Tuolumne River

Northwest Fly Fishing Magazine July 2018 Cover Look for my feature article on Fly Fishing the Grand Canyon of the Tuolumne River in the July/August 2018 issue of Northwest Fly Fishing



From Manteca

Manteca is located off of Highway 99 - between Stockon to the North and Modesto to the South. From Manteca take Highway 120 for 111 miles until you reach Tuolumne Meadows inside Yosemite National Park. Day use parking is available at various locations off Highway 120 in Tuolumne Meadows, and overnight camping is also available at the Tuolumne Meadows Campground.



Wilderness Permit

You’ll need to get a backcountry wilderness permit for your trip from the Park Service. 60% of the quota is available for advanced reservations, which can be made 24 weeks in advance of your trip. If you can’t get an advanced permit, 40% are put aside for walk-ups. They start issuing permits the day before starting at 11am at the Tuolumne Meadows Ranger station. Visit Yosemite's Backcountry Site for complete details on the permit process. And if you plan on a campfire, then you’ll need a fire permit.


Fly Fishing the Grand Canyon of the Tuolumne River

Have you ever wanted to push the boundaries of your fly fishing experience? The Grand Canyon of the Tuolumne River might be the place to consider. This section of the Tuolumne River flows through a remote and roadless area in Yosemite National Park. The geology here rivals Yosemite Valley and the river supports a healthy populations of wild brown and rainbow trout. That said, accessing this remote canyon won't come easy.

Backpacking to Pate Valley in Yosemite National Park California the Tuolumne River flows into Hetch Hetchy

The Grand Canyon of the Tuolumne (GCT) is a 33-mile one-way hike that follows the Tuolumne River from Tuolumne Meadows down to Pate Valley and then back up to White Wolf. It can be hiked going in either direction. Many opt to hike from the higher elevation in Tuolumne Meadows (8600 ft.) downhill through most of the canyon to Pate Valley (4400 ft). This route leaves a final hike of over ten miles and climbing some 4000 feet along steep, sun-drenched switchbacks to reach White Wolf. Rather than a final day of torture, consider the reverse trip that we chose. By starting at White Wolf early in the morning, you can descend down the switchbacks (Warning: difficult for sensitive knees) enjoying beautiful views down into Pate Valley. The return climb to elevation gets stretched over 15 plus miles over rolling terrain and ends with about five miles of relatively flat trail into Tuolumne Meadows.

Camping and Fishing along the Grand Canyon of the Tuolumne in Yosemite National Park California

If you choose to start the trip into the Grand Canyon of the Tuolumne River leaving from White Wolf Campground, Yosemite National Park and you are not planning to park a shuttle car at the take-out of this trip, then a “Hikers’ Bus” is available from Tuolumne Meadows and back to White Wolf. Visit Yosemite's Travel Service Site for details. Otherwise you'll need to have a shuttle car parked in the Tuolumne Meadows area.

Fly Fishing a pool below a cascade in the Grand Canyon of the Tuolumne River Yosemite

As a multiday backpack, you'll want to keep your fishing gear as simple and light as possible. A 7.5 to 9 ft., 3 or 4 weight fly-rod combined with at least a matching floating line is a must-have. If you want to fish streamers in the deep pools, then also pack a reel or spool with a fast sink-tip line. I would also pack at least two extra 7 to 9 ft. leaders in the 5X to 6X range along with tippet spools. Thankfully, the flies you'll need are light, so bring several of each! You'll want to bring the fly patterns I've listed here - Fly Patterns for the Upper Tuolumne River.

Rainbow trout are common when fishing the upper Tuolumne River in Yosemite National Park California

Backpacking to Access the Grand Canyon

If you are new to the backpacking game, take a look at the vast resources on the Internet to get up to speed on the gear you'll need from solid hiking shoes, to a warm and light-weight sleeping bag. I personally, read many of the articles by the folks at the REI Co-Op. An excellent place to start would be backpacking for beginners. And at the heart of any backpacking trip is the ability to cover ground with your legs. If you are new to hiking, or just want to read an excellent guide on it, then check out this well written guide to hiking. And finally, with today's new fabrics you can stay dry, warm, and comfortable on any backpacking trip. Picking the right fabric and understanding the various "layers" has gotten way more technical. To break down the complexity of outdoor clothing, a detailed and comprehensive guide to hiking is available here.

Backpacking along the trail over Muir Gorge inside the Grand Canyon of the Tuolumne in Yosemite National Park

Check flows above Hetch Hetchy Reservoir leading up to the date of your departure and right before leaving. Ideal flows for fishing this section of the Tuolumne would be under 400 cfs.

Beautiful waterfalls cascade down the Grand Canyon of the Tuolumne River in Yosemite California

Access to the Grand Canyon section starts after the Park Service opens Highway 120 through to Tuolumne Meadows in the late Spring. The official fishing season for Yosemite mirrors California’s trout season – last Saturday in April to November 15th.