6 World-Famous Fly Fishing Destinations in Northern California’s Shasta Cascade

Brought to you by Visit Redding

Photo by by Craig Nielson, Shasta Trout Guide Service

It’s been said that Redding is the mecca of fishing in California. Considering its location next to some of the world’s finest fisheries, that’s a safe assertion.

If you’re not familiar with Redding, it sits on the midpoint between Sacramento and the Oregon border along Interstate 5 and is known to have NorCal’s premier tributary, the Sacramento River, flowing right through it.

The wilderness areas surrounding Redding are what is known as the Shasta Cascade, which hosts a unique location on the valley floor below Mount Shasta, Lassen Peak and the Trinity Alps. These waters flowing into the valley provide a perfect scenario for fish to grow big and flourish in the area. There are plenty of fisheries near Redding, but six in particular are famous for their fishing opportunities.

Here are six world-famous fly fishing destinations in the Shasta-Cascade:

Sacramento River

Fly fishing the Upper Sac below Mossbrae Falls. Photo by by Craig Nielson, Shasta Trout Guide Service

The Sacramento River flows all the way from Mount Shasta down to the San Francisco Bay, with plenty of fishing opportunities along the way. But if you ask any experienced angler, the best places to fish this tributary is in or nearby Redding.

The Upper Sacramento River is much smaller and faster than the lower section below Shasta Dam. It begins below Lake Siskiyou and flows through the mountainous areas until it hits the Shasta Lake. The best places to fish this section are between Lake Siskiyou and Dunsmuir, an area that has become well-known for its productive October Caddis hatch, which will put the trout in a feeding frenzy.

Below Shasta Dam (and subsequent Keswick Dam) is the Lower Sacramento River, which is world-renown to fishermen as it swerves through downtown Redding. Just below the Sundial Bridge is what is known as Lunker Lane. That’s usually where you’ll find the biggest fish in the system.

Fishing the Lower Sacramento River in Redding is easy and productive. If you would like to learn more about fishing the Sacramento River, we recommend picking the brains of local guides, like the Kennedy Brothers or Chris King. Or you could stop into the Fly Shop in Redding for some tips.

Here’s our fishing trip with Chris King from the Fly Shop on the Sacramento River in Redding:

Trinity River

There are plenty of places to find big, beautiful rainbow trout in NorCal, but if you’re looking to get your hands on an elusive and feisty steelhead, the Trinity River is your best bet.

The Trinity River is a designated as Wild and Scenic, meaning its beauty and stability are protected by the federal government. It’s also one of the best steelhead fishing rivers on the West Coast.

Like salmon, steelhead possess the extraordinary ability to sense their native rivers from more than a thousand miles away in the open ocean. When it is time to spawn, they need no directions. Humans have tried and failed to understand this without success, and even the best GPS units cannot compare with a steelhead’s innate ability to find home. Every steelhead knows where home is.

The Trinity River runs from the Trinity Alps through a remote stretch of NorCal into the Klamath River, which is lauded for its salmon and steelhead runs. When the Trinity and Lewiston Dams were completed in the 1960s, steelhead populations were decimated on the Trinity as the fish could no longer return to their natural spawning grounds. With programs like the Trinity River Restoration Program, the fish were brought back into the area by the thousands, making the river a destination for fishermen worldwide.

The most popular areas to catch one of these beautiful steelhead on the Trinity River sit just about 30-45 minutes west of Redding on Highway 299. Most fish are seen upriver just below the Trinity River, which sits next to the Lewiston National Fish Hatchery. A lot of the steelhead are hatchery fish, but there are also some wild fish in that mix.

There are certainly sections where you can fish the waters by boat, but most fishermen take the low-maintenance approach of finding their fish on foot. There are plenty of spots to hop out of your car and fish from the shore, with the many productive spots coming off Highway 299 between Junction City and Del Loma. This approach will give you the nimbleness to move along when the fishing dries up in a particular spot.

Learn more about fishing for steelhead on the Trinity River.

McCloud River

Photo by Chip O’Brien

Before the building of Shasta Dam, the Wintu Tribe told legends of being able to walk across the McCloud River on the back of salmon as they rushed in flurries to their spawning habitat. Today, the dam halts the salmon run in its track, but that doesn’t stop the world-famous rainbow trout of the river to flourish today.

The Rainbow Trout of the McCloud River have often been called the “Rainbow of the World,” being exported all around the world including Japan, Australia, New Zealand, Scotland, Argentina, Chile, Peru and all over western Europe. What was once a fish localized to the McCloud River, now calls the world its home.

Most people know of the McCloud River for its waterfalls, but there’s plenty of fish to catch throughout the tributary. From a fishing perspective, the Mac is best described as two different rivers.

Above McCloud Reservoir the river is smaller, easier to wade and popular with families and folks who delight in the smell of fresh fish sizzling in pan. There are several popular campgrounds, three gorgeous waterfalls and an abundance of trout regularly stocked through the summer season and families doing all they can to connect with a few. The upper river is readily accessible from Hwy. 89 about six miles east of the sleepy little town of McCloud. There are stunning views of majestic Mount Shasta from this stretch of highway, and no one will blame you if you miss your turn because you’re gawking at the mountain.

Below McCloud Reservoir, the Mac is something else entirely and justifiably famous. It is bigger, deeper water than up above, but this is not what attracts a congregation of devoted followers, mainly fly fishers. Frequently described as the quintessential, wilderness trout stream, this water has been well known to anglers the world over for centuries. It’s difficult to imagine a more beautiful, pristine, wild place. 

Learn more about the world-famous fish of the McCloud River

Hat Creek

Photo by Chip O’Brien

Hat Creek, sitting right next to Lassen Volcanic National Park, is an iconic fishing stream named long ago in a hailstorm of profanity. In addition to its riffles, runs and pools, Hat has been made into a hodge-podge of dams, diversions, ditches and draws, all holding fish. The lowest three miles before it enters Lake Britton helped jump-start the California Wild Trout Program. Through the course of its almost forty-mile length, Hat Creek wears many different, ah, hats.

Upper Hat Creek is wildly popular with bait and lure fishermen who love the sizzle of fresh trout over a campfire. Upper Hat, along Highways 44 and 89, is liberally stocked one or more times a week during the fishing season, which starts the last Saturday of April and runs through November 15th. Anglers may keep up to five fish per day, with 10 in possession. Toward this upper end Hat runs through six public and one group campground where angling is a huge draw. The stream moves at a good pace in these upper reaches and there is ample deep holding water. This is family fishing at its best, and a lot of kids have become hooked on fishing for life after catching their first trout on Hat Creek.

After leaving these upper public campground areas, Hat meanders through a checkerboard of public and private lands along Hwy. 89. There are private ranches and campgrounds providing river access for a fee. As the stream arrives at the broader valley floor the gradient begins to flatten out and Hat becomes a classic meadow stream twisting and turning intermittently through open pastures and tall stands of trees.

Cassel is where Hat Creek begins its transition from principally a bait, lure and hatchery trout fishery, to its inevitable transformation into a wild trout stream with special angling regulations down below. In Cassel and down through the Cassel Campground and Forebay, bait, lure and fly anglers share the same water very amicably. There are so many fish in this section, both hatchery and wild, that everyone seems to have a great time.

The water below the Hat 2 Powerhouse is very special. To devoted fly anglers and wild trout advocates, it is even sacred. It used to be a lot like the water up above, full of hatchery fish and bait fishermen throughout the season. In the late 1960s a plan was hatched between Trout Unlimited, Pacific Gas and Electric and (then called) the California Department of Fish and Game. A small dam was built where the stream enters Lake Britton so rough fish could not migrate into it. Scientists used rotenone to poison all remaining fish below the Hat 2 Powerhouse. Wild Hat Creek rainbows and brown trout from the Trinity River drainage were stocked in that section, and then they just left it alone to see if the wild fish would get a foothold. Over the next decade the fly-fishing in those three miles of Hat became the stuff of legends. That success inspired the formation of the California Wild Trout Program and the conservation group California Trout.

Today we are left with not one, but three different Hat Creeks. Upper Hat is bait fishing Nirvana. Middle Hat, through Cassel and Baum Lake, is popular with everyone. Lower Hat is a cathedral to fly fishing and wild trout.

Learn more about fly fishing Hat Creek

Fall River

Fall River, sitting just a short drive from Burney, ranks among the longest spring creeks in North America. This river is unusual in that public access is limited and fishing it requires a boat with either a small gasoline or electric motor. The river is much too deep for wading and all of the banks are private property. The ecosystem is a virtual bug and fish factory, but the fish are far from naïve seeing as many flies as they do in a typical season.

Fishing season opens the last Saturday in April on Fall River and extends through November 15th. Bait is prohibited and anglers must use barbless hooks and either lures or flies. The vast majority of anglers catch and release, but it’s legal to harvest two trout per day with a maximum length of 14 inches per fish.

Most anglers access the river via the California Trout (CalTrout) boat launch ramp on Island Road. Unless you’re a guest at one of the several ranches along the river or working with a guide, it’s the only game in town that doesn’t come with a price tag. While privately owned like every other centimeter of Fall River shoreline, CalTrout allows anglers free access and there is great fishing both up and downstream from their property. Prams are most popular because they provide a fairly stable platform from which to fish, but keep your vessel somewhat on the small side. You will need to carry/drag/push your boat some distance from where you park your car to the river, and several of the bridges you may want to go under are quite low to the water.

Fall River is known specifically for its Hexagenia Limbata (Hex) hatch, usually beginning mid-June and lasting well into August. Hexagenia mayflies are among the largest mayfly species on earth and can put the fish into a frenzy.

Read more about fly fishing Fall River

Pit River

The longest tributary to Shasta Lake, the Pit River begins in a series of small forks in Lassen and Modoc Counties. It remains rather slow and sluggish until it passes through Fall River Mills and only really becomes trout habitat in the canyon above the Pit 1 Powerhouse. Those less concerned with catching fish see the river as a giant electricity-producing machine. Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E) owns and operates a series of powerhouses above and below Lake Britton, and anglers have come to use the numbers of these powerhouses to designate great Pit River places to fish.

If an angler said, “I’ll meet you at Rock Creek on Pit 3,” Pit River regulars understand that’s three miles below Lake Britton Dam where Rock Creek flows into the river. Pit 3 is the river from Lake Britton Dam downstream to the Pit 3 Powerhouse. Pit 4 is the river between Pit 4 Dam and the Pit 5 Dam. Pit 5 flows out below Pit 5 Dam, flows through Big Bend and on down to the Pit 5 Powerhouse. There are also plenty of trout in the river between the Pit 1 Powerhouse and Lake Britton, but this section of river fluctuates dramatically every day and can be dangerous.

Read more about fishing on the Pit River

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Northern California's Outdoor Digital Newsmagazine

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