boulders causing the early season water to just blast through the canyon.  Here “pocket water” rigs with heavy weight and relatively short leaders are going to work best.  A floating line with a seven foot leader (either tapered or straight) and a tippet section tapering to 5X will be adequate.  I generally prefer a tapered leader for nymphing in case I decide to switch to drys.  On the relatively narrow Dana Fork, you can use high sticking or Czech nymphing techniques but on the Lyle Fork, I find that a strike indicator, such as a Micro-Ball Indicator,  that can be rigged with a 90 degree dropper will help you detect strikes when fishing holding areas that are some distance away.  Later in the season when the water gets low, the trout concentrate in deep pools between the boulders on both the Lyle and Dana Forks.  Fishing dry flies brings more success at this time and on the larger pools of the Lyle Fork you will be fishing longer leaders and maybe a little finer tippet, though you should never have to go below 6X.  This is a time when you will want to use spring creek techniques, though the difficulty will be a lot less.

Yosemite high country fly fishing is a place where you can dust off your two and three weight rods, at least for dry fly fishing later in the season.  The trout are small yet aggressive and an eight inch Brookie on a two weight can be as exciting to catch as a fourteen inch fish on a five weight.  Generally though, I’ve found that a four weight is about perfect for most situations no matter what time of the year.  As mentioned earlier a floating line is more than adequate for both nymphing and dry fly fishing.