Fly Fishing in Paradise, Part Three

Figure 9 - Merced thru ForestGuest Blogger: Michael Vorhis, Fly Fisher & Author, FreeFlight Publishing

We’ve discussed what happened to Yosemite’s “sister valley,” Hetch Hetchy, less than a century ago, and how today no one even mourns that irreversible and immeasurable loss. So many voting Californians were born in other parts of the world and some still may not “get” our New World priorities of crowdlessness, individual freedom to roam and pristine wilderness in which to do it…and many more did originate here but are too far removed from our rural “fiercely independent” roots to feel the difference; they consider shivering too dear a price to pay for seeing nature sans manicure, and they tweet instead of explore, valuing cell service far above unspoiled terrain. When the question arises as to what valleys and streams to dam up next, how do you think they’ll vote? When asked to go easy on wild places–stick soda cans in pockets and protect the lives of little things like fish and plants–how much inconvenience will they accept?

Figure 10 - Merced Amid MeadowsTo keep this wilderness from disappearing while we watch, we must think it through very carefully. It’s either that or lose what we can never re-create…or perhaps be banned from visiting it entirely (yes, there are also over reactive, short-sighted groups who want to close the Valley to everyone, to save it from its owners, not grasping that that would also create generations of people who have never tasted and who thus cannot care). Of those three options, I’d much rather go a little light on my touch–vote down mass transit “pipes,” walk lightly, leave no trace, crimp barbs down and release wild fish to hit another fly on another day. Not so tough to see that this is the easiest of the various prices to pay. (Sorry…waxed philosophical there for a minute…forgive me, choir, I know you sing all the same songs.)

Okay, a few nuts and bolts of basic protection of the Valley’s fishable streams: To understand the fishing laws for the Merced, you’ve gotta have a map in hand. As I currently understand it (2015), above the “Happy Isles” bridge (near Curry Village in the Valley), normal Mariposa County high mountain stream laws apply–which means you can use barbed hooks but you can’t wet one until late April. From that bridge down to the park boundary (the gorge gets steep and wild down there, with huge granite blocks littering a loud, raging torrent…serious business, that), barbs are never legal, nor is keeping a catch. Below the park boundary it becomes a barbed world again, and they say there are big browns in deep pools, and a few of them end up on a plate. Of course there are a lot of other rules too, so grab the latest California fishing regs and prepare to do some head-scratching until it starts to make sense. Again, use that map.

Figure 11 - Vernal_RainbowUnfortunately we’re right now in the midst of the worst drought in living memory. There’s zero snow pack left and it’s only May. Water temperatures up high will rise sharply as stream and lake levels drop, and it’s very hard on the trout–the last thing they’ll need then is more predation. In water warmer than 68 degrees Fahrenheit, they get sluggish and weak, and responsible guides won’t even take your money, as fish released in those conditions will still die. Some experts will bring you instead to highly productive outside-the-park smallmouth bass water (a species that’s thriving in the warmer water temperatures the drought has brought).

But until about August this year (and maybe later if a little snowfall magically arrives), Yosemite still has untold sport for fishermen who land, handle and release trout properly. As conditions warm throughout the summer, the savvy focus will shift from the Valley to the higher streams and lakes…if indeed it hasn’t shifted already.

Figure 12 - Merced Above AhwahneeAlthough (as everywhere) fish can be finicky on the Merced at times–they don’t tend to come easily to the net…long leaders, light tippets, accurate and refined casting to snags & undercuts, and knowing what the insect world is doing can be requisites–one doesn’t always have to possess obscure tribal knowledge. Visitors who can put a fly where it needs to be can sometimes have the exotic stream day of their lives. The mountain sports store in Yosemite Village was a nice fly shop for years, but sadly you’ll only find T-shirts, mugs, hats and bear-faced key chains there now.

There are, however, a few well regarded local guides in the region: Yosemite Outfitters (David Gregory at 559/877-3909, Rick Mazaira at 559/760-5730; www.yosemite-outfitters.com), and Tim Hutchins (209/379-2746; www.yosemiteflyfishing.net), are true data banks of information, friendliness and advice; their websites alone are superb first stops for research prior to a possible trip there. And other websites like www.davessierrafishing.com, https://stevenojai.tripod.com, www.ecoangler.com, www.yosemitesierraflyfishing.com, https://highsierrafly.blogspot.com and probably others can be terrific additional sources of info.

Note from J. Stockard: Where to fish and best trout flies are discussed in Part 4 of this article.

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