Merced River

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.

 

Directions

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.

 

The Merced River

The headwaters of the Merced River are located in Yosemite National Park in the backcountry above the popular valley floor. As watersheds go, the Merced is afforded some of the best wilderness protection in the county being inside a National Park. From Yosemite's high country, the Merced flows through the valley down a narrow canyon along the foothills in Mariposa County to it's confluence with the Lower San Joaquin River .

Wild and Scenic section on the Merced River

Wild and Scenic

In 1987, grassroots efforts led by the Merced Canyon Committee resulted in a large portion of the Merced (including the South Fork) just beyond the Yosemite Park boundary being added to the National Wild and Scenic Rivers System. The placement of the Merced in the National System shut and locked the door on proposed diversion/hydropower projects.

Flowing out of a protected watershed in Yosemite National Park, and further aided by its status as a Wild and Scenic River, the Merced River supports an abundant community of aquatic insects. Good numbers of stoneflies and caddisflies can be found along the rocks and boulders that are strew throughout the Merced's canyon.

Abundant Golden Stone Flies on the Merced River

Typical of watersheds in the Sierra Neveda, the Merced desents quickly once it flows out of the relatively flat Yosemite Valley. Near the western boundary of Yosemite National Park at the Arch Rock Entrance Station, the elevation drops some 1500 feet until the Merced meets with the South Fork around Savage's Trading Post. Expect stretches of fast moving water, but also don't be afraid to explore those sections where younger rainbow will tend to inhabitat especially in front of and behind large rock.

Trout Species

The Merced is primarily a rainbow trout fishery and is managed as such. The river in the El Portal Area is managed with special regulations to protect rainbow trout which often grow larger than 12 inches due to the favorable growing season and conditions in this section of the river.

Nice Rainbow trout caught and released on the Merced River

That said, the river holds a good number of brown trout. These browns can be found in some of the larger pools in the steeper ascent of the Merced Canyon as it approaches the Yosemite Park boundary.

Merced River Canyon Wildflowers

Wildflowers peak in the Spring along the Merced River As you approach Yosemite from the west along Highway 140 during the springtime, the grassy hillsides will be colored orange-gold. In good wildflower years, California Poppies are especially striking on the steep canyon slopes along the Merced River. (See the Additional Photos page for an illustrated example.) The California state flower is up to 2 inches across, consists of 4 petals and only flowers in sunlight.

Fishing Regulations

Note - please refer to the Map of Area for exact location of Yosemite National Park Boundary and Foresta Bridge.

Segment of Merced River Open Season Bag Limit
From the Happy Isles footbridge downstream to the western boundary of Yosemite National Park at El Portal Last Saturday in April through November 15. Only artificial lures with barbless hooks may be used. 0 rainbow trout. 5 brown trout. 10 brown trout in possession.
From the western boundary of Yosemite National Park at El Portal downstream to Foresta Bridge. All year. Only artificial lures with barbless hooks may be used. 0 rainbow trout. 5 brown trout. 10 brown trout in possession.
From Foresta Bridge downstream to Lake McClure. Last Saturday in April through November 15. Only artificial lures with barbless hooks may be used. 5 trout per day. 10 trout in possession.
From Foresta Bridge downstream to Lake McClure. November 16 through the Friday preceding the last Saturday in April. Only artificial lures with barbless hooks may be used. 2 trout.