Magic of Yosemite


Active Member
Work is work… … and play is play …. … But occasionally they meet in the middle. I had a trip to Lathrop CA scheduled on business so I had posted on numerous fly fishing boards asking for suggestions of places to go fishing in the area. As usual I was amazed at the number and quality of the responses from our fishing communities. But typical of my Davis’ luck, my late May trip had timed just perfectly with the heavy spring runoff time period meaning all streams were expected to be blown out and fishing very poorly if at all. Yet strangely enough I found myself walking off the plane in CA with 2 bamboo rods in hand anyway.

Business successfully completed, I bounced out to my rental car excited at the chance to explore someplace I had never been before, Yosemite National Park. My group of experts that had been advising me on the large number of potential fishing options for this section of northern California had all been unanimous… … if you have never been to Yosemite, do yourself a favor and go even of the fishing wont be that strong … … the scenery will be worth the trip. Well the drive over was nice and I managed to not get lost along the way which is always a plus. As I entered the park I was impressed but not blown away. The view was nice but not off the charts … … ….

Then around a corner came the next view, which showed a lot more promise and made me perk uup even more than a chance to go fishing

When I hit the valley floor I was stunned by the beauty that surrounded me. There is always a lot of hype from people about the beauty of the various national parks, but this was so far past the hype I couldn’t quite believe my eyes. Yosemite for those of you that have never been, is right up there with the Yellowstone and the Grand Canyon in terms of sheer unsurpassed “oh my God” beauty. And trust me when you see the magic of these vistas they do make you say “OH MY GOD” … and you actually mean that as a complement to God for the perfection of this Yosemite Valley.

Something in the last picture stirred something deep within me. The water may have been unbelievably high but it was clear and cold and I knew that some of those shadows gliding on the rock strewn bottom were trout just waiting for me, which caused a strange twitching in my casting arm meaning it was time to go fishing. As I drove along the Merced I searched each section of water trying to find some flatter pocket water that was close enough to the banks where I might at least have a chance to reach it in these torrents gushing out of the upper valleys. My driving got erratic with me studying the water so intently, but everyone was so nice they all flashed me a unique “your number 1” sign … … so I decided to pull off and go fishing. I quickly strung my Homer Jennings 8 ft 2/2 5 wt tied on a dry dropper combination and headed to the water. The stream was gorgeous and crystal clear but obviously higher than normal as it was running into the willows on the bank and right up next to the trunks of large majestic trees.

I stepped into the icy snow melt water and realized that the water was so clear that the depth was deceptive as what I thought was waist high was really mid chest high and had a stronger kick than cheap tequila. I quickly struggled back to ankle deep water where I could at least stand to cast and began fishing. After about 45 minutes of fishing I still had even rolled a fish over and was beginning to question my skills when I somehow lured a small rainbow to strike. Of course I bungled the hook set but any activity at all makes you feel better and fish harder, and soon enough I landed a pretty little 8 incher and felt elated. I stopped and took a look at my surroundings and had another of those “oh my god” moments. Despite the still strong late afternoon sunshine, there was an almost full moon rising over Bridal Veil Falls. It created a fantastic mix of soft and softer light and was a surreal background to the beautiful river in the foreground. This type scene is nothing new to the professional photographers who constantly roam Yosemite with camera’s that cost more than my car … … but to this Arkansas redneck boy it was a pretty amazing picture and I did the best I could with my $100 camera.

I finally pulled my eyes off the scenery and fished hard for the last hour or so of daylight that I had left. I was able to find and catch fish out of any pocket water that wasn’t just blown out by the speed of the current and many of those were in the weeds that had once been in stream islands or rock bars … … but I will take fish where I can get them regardless of if it used to be dry land recently or not. I would cast and barley be able to keep my eyes on the fly for looking around me at the beauty of the scenery. Quite a problem to have I must admit. I didn’t catch many fish, four to be exact, but to be honest I really couldn’t have cared less as I thoroughly enjoyed my time on the water. So much so that I was shocked to realize that the sun had fully left the valley and it was almost full on dark. I took one more picture of my moon and the falls just to burn one last shot into my brain.

I clipped off my fly stowed my rod and drove out of the valley to find dinner, a beer, a cigar and a bed … happy in my first day in the Yosemite Valley.

The next day dawned overcast and cool... … which suited my plans perfectly as a shadowy internet informant had told me of a backcountry stream which he felt would still be fishable even in this high water so I was gearing up for a day hike into a backcountry stream… and a sightseeing trip to the glacier point area of the park. The drive from the hotel to the valley floor was intoxicating but it was nothing compared to the drive toward Glacier Point.

But once I reached Glacier Point my senses went into overload as I went to the next level of beauty. I had been enchanted with the sunshine beauty of valley floor yesterday but the cloudy cold windswept Glacier Point was even more amazing in its brooding mysterious beauty. This is one of those rare moments when I don’t think I can adequately paint a word picture of the scenery below me … … so I will let my $100 camera speak for itself.

It is hard to believe that anyplace can be so pretty that standing in one place by one little tree that you can see and take two pictures with such beauty and the only difference is 90 degrees of angle. As pretty as it was I took one last picture and pulled myself away for the only thing that would make me leave this view ……. fishing awaits.

As I pulled into the parking area for the trailhead where I was supposed to start my hike, I marveled at the amazing cooperation and willingness to help by our strange network of fly fishermen on the internet. I had had 20 or so email discussion and at least two people who had taken the time to personally call me and discuss my options. That in and of itself is amazing but one of these great souls had actually given me directions to a little backcountry stream where he thought I could get some scenery and some fishing … … even in high water. With those thoughts echoing in my head I hopped out of the rental car scooped up rod, boots, waders and vest and started down the trail. The scenery was pretty with the snow line hiding under drifting cloud banks in the distance off through the trees.

But beauty wasn’t strong enough to hold me, when 2 to 3 miles down the trail at the bottom of the ridge, trout awaited. My spirit and mind were dancing in the joy of exploring new water and hopefully catching some fish. As always when hiking to a new stream and along a new trail, the hike seems to drag while you worry if you are going in the right direction, wondering if this is really gonna be a good stream or was some internet stranger playing a cruel joke on you. And as always, about the time I really begin to believe that I have taken the wrong turn and am headed in the wrong direction, that magical sound of rushing water wafts gently into my ears. My blood pressure drops and my pace instinctively picks up as I rush headlong the rest of the way down the hill to the first view of the little stream I am planning on fishing for the day. And this stream didn’t let me down. It was definitely “over bank” full but also crystal clear and fishy looking.

Well that was all it took and I was skinning into my waders cinching my boots tight. I smiled as I slid the beautiful blonde Jennings out … a truly stunning rod that looked so fishably sweet, it looked like it could cast nothing but leader. I reached into my vest for the reel and felt nothing … my heart stopped and my stomach lurched…………… must be in the back zipper pocket…….. what nothing there either. I tore everything out of my vest … … … still nothing. What the hell, how could I forget my reel… wait a minute don’t answer that, I don’t think I want to hear it… so I stood there and cussed my lack of brain power for a minute or two and tried to think of options. Option 1 was to hike 2 to 3 miles back uphill to the car and grab the reel then hike 2 to 3 miles back down hill, fish and hike 2 to 3 miles back up hill again to the car for the second time … … not likely this 48 year old fat guy is gonna do that. So I just sat down for a minute still cussing my stupidity and my thought about the Jennings came echoing back into my brain … just cast the leader … just cast the leader. Well back into my vest I went and sure enough I did have a few 5x leaders in there. So I tied the small end of a 9 ft 5x leader to the rod tip and used the handshake look to attach another 9 ft 5x leader the normal way. I tied on a yellow stimulator and a green caddis pupa dropper. Took a couple practice casts and hit the water. The fish were clearly visible in the pool actively feeding on top of that. The cast was clumsy at best but sure enough I was able to lob a fly about 13 or 14 feet ahead of me which was plenty for this little stream and sure enough after a three or four foot drift a small fish darted over and attacked the fly … … but unfortunately as I didn’t have any line at the reel end of the rod I couldn’t strip in any line so I had too much slack and missed the strike, d**n stupidity of not bringing a reel. I instinctively flipped the fly out again and sure enough got another strike, this time I was still tight enough to the fly to make the hook up. Well that brought up another “why didn’t I think of that” moment … … if I don’t have any line in hand near the reel how do I get the fish closer than the 18 foot of leader that is tied to the tip of the 8ft rod … … … well fortunately when there is a will there is a way and soon enough I had the pretty little wild rainbow in hand.

I laughed out loud when I thought of using a high end bamboo rod that Mr. Jennings had spent many many weeks making for me … … with a string tied to the end like a true cane pole of the mythology of my southern upbringing … and laughed even harder when I realized that it had actually worked. So by the time I had released the little trout and dried my fly I realized that I had to tie the end of yet another 9ft leader to the slide band of the reel seat bringing my total amount of leader in this crazy cobbled together rig to 27 feet plus 14 inches of dropper length. Bet not many of you have fished a 27 foot leader rig anytime in the recent past. But his time the set up worked perfectly as not only could I cast and control my line (or should I say leader) but I could actually pull the willing little feisty gems to hand. And in support of Mr. Jennings’s rods I can clearly tell you it casts a really long leader with grace. So as luck would have it another fishing day was saved from my own stupidity and I spent the next hours enjoying the beauty of the stream and of the wild fish and marveling at how fast the little stream had managed to make it back from an obviously recent forest fire.

It ended up being a wonderful afternoon of fishing even if it was one of the weirdest I have ever experienced … but any day you get to fish is wonderful … … and any day you catch fish is even better … … and a day fishing and catching in this fantastic scenery is the best of all.

Thank ya’ll for the advice and help with the area … … I will be back.

Great report! The great lure of Yosemite is that there are several areas, the valley floor being the one most people see and think of. Tuolumne Meadows is East and North of that:
8000 ft lower elevation to 10000ft by road, 13000 + for the hardy souls. It's a jewel.
Nice photos. BTW, there are some pigs in the valley floor section of the Merced River you fished. Can see them from the bridge where everyone stops to see Yosemite Falls.
Glad you enjoyed it. April and early May, September, October and November are great months there (on the floor) and way less crowded.

Jim Wallace

Smells like low tide.
LOL! Good thinking with the two-leader solution for saving your day on that little creek!
Thanks for the great report and pics.

Dan Cuomo

Active Member
Beautiful, beautiful pics, and a great report. Thanks for sharing your gear misstep and the graceful - and effective - way in which you dealt w/ what might have turned others around. Your report has placed Yosemite squarely on my to-do list. Awesome is a word that I believe has been overused to the point of near meaninglessness. Your pics, however, make a good case for its appropriate application. Awesome.

Bob Jones

Still truckless now farther away
My comments maybe abit late but Isn't'it wonderful. I realy learned to fish near Tioga Pass when I was about 10. we .climbed into the Gaylor lakes. for several years. The sophmore year in college started with a summer spent working in Yosemite. JUst fantastically great to be alive then. Would you beleave 50 years to the week my son and I rode horse back into the John muir wildernesss for a week of wonder. some pics in the gallery from that trip. Wow


Active Member
This is one of the best reports I've read on this site - totally worthy of being in a magazine article. Thanks so much for sharing!

I've done the "D'OH!" a couple times myself - but I've found, like yourself, that the mcgyver process of working around what i've forgotten can be a lot of fun.
An amazing report of a fantastic trip, your descriptions and pictures took me on your adventure :D Thanks for sharing, I look forward to reading more of your reports !