California is perhaps one of the most diverse states in the US. From sun-soaked beaches to snow-capped mountains, it has it all. But more importantly, it also has some fantastic trout fishing.
The trout fishing in California is just as diverse as the terrain. If you are a beginner wanting to try your hand, then there are plenty of gentle streams and creeks on which the fishing is easy. If you are an expert, then California can offer you some extreme challenges to keep you interested.
This article will explore some of the best trout fishing California has to offer.
What do I need to know before trout fishing in California?
Before we look at the best trout fishing in California, let’s touch on some of the subjects you should be aware of before making that trip.
Do I need a License or Permit to fish for trout in California?
You will need a fishing license to fish for trout in the state. The license you will require depends on factors like residency and age. Full details of which license and where to purchase can be found on the California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDGF) website.
Does California have a trout fishing season?
Trout fishing is available all year round in California. However, in the ‘off-season,’ this is on a catch and release basis only. The true trout season runs from the last Saturday in April until the 15th of November. So, if you want to keep some trout, then this is the time to come. How many fish you can keep is generally governed on a ‘by water’ basis, which you should make yourself aware of before setting out. California has an interactive map here.
What species of trout can I fish for in California?
There are several trout species to fish for California, including one of the most colorful of all trout, the California Golden Trout. Other species you can fish for include Bull, Brook, Rainbow, Brown, and Cutthroat trout.
On top of that, there are also Steelhead and Coastal Rainbow trout to aim for.
Where To Fish For Trout In California?
Now we get to the fun part, where actually to fish for trout in California. There is so much excellent trout fishing in the state that we can only begin to touch on some of the trout fishing highlights California has to offer.
Listed below are some of the greatest trout fishing California has to offer.
Lower Sacramento River
The Lower Sacramento River runs from Shasta Lake down to Keswick Dam, located about three miles north of Redding.
This is a river best suited for experienced anglers. It is a large tailwater stream with lots of smooth water areas interspersed with riffles and deep pools. The smooth areas are challenging due to the clarity of the water. This allows the trout to see you and your presentation as clear as day. This river needs a stealthy approach and accurate and delicate casting.
For trout fishing, the upper stretches of this water are more productive, as further downstream, the water is warmer and less hospitable for trout. The best trout area is the 16 mile stretch of river that runs between Anderson down to Redding, then a further 30-mile stretch towards Red Bluff. There
Open to fishing all year round, this is an excellent river for catching Rainbow trout up to trophy size! As well as the rainbows, there is also the chance of hooking a Steelhead.
There is plenty of access to the river with six boat launch areas along the length of the river, and as Highway 5 runs parallel to the river for much of its length, these are themselves easily accessible.
The river varies in water level depending on weather and dam run-offs, making finding the optimum spot to fish tricky. If you want to make the best of your trip to the Lower Sacramento River, there are plenty of local guides specializing in trout fishing.
As the name suggests, this creek is located in volcano country and is partially fed by water from geothermal springs. It also receives water from glacier runoff. It is this unique mix that gives the water alkalinity that allows insect life to flourish. And, of course, this, in turn, makes it a paradise for trout and trout anglers.
Located in the Inyo National Forest, the creek runs from the Hot Creek State Fish Hatchery until it joins the Owen River not far upstream from Crowley Lake. Along the way, it flows through Hot Creek Gorge. This part of the river should be treated with caution. Springs around this area have been known to Geyser. Sections of the Gorge have subsequently been closed to the public since 2006.
If this creek seems familiar, it is a bit of a film star, having been used as a location in such films as True Grit and North to Alaska. However, the fish are the real stars in this river, although they can be rather shy despite their numbers!
The CDGF has estimated that this creek has a population of around 8 to 10 thousand trout per mile. This population is mainly due to the amount of insect life this river can support, and although the trout are plentiful, this abundance of insect life can make them tricky to catch.
Spring is regarded as the optimum time to fish the creek, which is open all year round, although any time of the year can still provide plenty of sport. However, in summer, it can get busy.
For access, many of the best spots are accessed through Hot Creek Ranch, which charges for access; there is free access to the creek at the lower end of the ranch, but this can get crowded.
As an angler, you may not have heard the name Oncorhynchus Mykiss mentioned much, it certainly doesn’t trip off the tongue, but I can guarantee that if you are a trout angler, you owe more than you’d imagine to this strain of rainbow trout. This species has stocked many of the world’s great Rainbow trout Fisheries, from New Zealand, Chile, Argentina, and the United Kingdom. There is a good chance that this is the species you have fished for. The McCloud River is its natural habitat.
As well as being home to the most famous trout species in the world, the McCloud River is one of the most scenic in California. It rises southeast of Mount Shasta and flows for nearly eighty miles before joining the Pit River just east of the Pit River bridge.
Much of its length, the river runs through forested areas and is interspersed with large boulders, and frequently runs over waterfalls. Most notable is the McCloud River Falls, located east of McCloud. This series of falls is a picture of nature at its most beautiful.
This river is not for someone wanting to cast a quick line, access can be tricky, and much of the river runs through private land. There are also rattlesnakes, bears, and poison oak to contend with. But for those that make an effort, the rewards can be stunning.
It is best experienced with a guide to ensure you get the proper access and taken directly to the hotspots with a river like this. Jack trout runs a great fishing guide service on the McCloud River.
The McCloud river does operate a fishing season and is open for anglers from the last Saturday in April until the 30th of November. There is excellent fishing available all season, but the optimum time is from opening day through the start of June.
Pit River isn’t a river for the beginner or the faint-hearted, for that matter. But, for those willing to put in a bit of effort and approach the fishing with a cautious mindset, the rewards can be staggering, not just in terms of fishing either. This is another of California’s most stunningly beautiful places to fish.
Renowned for its trick access and even trickier wading conditions, the Pit River is full of sizable trout for those who are willing to make an effort. With deep and swift water, compounded by slippery banks and low visibility, if you are going to wade this river, then ultra-caution and a wading staff are essential.
For those that brave the river, the reward is a river full of hard-fighting rainbow trout that range from 12” up to 20” in extreme cases, fish of around the 16” mark are plentiful.
The river itself begins in several forks in Shasta, Modoc, and Lassen counties and runs for over two hundred miles before joining the Sacramento River. It is the longest river in California and the biggest tributary for the Sacramento River.
For trout fishing, the river’s upper reaches are where the best fishing is, from below Lake Britton down to the area known as Pit III is regarded as the best fishing area. This region also offers some of the easiest access to the river from an adjoining road, but even here, it can involve a hike through some rough terrain.
With a river as potentially hazardous as this, it would be well advised to engage the guide’s services to ensure you are right on the fish and safely too!
If you like to add the spice of a little adventure to your fishing, then this might just be the river to make your Californian Experience that little bit special.
I am getting tired of saying this, but if you like a piece of scenery with your fishing, then the Merced River is worth it just for that alone. Located in the Yosemite National Park, anglers can soak in the beauty of this area while fishing for some of the stunning Rainbow and Brown trout that populate the river in abundance. All-in-all a perfect day out for any angler.
The Merced River is a tributary of the San Joaquin River and runs for nearly 150 miles from Triple Peak Fork until its confluence with the San Joaquin River at Hills Ferry. The river is subject to some specific regulations, which you should be aware of before making your trip. From the Happy Isles stretch down to the El Portal, it is catch and release only for Rainbow trout. For other trout, the limit is 5 per day. Mostly these will be brown trout, but there is the occasional Brook trout to be had as well.
It should also be noted that on this stretch, the fishing must be by artificial lures on barbless hooks.
The fishing season on the Merced River runs from the last Saturday in April until the 15th of November. Due to high spring runoffs from the mountains, the river isn’t really at its best until early June. From June through to July it is great.
Being a lure only water, it is a bit of a paradise for the fly-angler. There are plenty of insect hatches, so if you plan a visit, stock up on supplies of pheasant tail nymphs, Olives (Blue-winged have great success), and Hare’s Ear Nymphs.
There are many spots along Highway 140 that run parallel for a large stretch for access, although it can still be quite tricky in places.
Still Water Trout Fishing In California
Many California rivers can be challenging to access and difficult to fish, although the rewards are fantastic for those that put the effort in. However, there is also some tremendous still water fishing in the state. It is great for those short on time or experience.
This lake had a checkered history before it emerged as a well-run Rainbow trout Fishery. The lake itself used to be overrun with Northern Pike, which had decimated the trout, salmon, and steelhead population. To correct this, the CDFG took a radical step and poisoned the lake with rotenone to kill the entire fish population. Whether you agree with this action or not, the result was a well-stocked rainbow trout fishery that has become one of the best trophy lakes in Northern California.
Situated in Plumas County, the lake is artificial water created when the Grizzly valley Dam was constructed. The 4,000-acre lake is now a pike-free fishery where the rainbow trout’s average size ranges from 3lbs to 6lbs.
Access is easy, and the Lake Davis Recreation Area is a great place to begin your journey.
If you are looking for some peace and quiet and a bit of respite from modern life, Lake Davis is ideal. Situated at an elevation of nearly 6,000 feet, the lake is an oasis of peace that is helped by having no mobile or internet coverage.
The lake fishes best either in the early Spring as the fish start to feed in earnest after the winter, then again in the fall when they begin to feed up for the winter ahead.
Another Lake situated in Plumas County, Lake Almanor, covers 24,000 acres and has over 50 miles of shoreline to fish from. This lake can still seem to be crowded at certain times of year is testimony to its popularity as a fishing location.
In part, this popularity is due to the massive hatches of a large yellow mayfly called Hexagenia Limbata or simply the Hex Hatch. These flies are over 1.5 inches long, and the trout thrive on them. If you want to take advantage of this hatch, then the optimum time to visit the lake is from the middle of June through to the middle of July. Be warned, though, the Hex hatch doesn’t just attract the trout. It also draws crowds of anglers from all over.
However, the lake is open all-year-round, and the fishing doesn’t stop when the hex hatch does. Fishing in the fall is also a great time to fish the lake as the fish feed up for the coming winter.
In Lake Almanor, there are brown and Rainbow trout populations, and there is also the chance of hooking a chinook salmon. The fish grow large on the abundance of insect life that inhabits the lake. Double-figure rainbows have been caught in the past.
Access to the lake is from two highways depending on which side you are aiming to fish. For the west shore, use Highway 36, and for the southern shore, you can use either Highway 70 or 89.
California offers some of the best trout fishing in the USA. From its wild rivers to its stocked and managed lakes, there is something for all anglers. The selection above is a mere fraction of what this great state has to offer.