A few days before we met our guide to fish the McCloud River, we decided to take a drive out to the stretch of the river we’d be fishing. As we drove along the McCloud Reservoir on narrower and narrower winding roads, with gallon jug size rocks that had fallen down the mountains onto the roads, we began to wonder when we’d get to the dam and then finally downstream to the river. At one point, we saw a sign pointing to Ah-Di-Na Campground (7 miles) and the McCloud River Preserve (8 miles) and decided to take it, having heard that some of the best fishing was there. About a mile into the drive, we decided the road was far too rough and scary and turned around, returning to the paved road that wound above the reservoir. Another several miles on the road finally brought us to the dam. We crossed the dam and headed down a gravel road, high above the McCloud River. As it wound further and further, we found several crossings of the Pacific Crest Trail. We decided to take the trail and it led us down to the river and to a foot bridge that crossed the river. As we’d been informed, the river was running high and fast, but we still had to “wet a line” even though we would not go with a guide until the next day. We caught nothing on that exploratory visit to the McCloud but were in awe of its beauty and majesty.
The next day we met our guide, Ernie Dennison, from The Fly Shop in Redding, CA, at 8am. We headed back to the same bridge, along the Pacific Crest Trail, we’d visited the day prior. This time, Barb hooked up with a small McCloud strain rainbow under the bridge. We stayed there and fished a bit more before checking out a few other possibilities, all of which were too dangerous to fish. As we learned from Ernie, normally the McCloud River flows at about 200 cfs (cubic feet per second); the highest he’d ever guided anyone on the river before was at around 700 cfs. On our river day, it was flowing up over 1000 cfs, which was the highest Ernie had ever attempted with clients. Safety was our biggest priority, and Ernie found spots that kept us safe, but allowed us to fish on the McCloud.
We decided to drive to the Ah-Di-Na Campground for lunch and off we went, down the same road that we’d decided was too treacherous the previous day. We figured, if Ernie was headed down, we were going right behind him, even though another angler we’d talked with, while recommending the fishing near Ah-Di-Na, also described it as “the road from hell”. Ernie later described it as the longest 8 miles of driving he’s ever encountered.
After about 25 minutes of bone rattling driving along “TRFH’, we made it to the campground, had lunch and hit the river near the campground. We both hooked into fish in this spot and had a great time. Next, we drove another mile to reach the trail to the McCloud River Preserve. The Preserve is another Nature Conservancy project similar to where we fished Silver Creek in Idaho. We hiked the Preserve trail for about 15 minutes before coming to a spot where the trail disappeared into the river, which again was raging downstream, so, we turned around and bid adieu to the McCloud.
We ended up heading over to the Upper Sacramento River since Ernie knew a spot he thought we might be able to fish. A couple of days prior, Matt Dahl had tried to get us on the Upper Sac, but it was too dangerous to even get close. While Ernie had found a couple of spots for us to test, the fishing just wasn’t great.
It was a gorgeous day, so we decided we’d sit down with Ernie along the Upper Sac and chat with him about the McCloud, and many of the other fisheries in the Redding area. Ernie has been guiding for The Fly Shop for nearly 30 years and really knows all of the waters nearby. We quizzed him on not just the McCloud, our focus for the day, but also all the other area streams. We know you’ll enjoy his take on fishing, life, beer, more fishing and having fun while learning on the water. Please click the video above to hear Ernie’s wisdom.