trout fishing

Best 15 places for Trout Fishing in California (updated)

Flowing through the majestic Sierra Nevada mountain range, California is home to some of the best trout fishing in the world. Whether you’re a beginner or an expert angler, there are many great places for trout fishing in California that can accommodate any skill level.

California offers everything from small streams to large rivers with both wild and stocked waters to choose from.

The state of California has long been known as one of the top locations for quality fly-fishing due to its abundance of high elevation lakes and rivers filled with trophy-sized rainbow, brown and golden trout.

This blog post will feature 15 of our favorite spots for trout fishing in California! 

1. McCloud RiverĀ 

mcloud river trout fishing

The McCloud River is located in the Shasta Cascade region of Northern California. The river flows primarily through Siskiyou County and also spills into Tehama County for a short distance.

This gorgeous trout stream features plenty of small pocket water, scenic views, bluffs, and great fishing for both stocked rainbow trout as well as native Bonneville Cutthroat Trout! The most popular section of the McCloud River is between Highway 89 at Alturas, CA, to just below Hatchery Hill, located about 3 miles downstream from Lake Britton reservoir, where it joins with the Upper Sacramento River.  

Fishing regulations on the McCloud are pretty generous, allowing anglers to keep up to five trout per day with no size limit (stocked fish only). As a result, the McCloud is one of the best places in Northern California to catch trophy-sized trout.

2. Upper Sac River

upper sac river trout fishing

  Many anglers consider this beautiful stretch of water one of the top destinations for fly fishing in Northern California. The upper section stretches 56 miles from Shasta Dam to Keswick Dam, located just downstream from Redding, CA.

Nine different access points within this reach vary in their rules and regulations based on the type of use allowed at each location. These include boat access areas with docks/ramps, wade fishing areas without any facilities, put-in-only sites, and takeout-only sites.

The Upper Sacramento River is well known for its exceptional fishing for wild and stocked trout, especially in the stretch of river between Rumsey Bridge (just downstream from Redding) to French Meadows Reservoir.

This section is loaded with excellent fly water featuring riffles, runs, pools, and plenty of giant boulders! The most popular months are March through May, but the best fishing typically occurs in April & May. Look for the peak of the run around Mother’s Day each year 

3. Lower Sac River

  Another water that should be on your list while planning your trip to Northern California this spring/summer season is the lower portion of the Sacramento River stretching from Verona to Red Bluff.

Much like the upper section of this river, there are many access points along the lower Sacramento River with differing rules and regulations. Unfortunately, the lower portion is also loaded with jet-ski traffic making fishing very difficult for all but small panfish species. However, further downstream near the confluence of the Sacramento and Feather Rivers, anglers can fish from shore without any special restrictions.

Anglers will find excellent populations of both wild and stocked trout in this stretch through most of the year! This reach offers runs/riffles/pools packed with nice pocket water surrounded by green grassy hillsides along each side, offering some fantastic views, especially when the weather begins to clear after winter storms! One bonus you’ll enjoy while fishing in this part of California is the speed limit enforcement. Law enforcement officials will be working hard to keep you safe and out of harm’s way on the winding roads!

4. South Fork Kern River    

The South Fork Kern River is one of my favorite destinations for fly fishing and kayak angling in Central California, especially around June when hatches heat up, and trout fishing can be excellent! There are several put-in/takeout options along this beautiful stretch of water which include Kennedy Meadows (Kings Canyon National Park), Johnsondale Bridge (Sequoia National Forest), and Forks Campground (Sequoia National Forest).

This section features mainly tiny to medium-sized tributes that flow into the main river. The best fly water can be found between Johnsondale Bridge and the Forks Campground area. In addition, this section offers access to large wild trout in crystal clear water. While these fish are fun on ultra-light gear, anyone planning to target them should pack heavier equipment.

Most anglers run the South Fork Kern River through Johnsondale Bridge downstream for half-day or full-day trips, but there are several other sections of this river worth exploring based on the type of fishing you plan to do!

5. Mountain High Creek    

  One destination that’s well known to many anglers seeking trophy-sized brown & rainbow trout is Mountain High Creek, located just downstream from Huntington Lake near Lemon Cove, CA. The creek offers a significant number of challenging runs, pocket water, and swims for anglers.

The average trout inhabiting this section are not very large, but they offer excellent action on ultra-light gear! It’s not uncommon to land fly fishing trophies up to 10+ inches in length if the fish are willing. Unfortunately, one must access Mountain High Creek by boat or wade since no road or trail is leading into this remote region of Northern California.

The scenery here is fantastic, with towering mountains surrounding crystal clear creeks and lakes! There are several campsites and put-in/takeout options along the way, but they’re somewhat limited, so plan if flying in from out of state.  

6. Stanislaus River    

The Stanis laus River is fantastic water to fish in Northern California, even with the occasional spring runoff! This section of water starts just above Round Valley Reservoir and stretches downstream for several miles.

 There are some great options for put-in along this stretch, including Road’s End (Stanislaus National Forest), Salmon Falls (Mariposa County), and New Melones Dam (Stanislaus National Forest). Popular fly fishing targets on this river include rainbow trout, brown trout, and brook trout.

The Stanislaus River offers good access and moderate fishing pressure, so it’s a fun destination for novice fly anglers and those ready to land large fish. Be sure to hike the banks and check out the riffles, runs, and pools since you never know what big boy lurks below! Anglers will also enjoy exploring the tiny tributaries that flow into this portion of the river, including Horseshoe Creek, Slaughterhouse Creek, New Melones Creek, and Greenhorn Creek.

If you’re looking for a great place to camp and fish either solo or with family and friends, then the Stanislaus River should be your next destination!  

7. Lower Tule River   

  The Lower Tule River is a fantastic destination for both novice and seasoned fly fishers targeting sizeable wild trout in a remote area of Central California! 

This is one of the few places I feel comfortable recommending to beginners because it’s highly accessible, offers excellent fishing opportunities and fantastic scenery.

There are several put-in/takeout options along this stretch, including Greenhorn Summit (Sequoia National Forest), Tule Falls Spillway (Tulare County), and Woods Ferry Bridge (Eastman Lake). A permit from Sequoia National Forest is required for this portion of water which you can secure online or in person at a local ranger station.

8. Clear Creek    

Clear Creek is a trendy destination in Northern California, and for a good reason! This creek offers excellent fishing opportunities on both the upper and lower sections of water. The upper section of Clear Creek begins near Hume Lake Park within Sequoia National Forest outside of Three Rivers, CA.

In this area, you’ll find several put-in/takeout options, including Hume Lake Entrance Station (Sequoia National Forest), Converse Basin Entrance Station (Sequoia National Forest), and Hall Meadow Trailhead (Sequoia National Forest). There are also some great campgrounds located along this stretch of water.

9. Upper kelty

The Upper Kelty or “Kelty Creek” lies downstream of the lower section off Clear Creek. This is a great place to fish for large wild trout in the remote wilderness of Sequoia National Forest! The beautiful scenery surrounding this creek makes it an enjoyable destination even if you’re not into fly fishing!

There are some excellent put-in/takeout options on this stretch of water, including Salmon Falls Bridge (Mariposa County), Black Rock Campground (Sequoia National Forest), and Woods Ferry Bridge (Eastman Lake). The road leading up to Woods Ferry offers some excellent campsites but expect them to be crowded on summer weekends.

10. Middle kelty

The Middle Kelty is perhaps the most remote portion of Clear Creek. It flows out of Kings Canyon National Park and provides access to some vast trout! The scenery in this area is breathtaking, especially during the golden hour at sunset or sunrise! This section of water also offers some fantastic camping options.

There are no accessible put-in/takeout areas along this stretch of water, so you’ll need to arrange transportation during your trip (most likely via helicopter). However, if you’re up for an adventure, then it’s well worth the hassle since locals consider this one of the best fly fishing destinations in California!

11. Sacramento River Basin

  This basin spans from Northern, Central, and Southern California to the Pacific Ocean. The Sacramento River is one of the largest rivers in CA and offers some excellent fly fishing opportunities!

This river is especially popular among those looking for a day on the water or beginners who want to learn more about fly fishing. The upper portion flows through several recreation areas, including Foresthill Bridge (Foresthill), Beal Pines (Tahoe National Forest), Hell Hole (near Pollock Pines), and Silver Lake (North San Juan). These areas offer many put-in/takeout options along with public access points and easy road access.

12. Bear River  

  The Bear River, located just north of Donner Memorial Park, is another excellent stretch of water for beginners. This stretch of river offers several public access points along with easy road access, so it can be a great choice if you’re looking for a convenient spot to fish with friends and family.

13. San Joaquin River Basin  

  The San Joaquin River, one of the largest rivers in CA, is another excellent place to look for wild trout! It begins at its headwaters near Yosemite National Park and flows into the San Francisco Bay near Antioch, California.

The most popular water section for fishing begins below Friant Dam (Kings County) and continues downstream to Madera County, where it meets the Merced River near Vernalis, CA. A special permit from Kings County may be required before fishing this stretch of water.

If you’re looking for more remote areas to fish, check out the lower portion of this river above Friant Dam (Kings County). There are also some great camping opportunities throughout Kings Canyon National Park, along with several hiking trails that allow fishing access.

14. Merced River Basin  

  The Merced River begins at its headwaters near Yosemite National Park and flows into the San Francisco Bay near Vernalis, CA. This is another trendy area among anglers, especially those looking for a short day on the water!

The upper stretch of this river offers public access points and easy road access, which makes it an excellent choice for families! In addition, there are several campgrounds located along this stretch of river, including Pohon Road (Groveland), Briceburg (Yosemite National Park), Merced Lake (Mt. Houghton), and Lake Thomas Edison State Recreation Area.

The lower portion offers some more remote fishing but be aware that it’s also home to the largest population of wild rainbow trout in North America! Several public access points and easy road access make it an excellent choice for families. However, there is no camping available along this stretch of water, so you’ll need to arrange transportation during your trip (most likely via helicopter).

15. Yuba River Basin  

  The Yuba River begins at its headwaters near the Oroville Dam and winds down to meet the Feather River downstream from Marysville. Although this stretch of river doesn’t offer easy road access (the lowest point on this stretch of water is about 2,000 feet), it’s an excellent choice for those looking for a secluded fishing trip.

Conclusion

 If you’re looking for an excellent place to fish in CA, then definitely do yourself a favor and check out these 15 spots! They offer excellent fly fishing opportunities as well as the opportunity to enjoy nature with friends and family. Be sure to let us know if you’ve been down any of these rivers and what your experience has been like! Happy Fishing!

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