Here’s Why Fall Might Be the Best Season for Fishing in Northern California

Photo: Chip O’Brien

When October finally arrives in NorCal, chances are you will find me fishing somewhere. It may only be my second favorite month, but most of the reason June is numero uno has to do with the longer days of spring. It may be getting dark earlier this time of year, but enough cool things are happening with our wild trout fisheries to warrant as much time on the water as you can manage.

This year, 2021, has definitely been a weather, drought and wildfire roller coaster for Northern California. The weather for the next week promises some much-needed rain, and that ought to get the steelhead moving up the Trinity and Klamath Rivers. Another nice thing about October is that’s usually when the 110+ degree heat of summer begins to moderate. When the planets align just so, NorCal is capable of offering the unique opportunity to catch wild steelhead while wearing a T-shirt. 

Photo: Chip O’Brien

In October fly anglers flock to the upper Sacramento River above Dunsmuir, and the McCloud River to fish the famous October Caddis hatch. Fish gorge on the huge insects as the sun goes down providing exciting fishing and memories that last. While a few brown trout are caught every year in the upper Sac, there are many more browns in the McCloud. Since browns are fall spawners, they become more aggressive, especially in low-light conditions, and are likely to destroy streamers fished on sinking lines in the deeper holes below Lake McCloud.

October usually signals the advent of the “egg hatch” on the lower Sacramento River in and below Redding. Salmon move up the river to spawn, and eggs become dislodged from redds straight into the mouths of hungry rainbow trout ganged up near spawning areas. The high flows of summer in the river have passed and wading the lower Sac becomes easy and very pleasant. Wading anglers should be very careful not to wade on salmon redds.

Photo: Chip O’Brien

Manzanita Lake (in Lassen Volcanic National Park east of Redding) and Lewiston Lake to the west offer some of the most delightful fishing days of the year in October. It’s almost as if the fish know there won’t be as much food available during winter, so it’s time to chow down! Manzanita Lake will eventually freeze due to its higher elevation, but Lewiston can offer pretty great fishing all winter long. Baum Lake east of Burney is also a great option for fall and winter trout fishing. 

Of course there are many more great places to fish in NorCal, but these highlights of the fall season ought to give you plenty to do. Make sure you are licensed and follow all angling regulations. They

Chip O'Brien

Chip O'Brien is a regular contributor to California Fly Fisher and Northwest Fly Fishing magazines, and author of River Journal, Sacramento River and California's Best Fly Fishing: Premier Streams and Rivers from Northern California to the Eastern Sierra. He lived in Redding, California, for eighteen years, where he was a guide, teacher, and regional manager for CalTrout.

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