The Ultimate Guide to Success On the McCloud River

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The Ultimate Guide to Success On the McCloud River

The Ultimate Guide to Success On the McCloud River_Trout Fishing
Jason Kaefer

The McCloud River in Northern California draws anglers from around the world to a display of natural beauty and premier trout fishing

Located off highway 89 and 25 miles east of Shasta, The McCloud River holds three beautiful waterfalls, deep pools and, right alongside, the McCloud River Trail, scaling down a canyon of basalt lava rock, connecting everything in a gorgeous tour of nature’s gift.  

The river passes along pockets of glassy tailouts and around boulders and calm surfaces with thick vegetation on either side, providing a haven for both anglers and trout alike. 

The upper McCloud is comprised of her three waterfalls and emerald pools (upper, middle, and lower) – all fishable with easy access. 

There’s More Than Just Fishing On the McCloud River

If you’re looking to pitch a tent, Fowler Campgrounds at the lower falls can be accessed on Fowler Public Camp Road off Highway 89, where my family and I usually spend our time. 

This territory holds not only a modern majestic beauty, but a historical significance – an added bonus! Fowler Camp was inhabited by the Wintu Native Americans centuries ago.  

Upon excavation in 1986, it was revealed that Native Americans came on a seasonal basis, using the territory as a base camp for hunting, fishing, and processing plant food. 

And it’s really no wonder why! The river historically has held a rich population of trout, and to this day provides anglers with a challenge among her glistening bends. 

McCloud River Rainbow Trout Fishing: Where to Find Them and How to Catch Them

The McCloud River Rainbow Trout, which has made a name for itself outside the States, is a prime target for seasonal anglers. These fish were once exported to fisheries around the world (including New Zealand and parts of Europe). Other species lower down the river include the Redside Rainbow and large German Browns. 

Trout are stocked regularly at the Lower Falls during the summer. It’s also your best option for catching fish, particularly right after a stock. 

Where to Find McCloud River Rainbow Trout

The McCloud is unique and varies from bend to bend. But the trout here behave like all others on rivers around the world. Look for slow moving seems and try drifting your rig down them on either sides of a quick moving run. 

Look for Boulders

Boulders provide protection for trout, and a place to ambush and rest from the current.

Drift your setup as close to structure as possible and manage your line by maintaining as straight a line as possible. In other words, don’t allow a large amount of line to bow across the surface and drift past your float.

In this event, as your bobber goes down, you’ll be reeling in an unnecessary amount of slack, giving that fish time to inhale your bait and spit it, and consequently losing a good hook set. 

Catching Trout in Eddies

Other great areas to search for and drift along are back eddies. Allowing your bait to swirl into one of these allows the fish time to study it while it swirls and flutters, also giving it a natural presentation.

Trout will hang close to these, so seek out the calmer seems alongside and give it a few drifts on either side before moving on. 

Small Water Action

Never underestimate a body of water – Never! Even where it seems impossible to hold fish. 

At the Lower Falls, just before the lip of the falls – maybe 80 ft before, there are undercut banks, small rocks and boulders, and vegetation overgrown and snaking into the water, thick ivy-like plants with aquatic flowers strewn about the opposite side.

The river narrows to about 5 ft wide with a lane width of perhaps two feet to cast into – This is prime fishing. 

It is here you need to focus your attention on those small corners and pockets where the bedrock meets outcropping rocks, where the bank sinks back into vegetation, and any area covered in shade.

Be focused and aware when casting – In small areas like this, you’re liable to get hung up somewhere, likely on your first cast.  

The Tackle You’ll Need to Catch McCloud River Rainbow Trout

Choosing the Right Set for McCloud River Rainbow Trout Fishing

When fishing upper McCloud ( The three falls and the runs in-between) I like to stick with spinning tackle and drift salmon eggs, worms, or a wet fly. Keep in mind, the stream feeding the upper falls is shallow and presents difficulty in finding those deep holes where trout lay.

Thill Center Sliding Bobber
Jason Kaefer

Going with a drifting set up – I like to commit to a Thill Center Sliding Bobber with a stop and bead to adjust the depth. This float provides high visibility when entering turbulent water and ultra light weight, allowing you to detect the softest bites. 

But any float will work in these conditions as much of the river is small. As a mainline, I typically use Suffix Braid – 10lb.

I prefer braid because: 

  • Braid floats
  • It allows for a better hook-set

Having your terminal tackle above the fish is crucial when presenting an egg or bead, and braid keeps everything on the service.

It also allows you to mend your line, making great arching motions upstream with your rod to keep your line from leading ahead and presenting an unnatural drift speed to the fish.  

For a leader, I commit to using no larger than 6 lb fluorocarbon when presenting to line-shy fish, especially in those calm, glassy tailouts where visibility and suspicion go hand in hand. 


Having a subtle presentation is key, and one mistake anglers make is using too large a hook. This is unfortunately a giveaway among native and pressured fish. Larger hooks will often blow your egg before reaching the water, too. 

I use small Gamakatsu single salmon egg hooks with a red color to match the bait. Some anglers prefer treble hooks for a better hook up rate – this is fine. 

Other anglers may say the presentation is off by using treble. Either way, experiment to find your preference. 


Pautzke Fire Ball eggs have become popular in recent years, and I still cant find a much better brand out there.

I carry three jars in my bag, in all different colors and scents, while fishing

any reputable trout stream. I’ll try the Pink Shrimp eggs first, then Yellow Jackets, then Gold Standard. As many anglers would agree, it’s wise to have a variety and key in on what they want that particular day. 

One issue I’ve experienced with the Pink Shrimp is durability. I’ve found that in slightly turbulent water, I tend to lose these eggs faster than the Gold Standard or Yellow Jackets. 

On the Fly

I wouldn’t claim to be an expert in the art of the fly, but I’m no stranger to drifting a wet fly when dealing with selective trout.

Zebra midges, leaches, and any combination of green, red, and black fly seem most effective on the McCloud. They can be fished either using a standard float or, if you’re attempting a dry fly, a bubble float for a little more incognito presentation.  


I’ve held a long belief that organic (or close to it)  bait should come before artificial lures. On any river, presenting a natural, flowing food source to a fish is easier and more effective.

But if you want to change in up, grab your Panther Martins and Rooster Tails and toss for some fun. 

I would suggest casting upstream and working it back toward you. Weary trout can see something off when a baitfish is hauling upstream (against the current) faster than they can.

I try to keep it natural and bring it down with the stream and, like drifting a bobber, try to pass by closely those areas of interest – structure and shade, etc. 

Rapala Minnow

If you’re new to the Rapala Minnow, or any variation of it, let me invite you to an exclusive club that you’ll never leave.

For fishing streams where I know the fish aren’t much bigger than pan fry, I use one lure – the Rapala original floating minnow, silver color. 

I’ve never had a lure that fits so perfectly to smaller fish. In fact, several years ago, I caught six species of fish back to back: crappie, bluegill, largemouth, smallmouth, squaw fish (a type of carp), and a rainbow trout. 

This lure is the center of success, mainly due to its size. But its action and ability to be retrieved differently is what sets it aside – much like any jerk bait. 

The McCloud is a perfect place to throw the Original Floating Minnow. Cast up into the seams as discussed earlier and do a straight retrieve back with the flow. 

If you don’t get any bites, try using it as you would a jerk bait with a twitch and pause, and as the current brings it back, the trout will have a distinct predator instinct to chase it down. 

Final Thoughts on Rainbow Trout Fishing Success On the McCloud River

The Ultimate Guide to Success On the McCloud River_Rainbow Trout Fishing
Jason Kaefer

The McCloud River calls to anglers from far and wide. I have fished it for decades and each year gets better.

You can take some of this advice or none, but I would urge you to seek out local anglers, fly shop owners, and others from the area, and deepen your knowledge about this beautiful territory and the fish inhabiting it.

You won’t be disappointed! 

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