100 Best: McCloud River
Location: Northcentral California
Type of stream: Freestone above the dam, tailwater below
Angling methods: Fly, spin, bait
Species: Rainbows and browns
Season: Late April to mid-Nov.
Supporting Services: Dunsmuir, Redding
Short take: Home waters of the ‘bows we all know and love
Handicapped Access: Yes
Closest TU Chapter: Sac Sierra (Sacramento)
This river is home to the strain of rainbows most of us catch in the East. From the dam on the river down the southern reach of the McCloud River Preserve owned by the Nature Conservancy, you can fish the native range of the legendary rainbows that attracted the likes of publisher William Randolph Hearst and other magnates to the river. Though the dam diverts a significant flow of the McCloud into the Pit River to the east, it also evens out flows and settles silt from more than 30 miles of headwater run-off. The tailwater releases enter a fairly narrow valley. Emerald in its deepest pools, pocket water and swift runs characterize the river all the way down to Lake Shasta.
The lower McCloud is known for its significant stonefly hatches. Beginning in late May as run-off diminishes, large salmon flies start to come off. When summers are exceptionally warm as ours are tending to be, rock flour in melt water from glaciers on Mount Shasta will discolor the river. Don’t be overly put off by this; the fish aren’t. Switch to darker nymphs. Fall brings an astounding hatch of October caddis and as the season enters its last few weeks before closing on November 15, leviathan browns run up the river to spawn.
The 30 miles of river above McCloud Reservoir is classic freestone water. Much of the river is shadowed by the McCloud Loop Road and Highway 89 generally runs along its course. The loop road brings you to Cattle Camp, where 8- to 14-inch rainbows are stocked offering some of the best public fishing on the upper river.