Northern California is well known as a fishing Mecca, and the Sacramento River is sometimes referred to as the best trout stream on the West Coast. For trout anglers willing to work a little harder or hike a little farther, there are still places where, in a state of almost 40 million people, you can still catch fish in beautiful places, and chances are you will not see another soul.
This Sacramento River tributary comes in from the west near the Win River Casino and parallels Clear Creek Road before swinging north into a long, remote canyon below Whiskeytown Lake. The fishing is remarkably good for large and small rainbow trout, even though most of it is too deep to wade. Nevertheless, if you’re willing to do a little climbing around (or even swimming during summer), there is enough pristine, trout-filled water to fish for days. The trick is getting in and back out again.
First, there is hiking upstream from Clear Creek Road, or downstream from the Placer Road Bridge. This section is about as remote as you can get, which is why its always best to bring along a friend. Above Placer is also remote, but there are numerous dirt roads and trails leading down to the river off of Muletown Road.
Heading upstream, Muletown Road merges with Paige Bar Road not far below Whiskeytown Dam and the bridge over Clear Creek here also provides access. The next bridge up is at Peltier Bridge Campground. From here up to the dam there are several more paths down to the river, but watch out for poison oak and the odd rattlesnake. Like in a lot of other places, the more work you are willing to put in fishing this gem, the better the fishing is likely to be. The angling regulations require catch and release fishing only, with barbless hooks. That said, there are plenty of trout in this stream over 20-inches long.
I only fish Hatchet in the summertime because of the need to sometimes get in the water and swim to move up or downstream. But if you are willing to do that you can expect a series of small, deepish pools, each containing 5-10 rainbow trout. Most of the fish are smaller, but there are also good numbers of fish in the 12-14 inch category. Hardly anyone fishes for these fish, and they are remarkably eager to take bait, spinning lures and flies.
Park where the stream goes under Hwy. 299 about ten miles west of Burney, and the best fishing is upstream. You will get your exercise fishing this creek, but if you are able to see this as part of the fun, you’re very likely to catch a ton of fish. There are no special angling regulations for this creek, so bait is allowed and you may harvest up to five trout.
The best section is above Hwy. 299. The popular swimming/cliff diving hole at Lion Slide Falls (also called Hatchet Creek Falls off of Big Bend Road) is not as good for fishing.
I learned of this remote Tehama County location from a biologist friend of mine who snorkeled it looking for fish. He was amazed at the huge numbers of rainbow trout he found up above, and smallmouth bass down below. Getting here is a little tricky, but if you Google directions to Fisher Campground east of Red Bluff you should be able to find it. This one isn’t your best choice for the hot months of summer because there isn’t a lot of shade.
Head upstream to the series of forks in the river to find tons of brown trout. Your best bet is in fishing all the deeper holes. The stream is barbless hooks, artificial lures or flies only, but you can keep two hatchery trout.
Keswick is the nine miles of water between Keswick Dam just above Redding, and Shasta Dam up above. The good fishing is in the upper section, the 2-3 miles below Shasta Dam. To get there you have to drive over Shasta Dam and park next to the campground. There is almost zero shore access to this fishery, but crafty anglers in float tubes have discovered how fish-filled this water is, and the fish are big.
The idea is you fish your way downstream in a float tube. When you’re ready to get out you locate one of the numerous paths on the west side of the reservoir leading up to the Sacramento River Rail Trail and hike back to your car.
The most frequently asked question is, ‘Why do all that work? Why not get a boat and motor upstream from the two boat launch ramps down below? First of all, the boat launches are a long way from the food fishing water. Secondly, the level of the water in the reservoir is in a constant state of change and may go up or down as much as three feet in a day. Thirdly, there are numerous house-sized boulders just beneath the surface of the water capable of sinking a motorboat going upstream. Lastly, I’ve never seen an angler in a boat catch a fish on Keswick. The float tube sits you closer to the water where you are less likely to spook the fish.
There are no special angling regulations for Keswick so you can fish with either bait, lures or flies. There’s a nice path down to the water next to the campground. For your first venture try fishing your way downstream until you see the building on the hill along the west side. This is Coram Ranch (private), but there is a nice path just below it leading up to the trail.
Squaw Valley Creek
This northern Shasta County beauty is located due west of Lake McCloud. Drive to the town of McCloud on Hwy. 89. In McCloud turn south on Squaw Valley Road and go 6.1 miles. Just past Friday’s Retreat turn right on Squaw Valley Creek Road. Go another 3.1 miles until you cross a bridge. The parking lot is just past the bridge.
This is a popular venue for hikers and mountain bikers as well, but hardly anyone fishes the creek. A good path parallels the stream for a good five miles. A tributary to the McCloud River, there are few places in Shasta county as cool, shady and gorgeous as this little stream. I’ve never caught any really big trout here, but what they lack in size they make up for in good numbers. You may fish with bait, lures or flies, but anglers are only allowed to harvest up to two trout. This is also a great place to bring a picnic lunch and soak up all the natural beauty you can.
Finding peace, solitude and good fishing isn’t as hard as you might think in NorCal. If you like being active (as we do), this is perhaps the key to experiencing some of the lesser-known treasures. Everyone knows that getting an active workout is healthy for the body, but not everyone realizes it can be good for fishing too.
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.