The Elbow Creek stretch of the Mokelumne is a microcosm of the Sierra Nevada trout streams. It is a roadless stretch of water that gets very little fishing pressure and it offers the angler tumbling brook trout water, meandering meadow stretches with wary browns, and willow lined runs with feisty rainbows. You can use your nymphs and wooly worms for the brookie water, your classic dry patterns on the rainbow runs, and splash noisy hopper flies in the grassy meadows.
If you are camping in the area and can arrange a shuttle from your parked vehicle at the end point back down to the starting point, then you can save yourself a lot of walking. In either event, park your truck at the Bloomfield Meadow Campground (Latitude 38.576, longitude 119.848, elevation 7,800 feet) on the Highland Lake road. Then if you can arrange a ride, drive back up the unpaved Highland Lake road about 2 miles to the paved road that is Highway 4 over Ebbets Pass. Take Highway 4 back Westbound about 2 more miles to Elbow Creek, (Latitude 38.553, longitude119.849, elevation 7,920 feet) where you then exit your ferry vehicle and thank your driver profusely. He has just saved you from a four mile walk at the end of the day when you are exhausted from catching fish all day.
By using the shuttle component, the Elbow Creek stretch is a comfortable all-day excursion. Bring a lunch, and take a break in a pristine alpine meadow and then continue to fish up to your parked car for the ride home. From your jump-off point at Elbow Creek on Highway 4, you’ll want to gradually walk downhill in a westerly direction. There is no trail, but, just work your way downstream for about three-fourths of a mile below the junction of the little Elbow Creek and the North Fork of the Mokelumne (Latitude 38.545, longitude 119.852, elevation 7,520 feet). Don’t be deceived into fishing Elbow Creek. It is a seasonal creek that dries up each fall and fishing it is an exercise in futility. I usually start with a two fly rig consisting of a black wooly worm on the hand fly and a yellow wooly worm as the dropper about 18 inches above.
Your first half mile of water is laden with colorful brookies that usually run between 8 inches and 12 inches in length. As the brookies begin to thin out, your next mile or so evolves into wild Rainbows in a typical boulder studded stretch of tumbling stream. The rainbows will be plentiful and unsophisticated and mostly in the 9- to 12-inch range. Next, as you progress upstream, the stream begins to flatten out into a broad alpine meadow. As the stream winds back and fourth across the meadow, you’ll have undercut banks overhung with grass trailing in the water. There are fallen snags that harbor hungry browns waiting to ambush an unsuspecting fingerling. Slap a hopper fly down near the grassy undercuts or the sunken snags and hang on. Here’s where you just might break one off.
At the upper end of the meadows the stream becomes a cascade of big deep pools connected by racing white water, the pools hold some dandy rainbows that can range up to 16 inches or so. A small streamer like a meddler is often engulfed by a hungry rainbow. As you work your way up the stream from cascade to pool and then the next cascade to the next pool, eventually you’ll begin to run into other anglers who have fished downstream from Bloomfield Meadows. About half the time, this is where I pack up my rod and just walk along the stream past the campers to my truck. If you want to continue fishing to your truck, here’s where you’ll find the hatchery trout planted at the road access points.
The Elbow Creek stretch is a pleasant day’s outing that will provide you with varied fishing conditions, several species of trout, beautiful scenery, & relative solitude. If you look carefully on the walk in, you should spot numerous examples of rose quartz. If you’re really paying attention to where you’re walking, you might find chips or obsidian or even a complete arrowhead left by our Native American predecessors. As you wade the creek, or on our lunch break, check the stream bottom rocks for petrified wood along with the quartz. I usually come back to the truck with at least one fist sized chunk of petrified wood. By the time you get to the truck you should be pleasantly tired, and thoroughly hooked on the Elbow Creek stretch.