Photo of Merced River, Yosemite National Park, CA

Merced River Fishing

Yosemite National Park

Photo of Merced River in Yosemite National Park, CA

The Merced River meanders 10 miles through the Valley in Yosemite National Park, making it a popular attraction during the summer for fishing, rafting, and wading; but most of the activity is concentrated along the upper 4 miles from Happy Isles to Sentinel Beach Picnic Area. The lower 6 miles receives much less attention and many parts of it, hidden from view from the roads, are unknown to most tourists.

The Merced River is populated with rainbow and brown trout which are difficult to catch. Fishing Yosemite along the valley portion of the Merced River can be productive for skilled anglers early in the season before the peak of the snow melt and then again later in the season, especially in the autumn when the crowds have fallen off. Merced River fish along the length of the valley are shy and skittish, feeding mostly at night and taking cover under logs and overhanging banks during the day.

Fishing the Merced River in the early spring or in the fall can be enjoyable as long as you don't have expectations of a big catch. In the summer, with rafters cruising down the river, I would only fish in the early morning or evening. Special fishing regulations (see below) cover the Merced River from Happy Isles to the Foresta Bridge, which is downriver in El Portal.

Making Your Way along the Merced River

In My Creel

  • #16 Red Quill
  • #14 Zug Bug nymph
  • #14 Parachute Pheasant Tail
  • 1/3 oz. Daredevle Skeeter
  • Rooster Tail
  • Luhr Jensen tiger Tail

For Fishing Yosemite on the Merced River I took along some nymphs and flies, unsure what conditions I would find. (All with barbless hooks.) I also packed along my spin casing outfit with some barbless hook lures to try my luck in some of the deeper pools and across wide sections of the river.

To begin your Fishing Yosemite adventure on the Merced River, drive to Yosemite Valley inside Yosemite National Park. Three highways lead into the park from the west, Highway 120 from the Sonora area; Highway 140 from Merced and Mariposa; and Highway 41 from the Fresno area. A rockslide has forced the creation of two one-lane bridges on Highway 140 which could delay your trip during busy times.

Photo of Merced River in Yosemite National Park, CA

The Tioga Pass road is usually open about Memorial Day weekend, providing access to the park from the eastern side of the Sierra. The Yosemite Area Regional Transportation System (YARTS) runs buses from Merced to Yosemite Valley and in the summer up through Tuolumne Meadows and over Tioga Pass to Mammoth.

El Capitan Meadow

El Capitan Meadow makes a good place to park and begin fishing the Merced River. Because you are close to the El Capitan bridge, you can choose which side of the river you want to fish first and then later easily switch across to the opposite side. The north side of the Merced River is generally easier to explore on foot with many little trails and side paths along the water. As soon as you get very far from turnouts along the road, though, these paths become more infrequent.

The South Side of the Merced River

On the south side of the Merced River tributary streams have cut ravines, creating undulating terrain. No park trails follow close to the river and the road is generally out of sight of the river here. There are numerous places along the river where logs have fallen into the water, creating refuges where trout are likely to hide.

Photo of Yosemite Falls and the  Merced River in Yosemite National Park, CA

Getting into the Gorge

At the lower end of the park, beginning at the Highway 120 turnoff, the river begins to descend into a narrower, and much rockier canyon. There are several places along this section of the Merced River above the Arch Rock Entrance station where you can find safe access to some excellent fishing. However, most of this portion of the river is difficult to approach and can be extremely dangerous during in high water. There are too many safe places to fish to make taking risks on treacherous terrain worthwhile.

Fishing Yosemite: Merced River Special Regulations

On the Merced River from Happy Isles to the Foresta Bridge in El Portal it is catch and release for all rainbow trout. For other trout the limit is 5 per day. Only barbless flies or barbless artificial lures may be used on this section of the Merced River. Bait fishing is prohibited. In Yosemite National Park no live or dead minnows or other bait fish, amphibians, non-preserved fish eggs, or roe may be used or possessed. Fishing from bridges and docks is prohibited.

Accommodations and Supplies

Lodging is available, of course, in Yosemite Valley at Yosemite Lodge, Camp Curry and the Ahwahnee Hotel. Make reservations early. Another option is the Wawona Hotel, located 4 miles from the park's southern entrance. You can save money by staying outside the park in nearby El Portal where there are several large motels or outside the park on either Highways 41 or 120.

Photo of Merced River in Yosemite National Park, CA

Campgrounds abound in Yosemite, but finding an empty campsite is difficult during peak season. About half of Yosemite National Park's campgrounds are on a reservation system. Reservations for them are essential from April through September. The first-come, first-serve campgrounds usually fill up by noon during busy times. The only non-reservation campground in the valley is Camp 4, which fills up by 9 am in the summer.

In Yosemite National Park, you are only allowed to camp in the campgrounds. You may not sleep in your vehicle outside a designated campsite. For backpackers with a wilderness permit there is a Backpackers' Campground where you may spend one night prior to your leaving on your hike the next day. More campgrounds are found outside the valley along the Tioga Pass Road (Highway 120) and up at Tuolumne Meadows.

Find information about camping in Yosemite at Yosemite National Park Campground Reservations

California's Best Camping logo

To find the very best campgrounds in the area and all across California, visit California's Best Camping.

On your way to Fishing Yosemite on the Merced River you can pick up fishing supplies at

Recommended Books for Fishing the Merced River and Yosemite

Photo of Merced River in Yosemite National Park, CA

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