Merced River (near El Portal)

Northwest Fly Fishing Magazine Cover Look for my feature article on the Merced River in the January/February 2008 issue of Northwest Fly Fishing


Salmon Hatchery on the Lower Merced River

Merced Falls manages a hatchery for chinook salmon.It's a concrete jungle if you are young, a chinook salmon and your parents dumped you just outside of Merced Falls.



From Sacramento From Sacramento, take Highway 99 South. It's roughly 113 miles until you reach the city of Merced. Once you reach Merced take the Highway 140 East exit. Follow 140 for about 64 miles until you reach the town of El Portal. Access to the Merced River will be apparent along Highway 140 once you have past the town of Midpines.


Fishing the Merced River Spring 2011

Sun rise on Wild and Scenic section on the Merced River

Homecoming on the Merced River - been a couple of years since my last visit to this stretch of water. It feels familiar. My favorite campsite empty with a blanket of fresh grasses. The site overlooks a great nymphing run. I rush to assemble my fly rod together and fish the last hour of the evening. Break off flies and decide to drink a beer. Tomorrow I'll wader up and get some juicy drifts.

Low clouds, sort of a dew fog, drag on the edge of the Merced Canyon. The sun clears them slow and true. Redbud stands out in spots above the river. I expected to see California poppies on the hillside with the morning light, but they not be ready with the amount of water still in the ground. Lots of rain this year and mudslides all along Highway 140 spilled out as proof.

Redbud in flower on Wild and Scenic section on the Merced River

I suspected my waders had a leak. A late fall day spend float tubing left me wondering about it, but that was months ago. Now wearing them into waist deep water proved it. S%$# this water is cold. My entire left leg down to my wool shock is now wet and cold. My mind moves on to the nymphing at hand. The end of a drift my line goes down and I set on a fish. The fish seems slow like a trout just out of bed.

Trout get cold just like my left leg. The fight is subdued but determined not to get netted. A dark, heavily spotted wild rainbow bearly fits the net. Long and lean from the winter, but that's going to change given the size of his head and jaws. He will get his fill of golden stonefly nymphs on this river.

Abundant Golden Stone Flies on the Merced River

He holds his eye fixed on me and doesn't move. I have to wonder now if that moment above water, this fish felt the warmth of the sun and air. His whole life as a big, wild bow maybe never above the water - ever. Did it compare to my leaky waders or something more enjoyable ( thinking about a lizard warming itself on a rock in the sun ). I asked him, and he continued to stare at me - remaining quiet on the topic. He swim back to the deep, soft slot leaving me wondering. Nice Rainbow trout caught and released on the Merced River

Merced River Canyon Wildflowers

I compiled additional photos from this year's trip into a slideshow below. It features the Merced Canyon in early spring (read - about half of the shots are of wildflowers that grow throughout the canyon this time of year).