There’s a joke shared by anglers and school kids alike:
How did the fisherman get rich?
Well, here in Mariposa County not only are puns a gill-ty pleasure but we have an abundance of fishing riches in the form of Lake McClure and Lake McSwain. If you’re wondering where to fish near Yosemite, you’ve come to the right place. Fishing in Mariposa County’s twin gems, Lake McClure & Lake McSwain, is just what you’ve been looking for.
One of many secret California fishing destinations, sun-soaked Lake McClure and its little brother Lake McSwain are nestled in the oak-studded Sierra foothills on the western edge of Mariposa County, both lakes are fed by Yosemite’s Wild and Scenic Merced River. With affordable, well-maintained facilities and three marinas, the lakes feature trophy-level fishing, family camping, water sports, house boating and even hang gliding. Located 2.5 hours from the Bay Area, 1.5 hours from Fresno and just one hour from Yosemite National Park, Lake McClure and Lake McSwain are the perfect weekend fishing getaways whether you’re trolling deep near the dam or flicking a Kastmaster from shore with your trusty ice chest by your side.
Remember to check with the Department of Fish and Wildlife regarding fishing licensure before your California fishing trip.
The foothills’ gem, Lake McClure.
Situated at an elevation of 867 feet, Lake McClure was originally completed in 1926 and named after Wilbur F. McClure, the Head Engineer of the State of California (fun fact: McClure was also responsible for constructing the popular John Muir Trail). The dam was rebuilt in 1967, and the amenities have been improving ever since. The horseshoe-shaped lake features 80 miles of shoreline with wide, deep sections as well as long inlets and secluded coves providing countless opportunities to drop your line.
When it comes to fresh water, you can hook just about everything when you go fishing on Lake McClure: rainbow, brown and brook trout; kokanee salmon; largemouth and spotted bass; crappie, bluegill, shad and catfish. The lake is regularly stocked and excellent for both topwater and deepwater approaches, by boat or from shore. Trolling near the dam is reliable, as is working your way west from Horseshoe Bend down to Barrett Cove, or east from the dam along Cotton Arm. Shore fishing is solid on Lake McClure’s many inlets such as Cotton Creek, Temperance Creek, Rancho del Oro Gulch and Piney Creek where deer, raccoon and the occasional fox might just pay a visit to the water’s edge.
(Canada Goose migrate through during spring, some staying to nest. Bald Eagles nest in winter and there are wild mules living along the shoreline that have inhabited the region for over a century.)
Lake McClure fishing features varied underwater geography and rocky points, making it solid for bass fishing year-round. The Merced River Arm — emanating from the high-country of Yosemite National Park — proves a popular spot, but the main body doesn’t disappoint. Record spotted bass of 9 lbs have been caught on Lake McClure, as well as 15 lb largemouth bass. In the summer of 2019, over 150,000 lbs of trout were stocked in Lake McClure including some whoppers weighing up to 18 lbs, while the average trophy-sized fish weighed in at 10 lbs and measured 24 inches long. Not a bad fishing report! To keep things sporting, six trout were specially tagged and whoever reels them in wins a $1,000 prize from Merced Irrigation District Parks & Recreation. Net profits, indeed!
When you’re finished with your day of Lake McClure fishing, you’ll need a place to hang your net and lean your pole. Lake McClure has four campgrounds — McClure Point, Barrett Cove, Horseshoe Bend and Bagby — each with its own personality and unique amenities including free hot showers. No matter which you choose, families (and pets!) are always welcome and the fishing is top-notch.
McClure Point Campground: with 100 camp & RV sites, McClure Point is located on the main body of the lake near Exchequer Dam with excellent water views. It has multiple boat ramps, day-use picnic tables and a protected swim area.
Make it a fishing trip with all of the great camping options around Lake McClure.
Barrett Cove Campground: with 249 camp & RV sites, Barrett Cove is located on Lake McClure’s western shore and boasts many shade trees. The largest of the campgrounds, it features multiple boat ramps, a protected swim/play area with attached pavilion, barbecue pits, Marina Cafe & Store and three rentable park cabins (390 square feet). Boat rentals are available (fishing, kayaks, houseboats, sport and wave runners) as well as access to the Exchequer Mountain Bike Park with trail names like Gnarnia and Dustsurfer.
Horseshoe Bend Campground: with 97 camp & RV sites, Horseshoe Bend is located on the north shore of Lake McClure and 4 miles west of the Gold Rush town of Coulterville. It has a boat ramp, lakefront picnic area with protected swimming lagoon and pavilion, as well as shore and river access.
Bagby Campground: with 31 camp & RV sites, Bagby is located just below the Wild & Scenic Merced River at the inlet of Lake McClure. It is a more remote, peaceful spot with an additional 10 primitive campsites and a boat ramp (if water levels are high enough). Just down the river from the campsites at Bagby sits a historic town submerged below the Merced’s rapids. When the Merced descends into a trickle, Bagby emerges as a testament to a bygone era. Watch the video below to learn more.
Located six miles below the Exchequer Dam, Lake McSwain is an after bay of Lake McClure which means that its water level is not affected by local conditions. Translation? Consistent fun in the sun whether it’s one of Lake McSwain’s yearly fishing tournaments, grabbing lunch at the Marina Cafe or teaching the kids how to kayak. The lake has a 10 mph speed limit which provides for placid waters and plenty of nibbles on the PowerBait.
Regularly stocked, Lake McSwain is known as a great California fishing destination for trout (rainbow, brown and brook) but salmon and bass can also be caught here. There is plenty of room to cast from shore in the camping area, from the fishing dock, or by hiking to your own secluded retreat. The lake’s 10 mph limit lends itself to trolling, a relaxing option without all the fuss of speed boats roaring by. Lake McSwain hosts a Trout Fishing Derby twice a year in April and October, with thousands of dollars in cash prizes and the opportunity to show off your fishing skills by hauling in one (or more!) of the tagged fish. Fun fact: the largest rainbow trout ever caught out of Lake McSwain was 17.5 lbs and 34 inches long, taking twenty minutes to haul in. Lake McSwain fishing doesn’t disappoint!
Camping, swimming, fishing and even a waterpark! There is so much to do on Lake McSwain.
After a day at the lake, you’ll need somewhere to cook the dinner you just caught! Enter Lake McSwain Camping & Recreation Area: with 111 camp & RV sites, Lake McSwain Campground is located just six miles south of the Exchequer Dam at Lake McClure and has every amenity for a wonderful weekend getaway. The campground features a Marina Cafe & Store, boat ramp, day use area including fishing dock, playground and picnic shelter, horseshoe pits and a designated swimming area. There are six park cabins for rent at Lake McSwain (390 square feet, two units ADA compliant) as well as an event pavilion with a deep pit barbecue. Perfect for groups or special events.
For more fun things to do in the Yosemite Mariposa County region, take a look at our list of 10 Fun Things to do.
Soaring with eagles high overhead, the non-profit Mother Lode Sky Riders Association promotes foot-launched flying out of its Lake McClure location. The site hosted a record 300 gliders on a single day (1986) and operates with permission from the Merced Irrigation District. If you’d like more information on when to witness this amazing wind-powered feat, check their website for upcoming events.
New amenities at Splash-n-Dash Aqua Park include an enhanced, shaded premier seating area, as well as group cabana seating, both available with lakeside service. In addition to Paddleboard and single Kayak rentals, exciting new activities include Pedal Boat and 2-Person Kayaks rentals. The café / marina store, “The Reel Deal Market & Café” will debut its new, expanded menu that will include tacos, cheesesteaks, French fries, and more. Guests will also be able to enjoy their favorite snacks and beverages, including beer and wine.
View from the summit at Exchequer Mountain Bike Park overlooking Lake McClure. Photo by Grant Parker
Not directly on the lake, but very nearby is the Exchequer Mountain Bike Park. Imagine 700 acres with 900 feet elevation gain on prime riding terrain dedicated exclusively to mountain biking. The Exchequer Mountain Bike Park welcomes riders of all ages and abilities to Central California to experience mountain biking trails by mountain bikers like you. Enjoy an easy trail for beginners or people interested in just getting out for a social cruise. Or get ready to rip on thrilling technical descents.
Exchequer overlooks the northwestern shore of Lake McClure and has great access from the cabins, camping, and facilities at Barrett Cove Recreation Area. That means you can take a spin on your mountain bike and then cool off by swimming or boating in the lake, right before another round of great California fishing.
Whether it’s rafting big water on the Merced River or climbing big walls like El Capitan, mountain biking down a gonzo fire road in the Sierra National Forest or skydiving from 14,000 feet as Half Dome stands guard in the distance, Yosemite Mariposa is a prime destination for all thrill levels and budgets.
One of California’s secret fishing destinations, sun-soaked Lake McClure and its little brother Lake McSwain are nestled in the oak-studded Sierra foothills on the western edge of Mariposa County.
If I had a dollar for every time I’ve heard someone say, “I want to go skydiving.” I bet I’d have a hundred dollars (probably more), and every time my reply would be short and certain, “Not me!” and I meant it. I couldn’t imagine having the courage to step out of a ‘perfectly good airplane’ and tumble to earth, with-or-without someone strapped very tightly to my back.