Saturday, April 25th is truly a magnificent holiday. It’s the time of year when you get together with your friends and family, pack up your rod and reel and go rip some lips! It’s Fishmas!
It’s officially the opening of trout season in Northern California and this season looks prime to rip some lips. The official opener takes place in rivers in the Sierra Nevada and NorCal and although many of the rivers are open to trout fishing year round, opening day has become a symbolic rite of passage and an official holiday with fishermen.
Note: due to the Coronavirus pandemic, four California counties have adopted a delay to fishing season. Please see all Covid-19-related closures here.
Looking to celebrate this great holiday? Here are 7 best places to go fishing in Northern California:
Talking about fishing Hat Creek as if it were one, homogeneous fishery is like saying all California anglers are the same. It just ain’t so. Hat Creek 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.
Named for Lord Keswick of London who ran a mining operation here a century ago, Keswick Reservoir is the nine miles of water between Northern California’s Shasta and Keswick Dams, just north of Redding. Hardly a “new” fly fishing destination, it has been around since the 1960s when Keswick Dam was completed. It looks like a river at the top, a lake at the bottom, and fishes like a spring creek. But the magic of Keswick is that, in a state with a population over 36 million, it’s typically devoid of people. It gets virtually no fishing pressure at all; zero, zip, nada.
The obvious question is why do anglers routinely ignore a centrally-located wild trout fishery documented to contain fish in the double-digit range? What’s the catch? Well, probably not a darned thing if you try to fish Keswick in traditional ways, and that’s usually the problem.
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.
Pit 3, 4 and 5 are hugely popular with anglers, and for good reason. The Pit’s rainbow trout are well known for being pugnacious fighters, especially in the river’s swifter currents. Fish grow to 20-inches and longer, but what older fish lack in length they usually make up for in girth. The average fish caught is close to 12-inches, but there is always the possibility of much larger fish, if you can land them.
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.
Fish are stocked at Fowler’s Campground and Lower Falls. As far as finding the fish, well, if you can’t actually see them, look for deeper water. Because the upper river is fairly shallow and the water clear, fish do their best to avoid direct sunlight. Any manner of take shy of dynamite (bait, lures or flies) is allowed, and anglers are permitted to keep up to five trout.
The river above Shasta Lake is the upper Sac, and the best part of it for this hatch is between Lake Siskiyou and Dunsmuir. When the October Caddisflies return to the river to lay their eggs, it’s unbelievable the river doesn’t turn into an angling three-ring-circus. The great thing is that it doesn’t.
Probably the best area of the river to fish the October Caddis hatch is around Cantara (watch out for falling trains) between Mt. Shasta and Dunsmuir. From Mt. Shasta, drive south on Old Stage Road, which is just West of I-5. Turn right on Cantara Loop Road and park at the end of the road. The river is close by. It was in 1991 that a railroad car full of poison fell off the Cantara Bridge killing all plants, bugs and fish all the way down to Shasta Lake. Now, more than twenty years after the spill, the river is fully recovered and well protected.
World-Class Fishing on the Lower Sacramento River
There are many spots to fish the Lower Sacramento River all the way down the valley, but it seems like the hottest fishing area on the river lies right in the heart of Redding. Flowing under the Sundial Bridge, through the town of Redding and out to Red Bluff, you will find a ton of great Rainbow Trout on the Sacramento River.
It’s quite an experience. If you would like to learn more about fishing the Sacramento River, I would recommend picking the brains of local guides, like the Kennedy Brothers. Or you could stop into the Fly Shop in Redding for some tips.
Describing a time of year when this small impoundment east of Burney doesn’t fish well can be a real challenge. But when cooler weather sets in Baum Lake tops a short list of fisheries that might actually be at their best when temperatures take a nosedive. Even though it does get pretty cold up there in the wintertime, sitting in a small boat or casting from the bank hooking fish after fish tends to keep attitudes toasty warm.
Anglers never need to wonder if they’re fishing in the right place. There are healthy populations of wild rainbows and browns, plus the lake receives generous allotments of hatchery fish throughout the traditional fishing season. The bounteous food supply even allows hatchery fish that elude capture long enough to grow to prodigious proportions. There is a five-fish limit at Baum Lake, any method of take is allowed (no hand grenades, please) and it’s open to fishing year-round.