Fly Fishing in California

Key Takeaways:

  • California offers diverse fly fishing opportunities with its top 15 locations, including Hat Creek, McCloud River, Carson River, and more, each known for specific fish species and scenic beauty.
  • The ideal fly fishing season in California is from spring through fall, with mornings and evenings being prime times for angling due to cooler temperatures and insect hatches.
  • California’s fly fishing targets species like brown trout, brook trout, rainbow trout, and the unique California Golden Trout, along with Chinook salmon and steelhead in places like Smith River and Trinity River.
  • Fly fishing in California involves various regulations, including the need for fishing licenses, report cards for specific species, and rules against license misuse, alteration, or counterfeiting.
  • Checking the California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) website or contacting their offices will help ensure a lawful and enjoyable fly fishing experience.

California’s Top 15 Fly Fishing Locations

California offers an abundance of picturesque fly fishing destinations, and below are the top 15 spots to cast your line in this Golden State.

  • Hat Creek
  • McCloud River 
  • Carson River
  • Owens River 
  • Hot Creek 
  • Smith River 
  • Trinity River 
  • Piru Creek
  • Putah Creek
  • Upper Sacramento River
  • Yuba River 
  • Crowley Lake 
  • Los Vaqueros Reservoir
  • Eagle Lake 
  • Pit River

Check out each fly fishing spot in detail, so you know where it is and what makes it special.

1. Hat Creek

  • Situated in Shasta County, approximately 70 miles east of Redding, California.
  • Known for its wild trout, Hat Creek was the first model of a wild trout fishery in California.
  • Accessible from Highway 89, Caddis, Mayfly, and Stonefly patterns are effective.

2. McCloud River

  • Flows through Siskiyou County in northern California.
  • Famous for its McCloud River Rainbow trout.
  • Upper and lower sections offer excellent fly fishing opportunities.

3. Carson River

  • Located in northwestern Nevada, crossing into Alpine County, California.
  • The mountain stream opens year-round with cutthroat, brook, brown, and rainbow trout.
  • Best fishing from May to October, accessed from the Silver King Trailhead.

4. Owens River

  • Located in eastern California, running through the Owens Valley.
  • Offers rainbow and brown trout fishing, known for its challenging water flow.
  • Best time to fish is from April to November, with access points off Owen’s River Road.

5. Hot Creek

  • Situated in the Eastern Sierra region.
  • Fed by geothermal springs, it has a high fish population, catch-and-release only with barbless hooks.
  • Accessible from the lower end of Hot Creek Ranch and offers blue-winged olive and midge fly fishing.

6. Smith River

  • Located in far Northwestern California near the Oregon border.
  • Famous for its Chinook Salmon and Steelhead runs.
  • Best fished from a drift boat, offering a chance to catch some of the largest salmon in California.

7. Trinity River

  • Flows through the Shasta-Trinity National Forest in Northern California.
  • Known as one of the best steelhead rivers in the state.
  • Chinook salmon and sea-run brown trout are also present, and wade fishing is possible but drift boats are recommended.

8. Piru Creek

  • Located in northern Los Angeles County and eastern Ventura County, California.
  • Offers urban fly fishing with rainbow trout and largemouth bass.
  • Accessed between Pyramid Dam and Lake Piru.

9. Putah Creek

  • Found in Northern California near Dixon and Winters, in the Sacramento Valley.
  • Rainbow trout fishery with Blue-winged Olives, Midges, and March Browns.
  • Best accessed below Monticello Dam.

10. Upper Sacramento River

  • Flows southwest of Mt. Shasta, generally along the Interstate 5 corridor.
  • Known for its large rainbow and brown trout.
  • Best access around Dunsmuir with Blue Winged Olives, Green Drakes, and Pale Morning Duns.

11. Yuba River

  • Feather River tributary in the Sierra Nevada and the eastern Sacramento Valley.
  • Contains rainbow, brown, and cutthroat trout.
  • Effective flies include Stoneflies, Caddis, and Midges.

12. Crowley Lake

  • Located in southern Mono County, near Mammoth Lakes.
  • Holds rainbow, brown, and cutthroat trout, with Chironomids being prolific.
  • Boat fishing offers better access, especially for larger trout.

13. Los Vaqueros Reservoir

  • Located in northeastern Contra Costa County.
  • Stocked reservoir with cool water temperatures, offering trout fishing.
  • Good access for trout near South Cove and Oak Point.

14. Eagle Lake

  • Situated about 15 miles north of Susanville, California.
  • Known for Eagle Lake trout, a unique strain of rainbow trout.
  • Accessible for trout fishing with a 6-weight rod and various fly patterns.

15. Pit River

  • Drains from northeastern California into the state’s Central Valley.
  • Offers trout fishing in fast-moving waters with a slippery bottom.
  • Effective flies include Blue Winged Olives, Golden Stoneflies, and Caddis.

What season and time are ideal for fly fishing in California?

The ideal season for fly fishing in California is from spring through fall. During this period, the weather is generally more favorable for angling, and the fish are often more active.  

Mornings and evenings are the best times to hit the water since these times offer cooler temperatures and are when many insect hatches occur. 

Streams like Hat Creek, McCloud River, and Carson River in Northern California are fantastic spots for fly fishing during spring and summer. For year-round opportunities, Crowley Lake is a great choice.

If you’re interested in steelhead, Trinity River and Smith River are at their best in the fall and winter. Owens River remains productive from April to November, and the High Sierra streams like the Yuba River and Upper Sacramento River shine during the summer months.

What fish species can you target through fly fishing in California?

In California, you can target a diverse range of fish species when fly fishing. Some of the primary species to pursue include rainbow trout, brown trout, brook trout, and the unique California Golden Trout.

These species can be found in various lakes, rivers, and streams across the state, offering year-round fishing opportunities. Additionally, certain locations like the Smith River and Trinity River provide chances to catch Chinook salmon and steelhead, adding excitement to your fly fishing adventures.

What are California’s fly fishing regulations?

California’s fly fishing regulations encompass several important guidelines to ensure responsible and lawful angling. To engage in fly fishing in California, you must possess a valid fishing license if you’re 16 years or older, and this license can be obtained through the California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW).

Specific species, like salmon, steelhead, and sturgeon, require report cards, which must be returned by January 31 of the following year. Transferring or misusing licenses, altering them, or using counterfeit licenses is prohibited.

While designated free-fishing days exempt you from needing a fishing license, report cards are still required for certain species. Selling or bartering fish caught with a sport fishing license is not allowed, and you must avoid causing the deterioration or waste of any fish caught.

Using explosives, unauthorized nets, disturbing legal traps, littering, and possessing unidentifiable fish are all against the law. You must exhibit all licenses and catches upon request by authorities and allow inspections of boats and receptacles.

Fishing hours generally extend from one hour before sunrise to one hour after sunset, but exceptions exist for specific waters and species with potential night fishing restrictions.

Specific black bass regulations apply in different districts and counties, including open seasons, size limits, and bag limits.

Please note that these regulations are subject to change, so always verify the latest information before your fishing trip. To stay updated, you need to check the CDFW website or contact their offices.