When Can I Fish the Merced River?

The Merced River flows 10 miles through the Yosemite Valley. It’s very popular during the summer for various water sports, including fishing. But, most of this activity occurs along its upper 4-mile stretch from Happy Isles to Sentinel Beach Picnic Area. Nevertheless, fishing in the Merced River is a great family activity when visiting the Yosemite National Park.

Now, you might be asking when you can fish the Merced River. The best time to fish the Merced River is from the last Saturday of April to November 15. You can also visit the river after the runoff, which occurs in June or early July. With this, you can plot your trip on these dates, so you get the best catch.

If you’re planning to fish the Merced River, this article is for you. We’ll also talk about more details below, including the fishing regulations in the Merced River. So, if you want to know more, continue reading!

What Kind of Fish Are in the Merced River?

The Merced River is populated with different species of fish. The River is full of wild rainbow and brown trout, all with many aquatic insects to choose from. Additionally, there are also various species of bass, including the Largemouth and Spotted bass. Anglers can also get a hold of channel catfish.

If you want to catch native fish, you can also find them in the lower reaches of the Merced River. Native fish include the Sacramento pikeminnow, California roach, hardhead, and the riffle sculpin. You can also catch Sacramento suckers and rainbow trout on the part of the Merced River near the Yosemite Valley.

Merced River Fishing Tips

Now, if you’re up to the fishing endeavors in the Merced River, here are some tips and tricks that you can use.

Bring the right equipment

For any great fishing trip, you must be armed with the right supplies and a keen eye. Gathering your gear can take time, but don’t let go of them when it’s ready for that big fish.

When you know the water is becoming this deep and murky, don’t use a 5x or 6x tippet. These will easily break in these types of conditions, and you don’t want that. You want something with 1X-3X strength for when things are even more difficult.

Don’t forget your safety gear

Merced River begins in the park and winds down through many different areas. Usually, fishing spots can be dangerous for anglers at high water or during normal flows. If you want to fish safely on these parts of the river, ensure that you have safety gear. It includes wading boots, a life jacket, and a rod holder (a long pole). 

Find the right location

Fish visibility in the Merced River is usually cut by 66%, so using a small tippet is the least of your worries.

Now, trout can be difficult to catch when you’re fishing the river because they don’t like a lot of movement. They often stay tucked into slower sections near rocks, trees, and boulders or at the bottom of pools. This is because it’s easier for them to remain hidden from predators.

Cast your fly out there but wait until fish get close enough before reeling them in. Just make sure not to jerk too hard on the line, as this may scare off some fish.

Use the right bait

When a big fish is on the line, fishing spots and you’ve set up your rig, get your fly to drift effortlessly in front of its nose. You can use large flies that resemble turd flies with lots of silt, such as squirmy worms. Our favorite size for this kind of fishing would be ten black stonefly imitations tied just below colored beads.

Where Can You Fish on the Merced River?

Before we dive into the fishing hotspots on the Merced River, let’s first talk about how you can get there. To explore Merced River, take a drive to its Valley and find three highways leading in from all directions. The 120 from Sonora, 140 running down Merced and Mariposa’s back roads, then 41 cruising through Fresno.

The Tioga Pass is usually open in time for Memorial Day weekend, providing access from the eastern side of Sierra. The Yosemite Area Regional Transportation System (YARTS) also runs buses from Merced to Yosemite Valley.

Fishing Hotspots on Merced River

Like many rivers in California, the Merced River also has tons of hotspots where you can catch different fish species. Anglers usually go to the River during the early fishing season, which comes before the peak of the winter’s end. Aside from this, fishing in the autumn can also be productive for fishing.

Now, let’s talk about the fishing hotspots in the Merced River. Generally, fish around the length of the Valley are often shy and skittish. They feed at night and usually hide under logs and overhanging banks during the day. 

El Capitan Meadow

El Capitan Meadow is a great place to park and fish the Merced River. Its proximity to El Capitan Bridge makes it easy for you to decide which side of the river would be best. You can also switch sides if you want to. The north of this riverside has many little trails with abundant paths, which are much more frequent than on the south side. So, don’t get too far from roadways when exploring here because they will become scarce.

South Fork of the Merced River

These tributary streams on Merced River’s south side cut ravines, creating undulating terrain with no park trails. Because of this, trout are likely to hide in the logs that have slid into the river. These fallen trees create a sanctuary for trout who need safety from predators. These also protect trout when they’re young and still learning how to swim against currents of water.

Other Fishing Spots Near Merced River

If the spots above aren’t enough for you, there are other fishing spots that you can find near Merced River. Here are some of our recommendations.

Tenaya Creek

Tenaya Creek is a tributary that feeds the Merced River and dumps it right by North Pines Campground. It often goes overlooked when fishing because anglers focus on bigger waters like the Merced. However, don’t underestimate Tenaya just because it’s smaller than others. This creek should be in your must-fish list of places!

Crane Creek

Crane Creek is a great spot for anglers with limited access to the rivers in Yosemite. Its location provides an excellent opportunity to fish during low-elevation months. This makes Crane Creek important, especially if you don’t have many options where else you can go.

Lower Ottoway Lake

Situated on the northern side of Yosemite National Park, this tranquil lake views Mount Clark. If you’re seeking adventurous exploration in an isolated corner away from the main attractions and crowds, visit Lower Ottoway! You’ll also find many fishing opportunities on your journey, so don’t hesitate to throw a line along the path.

Is the Merced River Catch and Release Only?

When it comes to the Merced River, the two segments have different regulations. The first segment is from Yosemite National Park’s boundary at Arch Rock Entrance near El Portal (4 miles east). It goes up to Foresta Bridge, where the fishing season opens year-round with only artificial lures for catching fish.

In this segment of the River, rainbow trout are on a catch & release program. On the other hand, brown trout limits are 5-10 per day if you want them caught. Aside from these, there are also other fishing regulations in the River, which we’ll talk about later.

Other Activities to Enjoy

If fishing isn’t right for you, you can always do other activities near the Merced River. It’s a great place for a day hike in the winter or summer. Picnicking and swimming are available year-round. Overnight camping isn’t allowed during winter because of the high elevations at Briceburg.

The main fork of Merced River offers many summertime activities like fishing, swimming, or rafting. With low elevation, you can enjoy this area anytime.

Whitewater Rafting

Whitewater rafting expeditions are the perfect way to explore Merced Canyon if you don’t mind a few thrills. You can also bring your inflatable raft and float down sections of the river, then paddle back up.


Out of all the campsites in this area, Overnight Camping at Dirt Flat is one you should visit. It’s located on the north side of Forest Creek and has three secluded areas for camping sites with beautiful views. There are also plenty more great spots nearby if your group can’t get enough time together.

What Are the Regulations for Fishing on the Merced River?

These regulations apply to the Merced River from Happy Isles to the park boundary near Yosemite View Lodge. It also applies to all of South Fork, which stems right below Triple Divide Peak.

These rules are important because they cover every section of the river within Yosemite National Park, including both sides running alongside. No matter where you’re coming from or what time, these restrictions will be enforced by our law enforcement rangers.

  • To avoid harming the fish, artificial lures or flies with barbless hooks are used.
  • The fishing season is open from the last Saturday in April to November 15.
  • Bag and possession limits:
    • Rainbow trout are on a catch and release program (zero bags and possession limit).
    • Brown and brook trout have no daily bag or possession limit. There’s also no minimum size regulation.
    • You must keep brown and brook trout from release.

Final Thoughts

Fishing in Merced River is a very popular attraction for anglers of all levels. For people who want to relax, the Merced River is a place to be. Just remember the tips, regulations, and hotspots we’ve provided above!

If you’re ready to visit Merced River, plan your trip and pack your fishing gear!

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