Fishing the San Joaquin River

Oct 15, 2020

If you ask local fishing guide Nathan Wray about his favorite place to fish, you’d expect him to have a hard time choosing. But for Nathan the choice is pretty easy. It’s the San Joaquin River.

“My absolute favorite is the San Joaquin,” he said. “You drive down that windy road and when you get out of the car you have one of those aahhh moments. That place, there’s just nothing like it.”

One of the only freestone rivers in the region, the San Joaquin runs along Minaret Road, as it winds its way behind Mammoth Mountain to scenic Reds Meadow.

The river is rather small and shallow, but its pocket water and undercut banks are popular with fly fishers and home to the “Sierra Grand Slam” rainbow, brown and brook trout, as well as some hybrid golden-rainbows.

“They may not be the biggest fish, but the fishing is always good,” Nathan said.

There are a handful of riverfront campgrounds and access spots along Minaret Road as well as two small, but fishable lakes, Sotcher and Starkweather. The road is managed by the U.S. Forest Service and includes daily fees and limits for vehicles. A shuttle runs throughout the season, packed full of inspired folks headed for horseback rides out of Reds Meadow Pack Station or planning to take the easy hike to see Devils Postpile National Monument.  

Established in 1911, the Devils Postpile National Monument preserves one of the world’s finest examples of columnar basalt. Created by ancient lava flow, the 60-foot columns are exceptionally uniform, making them some of the rarest rocks on earth.

The National Monument also includes Rainbow Falls. Just over a mile downriver from Devils Postpile, the river drops more than 100 feet and the misty falls are famous for flashing rainbows. The river is a bit larger below the falls and offers lots of fishing options for those in search of rainbows of another sort.

Exploring new stretches of a small river that’s always changing is appealing for many anglers. Such people tend to enjoy the San Joaquin the most.

Fishing 101: The San Joaquin River is a classic Western freestone trout fishery. Its size, flow and fish are just a bit smaller than you’ll find elsewhere. The smaller size of the San Joaquin makes it easier to explore and a good challenge for anglers. The river is especially popular with fly fishers who enjoy hunting for trout in pocket water, holding by rocks and under brush. It’s also popular for those who like to cast for a variety of trout species. While any method used for catching trout can be productive at the San Joaquin, stealth is often the biggest key to success.

General Season rules and regulations apply from the last Saturday in April through November 15. Department of Fish and Wildlife regulations should be consulted for more details.