In addition, the South Fork Canyon has some absolutely beautiful wildflowers that should be approaching their peak brilliance just about now.
As a further bonus, the South Fork is well known as a great place for panning gold. I have personally seen gold nuggets as big as my fingertip in the bottom of a gold pan on the South Fork. What more could you ask for?
Trout, gold, beautiful wildflowers and Feisty bronze colored Smallmouth all in a single trip!
The most popular stretch of the South Fork Merced is the lowest section, from Savages Trading Post at the confluence with the Main Merced along the highway leading into Yosemite Valley, and then upstream along a foot trail that follows the East Bank all the way to Hite’s Cove.
This section is covered with an amazing array of wildflowers in spring, so bring your camera. Fishing is fair to good, and gets better as you work further upstream to Hite’s Cove—which was a huge mine complex, complete with massive stamp mills to crush the gold bearing ore.
A gold pan from the back pocket of your fishing vest might just produce a nugget or two to spice up your day! Be extremely careful about treading on someone’s mining claim however, it could get you shot. (REALLY.)
The stretch from Hite’s cove to Devil’s Gulch is fairly level, but great fishing for both trout and Smallmouth bass. I recommend a dropper fly rig with a light colored fly on top and a black wooly Worm as the bottom (or hand) fly.
It is very possible to hook two fish on the same cast while casting in the large pools of this stretch. You might even hook a trout on one fly and a Smallmouth on the other. Although I am a lifelong trout angler, the smashing strike of a Smallmouth or Bronzeback bass is likely to make you convert to bass fishing!
The smashing strike of a Bronzeback feels like the rod is going to be torn from your hand. If you have heart trouble, be sure to bring your nitroglycerine! You might need it.
The stretch from Devils Gulch to Peach Tree Bar includes a crossing of the river on the tram car suspended from a sturdy steel cable.
You have to pull yourself hand over hand to cross the river, but be careful not to fall out of the tram car. I did that once and knocked myself out for a half hour or so.
Peach Tree Bar was a small mining camp of a few hundred souls or less and is only reachable by the foot trail. All of the wooden buildings are collapsed and crumbling back into the earth, but there are all kinds of iron artifacts left by the miners lying in the area. It would probably be nirvana for someone with a metal detector.
On the hillside above PeachTree Bar there are extensive bedrock mortars left by the original Native American inhabitants. If you search really hard you might just find a pestle or two resting in a mortar hole as though someone 200 years ago had taken a lunch break and never returned.
All in all, the South Fork Merced is an outdoor fanatics dream. It’s got it all: great fishing, beautiful wildflowers and gold panning. You have to do some serious hiking to get there but, you’ll never forget it.
Until next time!
Don Moyer began writing his outdoor column, Tight Lines, at the Tracy Press in 1979. Don’s first book Tight Lines, Observations of an Outdoor Philosopher is on the Amazon.com best seller list.