Middle Fork Stanislaus River


Middle Fork Stanislaus River (Sand Bar Flat below Beardsley)

The Middle Fork of the Stanislaus River forms in the Emigrant Wilderness and flows down the west slope of the Sierra Nevada. The upper portion of the Middle Fork parallels Highway 108 for several miles from Kennedy Meadow to its confluence with the Clark Fork. It flows in a southwest direction below the Clark Fork Confluence, but decouples from Highway 108.

A typical brown trout above Sand Bar Flat section.

As the river departs from 108, access requires a bit more effort. Near the town of Strawberry, the Middle Fork can be reached by driving down to Beardsley Lake (take Road 52 from Strawberry to the Beardsley Afterbay).

A Trail Runs Through It

A popular trail follows the Middle Fork Stanislaus River between Beardsley Afterbay and Sand Bar Flat Campground, covering a distance over four miles and drops down about 600 ft. The river corridor here is about 3000 ft. in elevation. The trail runs through mixed forest, patches of open meadow, and riparian vegetation including poison oak. Access from the trail to the river can require scrambling over large boulders and picking your way through the brush, so be prepared. What you lose in ease of bank access, you gain in ability to sight fish. As the trail runs above most of the water, it provides an excellent scouting platform.

Long, slow pools stretch out upstream from the Sand Bar Flat Diversion Dam.

This stretch of the Middle Fork Stanislaus is an exceptional trout fishery managed as a Wild Trout Stream by the Department of Fish and Game. The dominant species in this water is brown trout. I've heard numerous reports of large browns (e.g., greater than 3 pounds) being hooked in this section. In my experience, the typical brown encountered runs between 10 to 14 inches. That said, the food-rich environment and deep pools with submerged structure leave no doubt in my mind that large adult browns lurk here.

Wild Brown trout can be brought to the fly in the Middle Stanislaus.

The tail-outs and punge pools can be productive when flows drop below 500 cfs. For the larger, slower water upstream of Sand Bar Flat, covering any water from the bank will be difficult. Definitely consider bring a float-tube or pontoon boat to work those big, slow pools.