Go West Young Man

Newspaper man and politician Horace Greeley is credited with the quote, “Go West, young man, and grow up with the country.” Today it’s mostly remembered as simply “Go West, young man.” Well, while I’m not Horace Greely, and the popular concept of Manifest Destiny isn’t so popular any more, however go west is still good advice if you’re looking for some new waters to fish.

How often have you driven over Echo Summit on Highway 50 and as you passed Twin Bridges, looked off to your left, and thought to yourself, “I wonder if there’s fish in that stream?” That stream being the South Fork of the American River. Well, there are. Usually I’m on my way to someplace else and don’t have the time to stop and explore, although I will admit that I’ve pulled over a time or two to look at some of the pools to see if I could spot a rising fish or two.

Although the South Fork doesn’t get stocked very often, and when it does the bait fisherman out of Sacramento hit it hard, it still offers some opportunities for the fly angler.

The headwaters begin near Highway 50, just below Echo Summit and flows at a fairly level gradient for about four miles to Camp Sacramento where it drops about a thousand feet into the American River Canyon near Twin Bridges. This stretch of the river is more like a small stream with flows after runoff at or below 50cfs. Because of its altitude and the nature of the springs that feed the stream it does stay cooler than the lower river. This area holds mostly small rainbows and is primarily pocket water. There are plenty of spots to pull over to access the stream, but you need to keep in mind that there’s a lot of private property.

Below Twin Bridges, Pyramid Creek adds to the volume of water in the river and the fishing gets a bit better. From here to Strawberry Lodge the river tumbles around and over large boulders providing ample holding areas for the rainbows that inhabit this stretch of the South Fork.

The river levels out behind Strawberry and is close to the highway. There are several places to pull off and park to gain access before the highway climbs up making access difficult until you get to Kyburz.

Just below Kyburz, the Silver Fork joins the river and significantly increases the flow. Below where the Silver Fork merges you will find Alder Ridge Road which will give you access to Sand Flats and Digger Indian Springs campgrounds on the river. From here to Riverton the highway runs for about 17 miles alongside the river with many turnouts that provide access. Below Riverton, access is difficult. Also, as summer progresses, this stretch of the river begins to get too warm and the fish move upstream to above Kyburz.

Three streams of interest to the fly fisherman that feed the South Fork are the before mentioned Silver Fork, Lyons Creek, and the South Fork of Silver Creek.

Access to the Silver Fork is via Silver Fork Road just east of Kyburz. After about three miles the road begins to parallel the stream and there are campground and turnouts. The Silver Fork starts at Silver Lake on Highway 88 and because its flows are regulated it will be one of the earlier runoff free streams in our area, usually very fishable by mid May.

Access to Lyons Creek and the South Fork of Silver Creek is available from Wrights Lake Road about 5 miles before Kyburz. From 50 it’s about 5 miles to Lyons Creek and another mile and a half to the South Fork. Lyons creek holds mostly brook trout while the South Fork holds small browns. There are meadow sections below where the road crosses both creeks, but they’re mostly private so fish upstream.

If you take 88 to Pickett's Junction and go over Luther Pass to Meyers, you can be in Kyburz in less than an hour. So, Go West Young (and Old) man and enjoy a different place to fish.

Eldorado County Map

Article authored by Dan Sedergren (†2017), President Emeritus of the High Sierra Fly Casters. Lightly edited for website publication. (Original)

Additional Reading

South Fork American River and Silver Creek and Silver and Caples Lakes by Steve Schalla, Fly Fishing the Sierra