Two friends and I ventured down to the infamous McCloud River last weekend. My favorite stretch is the Ah-Di-Na area and down into the Nature Conservancy McCloud River Preserve. The rough dirt road into this stretch is not for vehicles lacking ground clearance or good traction.
We found a great campsite and immediately wet a fly. Within 10 minutes of being there, we ran into 6 snakes. All non-venomous but we knew their deadly friends were about. If you go, keep a keen eye out for rattlesnakes.
Fishing started off a bit slow but really improved as we got closer to the evening. The fish were weary of my dry fly presentations in the slower, slick water but fairly eager in the choppy pocket water. My go-to set up became a dry-dropper using a size 8 Normwood Special with a size 14 Dirty Bird (hare’s ear color).
The first evening I saw little yellow sallies, Pale Morning Duns, brown and light tan caddis, and the occasional Green Drake and Golden Stone. The fish were sporadically feeding on the surface but not sipping any mayflies. By the ferocity of their pattern, I think they were feeding on emerging caddis.
Intense rain set in sometime around midnight. By the morning, the rain had let up but the temperatures had dropped significantly from the day before. We started the day off nymph fishing using a 9-foot 5x leader, heavy split shot, size 8 stonefly nymph (small goldens worked the best) and a size 14 prince nymph. We high-stick’d the choppy pocket water and indicator fished the deeper pools. Fishing was a bit slow but we were able to find a few nice fish.
As the temperatures rose, I switched back to my dry-dropper set up and did really well. Most of the fish took the dropper but enough ate the dry. Fishing this set up in the pocket water is an absolute blast.
The next morning, we fished the Preserve. The fish were not actively feeding on the surface so we nymphed in the deep, fast pools. This is where I found the largest fish of the trip and almost everyone of them ate a size 14 Dirty Bird. The majority of the fish preferred a dead-drifted fly fished deep. A few fish also took the Dirty Bird as it just gained tension towards the end of the drift.
I fished the Winston Air 9 ft. 5 weight with an Airflo Elite line. This was the perfect tool for the job. Enough power to cast a heavy nymph rig but sensitive enough to present a dry in a small stream environment.
Lessons learned: The McCloud river is one of the most beautiful rivers in the world but be prepared for very tricky wading. I highly recommend the Simms Flyweight Wading boots armed with felt soles and studs. Don’t forget your wading staff and be prepared to return home with bumps and bruises!