Northern California is a fly fishing paradise. If you are just getting started or if you have been at it for years, maybe I can provide you with some new locations and tips to make your next adventure a little more satisfying. If you’re not from the area and you’re planning a trip to the Northern California area you may find my information helpful and avoid the pitfalls of driving from stream to stream and fly shop to fly shop trying to pick the right fly on the right stream, at the right time. Give me a chance to save you some gas money and avoid spending way too much money on the “hot fly” of the day that the local fly shops are pushing and provide you with real tips not just sales talk. I want you to be successful and go home happy and not broke.
Fly Fishing in Northern California and General fishing information for Northern California
I would like to say that I am not a guide or biologist or a self declared “expert” when it comes to fishing. But I am good at gathering information for you to help make your fishing trip better and maybe save you some money.
Have you ever planned on a fishing trip, made all the appropriate reservations at a motel or campground and then stopped by the local fly shop and loaded up on flies and then arrived at the destination only to learn the fish weren’t biting but the mosquitoes were, the campground was dirty and nasty and surrounded by poison oak and you were afraid to leave anything around camp because it might disappear. You ended up coming home early, disappointed covered in mosquito bites, with poison oak in all the “wrong” places and swearing you would never do it again. But hey you have some really cool looking flies, they won’t catch anything, but they sure look good in that fly box.
Too many times I have been in that situation. I have sworn off fly fishing too many times to count but when you get those really good days it usually makes up for the bad ones. I am hoping to help you out along the way and provide you with some information that could help you and maybe make your trip a little better. I have fly fished almost every major and minor stream in Northern California and camped at most of the campgrounds. My work over the last few years has put me in areas where I would have to travel on short notice to areas I wasn’t familiar with and then spend the night wherever there was a cheap motel or a wide spot in the road so I was able to learn where some of the better fishing spots were located and where the better sleeping spots were, whether it was a 5 star motel or a shady pine tree off the side of a mountain road. I was fortunate to always have an understanding with the companies that I worked for that when I was done working it was my time to do whatever I wanted so if I wanted to fish or hunt I could and all on their dime because I was already in the area, for these reasons I have learned where some good fishing areas are and where you might prefer to stay the night.
I have had several interesting experiences at motels over the years. One that really sticks out in my mind was a motel in Cave Junction, Oregon. I was up in the area for work and found out I had to spend the night. Cave Junction is a long way from anywhere so it just didn’t make sense to travel 60 miles one way to sleep a few hours. So I decided to get a room, the motel is not the best looking and somewhat older with a restaurant at the front near the road. I checked in with the clerk who had an exceptional head of dreadlocks and judging by the smell, appeared to have taken the edge off his morning with a blast off of Oregon green. He said he only had one room left it was the second from the end on top. I don’t remember the price but I do recall it was fairly reasonable for a last minute deal. As I was walking down the outdoor walkway I couldn’t help but notice how nice the blue outdoor carpeting was that covered the walkway, I mean granted it was probably 20 years old and worn out in the center but the edges were nice and it covered the creaky stairway and any holed that I might plummet through.
Upon opening the door I was hit in the face with the overwhelming odor of spoiled meat. I looked inside and there still on the bed was a white sheet with a huge dried up puddle of blood. Next to the bed on the blue indoor outdoor carpeting that matched the carpet on the walkway, was another huge dried up puddle of blood, some old latex gloves and a rubber tie off band, over in the corner by the TV was a wadded up bundle of crime scene tape. I didn’t need to go any further as I knew this wasn’t the room for me. I went back to the office and advise the clerk of my findings, he didn’t miss a beat he just exchanged keys and said “oh, I forgot we can't rent that room for awhile”. He gave me the keys to another room and yep you guessed it, it was the room next door. It was the only room left in town so I decided to take it. It was actually very clean and the blue indoor outdoor carpeting actually matched up with the whole “Feng Shui“ of the room. That night it was tough to sleep, I knew there wasn’t anyone staying in the room next to me but I could almost swear I could hear people in there. The next day I left and have never returned.
Campgrounds can really be hit or miss but I can tell you where I have had good experiences and where I haven’t. So with each area I will try, if I can, to tell you some areas to stay if I know of any.
In California trout season on the streams usually opens around the last Saturday in April, but there are so many different streams, lakes and reservoirs that I don’t want to give a specific date. So what I will say is check your regulations for every single place you want to fish. Even if you are fishing one section of a river and decide you want to move a mile up or down stream check your regulations first. In California, and many other places, regulations can change from one section of stream to the next one. One area may be general regulations and the next area, a half mile downstream, could be fly fishing only and catch and release. Also, everywhere in California you must have a California Fishing License, that’s everywhere, no exceptions, and if you need a stamp like a salmon or steelhead stamp get one, they are cheaper than the ticket.
To start with there are just too many streams and bodies of water in Northern California for me to write about everyone. What I will do is write about some of the more popular streams and places to go. I am not a guide but I have had some very good success and do have the “local knowledge” to help you out. Also, I am not here to sell you expensive flies or bait, so I won’t lie to you just to make a profit.
WEST OF I-5
Shasta Lake Bass fishing is hot, and you don’t need a boat. April is one of the best months to fish this lake as the water starts to turn over and the bass are getting into the spawning mode and they are easy to catch. I don’t care what the weather is like if it's raining or 90 degrees April, May and June are great months to fish this lake. You can use just about anything you want for bait as long as it's legal. Some guys use nightcrawlers and some guys use rubber worms. There are several lures you can use but no matter the latest craze is I seem to always end up coming back to the same two types of bait or lures.
If you like to use live bait run by a bait shop like Phil’s Propeller off Twin View Blvd in Shasta Lake City and get some live minnows. They seem to have some healthy minnows here that actually live long enough to fish with. If you have a bait bucket with an aerator it will really help keep the minnows alive longer. Sluggish or dead minnows are not very tempting to a bass. Grab some extra sharp Gamakatsu hooks I use a #1/0 (one aught). I know that sounds big but it’s not. I use the Gamakatsu hooks because they are super sharp, you can use what you want but the sharper the hook the easier the “set”. I don’t use any weight at all unless the minnows won’t dive. If the fish are deeper just add a little weight above the hook but not much. When you put your hook through the minnow you can do it one of two ways. The first way is about the most common. You hold the bait in one hand and take the hook and open the minnows mouth and run the hook up through the roof of the mouth but forward of the eyes otherwise you will kill the minnow. Don’t run the hook through both the lower jaw and the upper jaw or the minnow won’t be able to open its mouth. If it can't open its mouth it won’t be able to pass water through its gills and it will suffocate because it can't get any oxygen. The second way is my way, I hold the minnow in one hand and then I run the hook between the minnow’s backbone and its anus being careful to avoid the guts. This way works well for me if I am just flipping the minnow out and leaving it until a fish bites. If you are casting and recasting with a minnow hooked this way it will drown the minnow because when you reel it in its backwards and it can't take in oxygen. When you do it this way the minnow can really swim around and attract a lot of bass. You can actually cast the bait farther than if the hook is runs through the mouth. If you try a hard overhead cast the minnow’s mouth will tear open and the minnow will fly off your hook.
If you are fishing from a boat, you can just lightly flip the minnow overboard. You only need to cast it out a few feet from the boat. Just flip it out and let it swim to whatever depth you want, usually about 8 to 20 feet. You can lock the bail or leave it open. I usually leave it open and just hold the line in my other hand or rest the pole and line near me on the bank or against the edge of the boat. The minnow will swim around doing little things that minnows do while doing all the work for you. The bass love these little guys and when they take them you will know. If your bail is locked your pole will suddenly bend and you will know you have a bass on.
Set the hook hard, not once but twice, maybe even three times, to bury that hook into their mouth. Then it's up to you to land them.
The second most productive way that I have found is using specific artificial bait. I try not to endorse any certain products because frankly, why should I? They aren’t paying me for it so why give them free advertising. However, there is one product that has changed the way I bass fish.
Rainbow Worms has these artificial white bait fish lures that work incredibly well on Shasta Lake. There are similar items on the market but theirs seem to work better, at least for me. They are called “Pupfish”, they are these funky looking things that look like a cross between a white larva and a large minnow with a flat tail. I usually get the 3.5 inch or 3.75. You run the weighted hook in length wise from the mouth to the middle and up through the top. If you do it right you will have very few hang ups or snags. If you run it through the mouth, then through the middle and out the bottom you will hang up on everything it passes over and eventually you will snag on something. Cast the bait out where you think there is a bass and let it sink, I use a six count and adjust my count deeper with each cast in the same area until I find the fish. Then flip the bail and start reeling in at a medium speed. You will have to adjust your speed as you fish, sometimes you will reel in fast, sometimes slow.
I fish in a pattern that covers everything within casting distance of me. An example would be if you had a half a pie and I was standing in the center of the pie pan I would cast out slicing the pie in narrow pieces until I cut the pie up (if that makes sense) then if I don’t catch anything I either repeat the process or move on. I have learned that a hit or strike on this kind of lure feels different from say a strike on a rooster tail. A strike on a rooster tail or Kastmaster is usually a solid smack and you know you got hit. Usually, when I catch a bass on a Rainbow Worm swim bait it will either take it on the drop, usually very violently, or you will feel some weight on the line as your reeling in like you have a gob of moss on the line, “SET THE HOOK” it's a bass, swimming around with the lure in his mouth.
There are multiple areas to access this lake. Any exit off Interstate 5 between Redding and Lakehead will provide access to the edges of the lake. The Lakehead area offers several access points if you take the Antlers exit and then go west and follow Lakeshore Drive west. There are multiple coves and most of them produce plenty of bass and crappie. The Salt Creek exit offers good access as well. The fishing near Nelson Point campground is very good and where Nelson point and salt creek roads meet the frontage road along southbound I-5 there is a very deep cove that is popular with the people who fish at night for catfish.
There is plenty of camping around the lake. One of my favorite places to camp is Antlers RV Park. They have a very large tent camping area and a good size RV area. I have seen the RV area fill up and stay full all summer so reservations are suggested. With the exception of holiday weekend, I have only seen the tent camping area full a few times, but it will for sure fill up on the holiday weekends.
This is a very nice campground and I would say it's the standard that I use to judge or compare to all the other campgrounds. The campsites are cleaned daily, they keep the poison oak trimmed back away from the campsites, and they have a 10PM curfew. A big Plus is they have actual “flush” toilets and hot showers in both the tent camping and the RV sites. This isn’t a big deal to some people but it's nice to take a shower after a hot day at the lake, if your familiar with Lake Shasta you know that red clay dust just sticks to you and gets very uncomfortable after awhile. The RV sites are larger than most and they are full hook ups. Sites #79 and then #94 to #108 are very spacious, especially the outside edge. A couple more things I like about this park, all the trees are big so there is plenty of shade, and you can walk to the lake from the campgrounds. There is also a roving security guard at night that comes through about every hour.
There are multiple federal campgrounds around this lake and at least two of these are right next to the RV Park but they are not nearly as nice and do have plenty of poison oak. Off Lakeshore Drive you will find three other RV Parks but they are somewhat substandard and attract a younger “party crowd” so if you need your beauty sleep you might not want to stay in these areas. Farther down Lake Shore you will find other national forest campgrounds.
Beehive campground is an area just west of Lakehead off Lakeshore Drive. This is basically a wide spot along the edge of the lake and depending on the lake level camp site availability can vary greatly. The only restrooms are porta potty and there are usually only two of them. This is actually an okay campground as long as you’re not there on Memorial Day Weekend. This place gets to rockin on the holiday weekends. On memorial weekend the college kids from the University of Oregon and Oregon State meet here along with some of the college kids from Stanford and the Bay Area Schools and it’s basically “Spring Break, West Coast Edition”. There are houseboats everywhere, lots of whooping and hollering and the occasional naked sophomore running through camp. Other than that it’s pretty quite.
Turn off to Beehive Campground/Day use area from Lakeshore Drive
Beehive Campground/ Day Use Area pay station
Beehive C.G. Looking west, plenty of room
Old Man Camp ground is past Beehive at the end of the cove. This is a just a tent camping area, with fire rings and a porta potty, nothing fancy. This is usually a more peaceful setting.
Cove off of Lakeshore Drive past Beehive Campground
Nelsen Point campground is a group camp by reservation only off the Salt Creek exit. This is an okay place to camp, all porta potty and no showers. Oak Grove Campground is closed. This campground has been closed for the last 20 years or more but the day use area is open.
Off the Salt Creek exit you will find Salt Creek Lodge road but I believe the road sign just says Salt Creek. Off this road is Salt Creek Resort and RV. It is right next to the train tracks, its run down, outdated and just creepy in general but there is a boat launch area, however, I would avoid using it if there is a crowd in the adjacent camping area and this is why, theft! There is a campground right next to this boat launch. The name of it is Lower Salt Creek Shoreline Campground. This campground it located right next to the train trestle. Actually, when the campground is crowded there are people camped under the trestle. Yes, the forest service put a campground next to the train tracks, matter of fact there are several campgrounds around Shasta Lake right next to the tracks. But this campground is especially bad because the trestle is higher than the campsites so it's like your living under the train. I am not sure why someone would want to leave the big city to go camping in the country only to sleep under the train trestle. It's like a scene out of “My Cousin Vinny”
On memorial weekend if we aren’t staying at Antlers RV we usually take a ride up to the lake and drive around and look at all the campers. I especially enjoy looking at all the folks camped along the edges of the lake off Lakeshore drive. This area has loads of poison oak and it's usually real thick and oily at this time of the year. It amazes me how many groups I see camped right smack dab in the middle of poison oak patches. The bad part of this is that most these folks don’t have a clue that it's poison oak. I know it's mean to do, but I like to pull up alongside their campground and ask them how they are doing and then ask them if they know what poison oak looks like or just tell them “Hey you know you’re camped in poison oak?” just to see their reaction. You would be surprised how many people will argue with you while scratching their legs and face. Then when you drive by the next day they have moved camp or just went home.
Poison Oak is easily identified, once you know what it looks like. Best thing to remember is “leaves of three leave them be” Poison Oak, Poison Ivy and Poison Sumac all have three leaves together. Remembering this simple rule could make or break your family vacation experience.
"LEAVES OF THREE LEAVE THEM BE!"
POISON OAK LEAVES
Poison Oak early in the season
This is also poison oak early in the spring, as summer approaches the leaves will get more red and oily
All around Lake Shasta there are federal and private campsites and boat launches but they are too numerous to list. I can’t speak for the ones I haven’t stayed in or used in some way but if I have stayed at them or have any experience with them I will write something to let you know about my experience.
Lewiston Lake is in Trinity County located off Trinity Dam north of Lewiston. This lake has some very serious fly fishing. Of course the best way to fly fish this lake is with a boat or a float tube due to the sudden drop off along the edge of the lake. If you are bait fishing you can set up just about anywhere along the edge and fish. There are a few better areas that I have found to bait or lure fish this lake. The area just before Lakeview Terrace where there is an area to park and launch boats and kayaks is a good spot. Farther up the road only a mile or so is the marina. Just before you get to the marina is a public launch ramp with Disabled Fishing Access. There are two Disabled Accesses that are wheelchair accessible. These are paved trails to the docks that allow you to actually get out on to the docks to fish. The docks have railings and are good for wheelchair restricted folks and kids. Unlike most disabled accesses you find that are somewhat substandard and almost impossible for a wheelchair to maneuver these accesses are nice and as a bonus the fishing here is very good. Using Power bait or worms you can usually do okay. Lure fishing is also good here and although the lake looks still there is actually a decent current flowing by.
The Marina also rents boats by the day or half day and they usually have plenty available. The trout here are just incredibly active and jumpy especially during the hot summer months. I know this sounds crazy but on the hot still afternoons you can sit on the road overlooking the lake and see trout jumping in the lake just about anywhere.
A Local Tip, float tubing this lake is awesome. Launch just south of Lakeview Terrace where there is a wide spot and 10MPH sign for the lake. You don’t have to be very far out. Use a beaded head Pheasant Tail Nymph or a Hare's Ear as small as you can get. Use the smallest leader or tippet you can get with an indicator of your choice. Work that fly line until you get it as far away from you as you can then let that nymph sink. Use a super small split shot if need be, to get that fly down. Then leave it alone, just leave it. For some reason the fish on this lake want their flies to sit for a few seconds or minutes then they suddenly grab them. In the evening all I usually use is a size #14, #16 Light Cahill with a long tail. It's the same thing with dry flies on this lake, cast out and let them sit. You may have to put some fly dope on to keep it from soaking up and sinking but this is a good combination on this lake.
The Fly Fishing Section as it is known locally sits below Lewiston Dam on the Trinity River, (Not the Trinity Dam but the Lewiston Dam). This is a fly fisher’s paradise during those hot summer months when the temp in Redding is 108 degrees in the shade. This section of the river is usually a little cooler and the mountain shadows out over the river a little earlier in the afternoon so it can be more comfortable to fish on the hot days. Read your regulations before fishing here. This is a Fly Fishing Only, Barbless Hooks only section of the river. I have been checked here several times before. The section runs from 250 feet below Lewiston Dam to the Old Steel Bridge in Lewiston. From the dam to where Trinity Dam Road crosses over the river is all good fishing especially the stretch starting right at the 251 feet to about 250 yards downstream to the first turn. Below the first turn is the best area to be in at the end of the day. Where the stream starts to wind you can find some very hungry fish and using PTs and Hairs Ear in the day time you can do very well, in the evening I use the Light Cahill and Elk Hair Caddis patterns with good returns. It is best to fish this river when the flows drop below 450 feet a second if it gets much higher than that it gets washed out.
Sacramento River Upper and Lower
The Upper Section of Sacramento River north of Shasta Lake is an excellent fishery. There are multiple access points off Interstate 5 between Shasta Lake and Dunsmuir near Mt Shasta. The regulations for this strip of river change from one area to the next so be sure to check your regs before you fish. When I fish this river, I use a very light leader as close to invisible as you can get. I commonly use a 7X and 8X tippet on this river. Most of the time you will get most of your action on nymphs fishing them deep and the same speed as the river. Both beaded and non-beaded Pheasant tailed nymphs, Hare's Ear and Red and green Copper Johns work very well especially very small #18 and #20. This river gets hit hard, it is a very popular river with the tourists and it’s just outside of Redding about 20 minutes or so and the locals hit it all the time so the fish here are extremely leader shy.
The middle section of the Sacramento River is the section from Keswick Dam to the Deschutes Bridge. The upper section of this section runs through Redding and the fishing is “totally awesome dude” (said with a California accent) You will not find a better river to fish for the size of the fish and the overall health of the fish. In this area there is a lot of food in the river, a 16-inch fish can look like a fat little football and they fight like crazy. Unfortunately, access to the river is not very good, the city of Redding has two things going against it, homeless people living along the edges of the river and over development along the edge of the river that has eliminated access in many areas. The problem with the homeless (one of many) is that when you park your vehicle and walk out into the river to fish, they know where you are, but you don’t know where they are, and many people have walked back to their vehicles only to find them with broken windows and their gear missing. The other problem is that they are camped all along the edges of the river, so you may be strolling along the edge of the river looking for a nice access point to enter the water and stumble upon a homeless camp and in Redding some of these camps have 20 people or more and I don’t know of anyone who wants to deal with that, especially a female by herself.
Most people who fish this area fish the riffles just upstream from the Sundial Bridge, between the bridge and the Posse Grounds (Rodeo Grounds). This is an area about 400 yards long where the river is shallow from the bank near the parking area (SW side) all the way to within about 30 feet of the opposite bank. There is also an access and parking lot upriver at the Diestlelhorst Bridge (that is the correct spelling). Down river from this parking lot is another area where the river is more shallow than other areas. In the summer, every evening, there is an incredible Caddis Fly hatch and the fish just gulp down wads of these bugs as they float down the river. If you cast your Elk Hair Caddis right into the middle of one of these wads of flies as they are passing by the trout will come slurp up the whole wad and hopefully your bug as well. Try to breath through your nose, the more you open your mouth or talk the more of them you will inhale.
There is some walk-in area near the Hwy 44 over pass. On the west side you can walk in from the Turtle Bay parking area, but it is a walk of about a half a mile but not bad. On the east side of the river you can drive to a parking lot and the walk-in river access area located at the north end of Bechelli Lane. This is a good access point to get to the river to fish or let the dog run. There is very good bank fishing here and you can wade out, but you really don’t need to get very far out. I have also seen people fishing the bank on the west side of the river in this area but haven’t been able to figure out just how they get out there.
From the Cypress bridge to Anderson there is just very little foot access to the river unless you are willing to walk a good distance. There was walk-in access in a couple areas and historically no one cared if you trespassed a little to get to good fishing. But thanks to the homeless population and some careless fisherman that just couldn’t clean up after themselves these historic access points have been lost or developed over.
Now for the bad news, The Sacramento River, as it runs, is a difficult area to fly fish. Sure, you can get to the water and wade out and catch some fish, but most of the good fishing is towards the middle of the river or away from the access points along the river so it can be very frustrating to fish this stretch. If you have access to a drift boat and you have the experience this river can be unbelievable, but the truth is, it’s somewhat disappointing to fish from the bank or to wade out, especially when you wade out about 50 yards and you finally feel your in the right spot and then a drift boat passes by and they catch a fish right out in front on you. So “if you can’t beat them, join them” my suggestion to you is this, if you really want to have a good time and learn how to fish the Sacramento River as it runs through Redding take one day out of your life and spend the money on a guide to take you on his drift boat down the river. It’s money well spent. It can be spendy, but you can call a guide and ask for a deal, often you can get a last-minute deal or a cancelation deal. You can go a full day or a half day and if you have never been in a drift boat before a full day of 6 to 8 hours plus can be a very long day of fishing. Also, most guides require you to use their gear that includes fly rods and bugs and that eliminates you hauling your gear around and you spending all kinds of money on flies that may or may not work. If you do decide to hire a guide check out my Guide Review Blog before you commit.
You can go broke buying flies for this river. There are about four different places in Redding to buy bugs before you go out and all of them will suggest a different assortment of flies. Some of their information is good and some is just to sell more bugs. Take their advice and then use what you think is right. I have the best results using PT Nymphs and Beaded Head PTs with some weight and as long a leader as I can manage, Hare's Ear and Prince Nymphs also work well but the local shops can keep you on top of the trends. The two primary locations to buy flies are Sportsman’s Warehouse and The Fly Shop. Sportsman’s has a decent selection and they have a couple of very qualified people working in the fly section that can direct you to the right flies for whatever river you are fishing. Their flies run about 89 cents a piece if you buy more than 12. The Fly Shop has a huge assortment of flies and gear and cater to a more “affluent” group of clients, that’s a nice way to say, “people with more money to spend”. I went there a couple weeks ago to get a certain set of flies and spent $16.00 on 5 flies. They also have guides working out of their shop who are very knowledgeable. Their flies do work, they seem to have more experience on the water than most places and I think every fly fisherman who passes through Redding should stop by there, that being said, they are kind of expensive for the average guy.
Lake McCumber is east of Shingletown off Lake McCumber Road. This lake is easy to access from the parking area near the restrooms.
Unfortunately, there is not a lot of fishable access unless you have a canoe or a row boat. The rest of the area around the lake is flat and shallow and you would have to wade out a fair distance to catch anything. The other part of the lake has private property around it and the access is limited. There is a small camping and picnic area with restrooms at the south end of the lake. Not too long ago the campgrounds here were a mess. They were run down, filthy and the mosquitoes were terrible, but I returned in June 2018 and they have really improved the campgrounds and restrooms. They were clean and the campsites were occupied with campers, people fishing and kayakers. The lake was clean and the fish were jumping.
(additional photos of Lake McCumber)
North Battle Creek Reservoir
Off Hwy 299 just before the Lassen National Park Entrance, on the north side of the highway, is the turn off to North Battle Creek Reservoir. I suggest that you use your GPS and, or, get a map before you try and find this lake. It’s a long dusty road and I wouldn’t suggest taking a sedan or other low vehicle. Most the people who fish this lake use a spinning reel, but you can fly fish this lake. There is camping at the lake and in the surrounding national forest. This place has a lot of bears so be “Bear Safe” when camping here. Truth be told this lake has never really interested me because it is a long drive down a dirt road and by the middle of the summer the road gets rough and it just beats up your vehicle.
This lake is located inside the boundary of Lassen National Park and you are required to purchase a park pass before entering even if it is just to fish for an afternoon. This is a nice little lake inside of a National Park, with fish in it, what else can you ask for. You need a boat to fly fish this lake but no motors are allowed. There are too many trees behind you that wrap up your back cast and you only have a small area to wade out and the bottom is soft. You can use a sinning reel here and the fish are usually hungry for anything that hits the water, bugs or bait. There are RV sites and General Camping.
For fees and Camping information:
Hat Creek stretches from the small feeder creeks on the northeast side of Mt Lassen at Twin Bridges Campground north along Hwy 89 all the way to where is joins the Pit River at Hwy 299 east of Burney
Hat Creek where it first meets Hwy 299
The creek is very shallow here and although it looks like there would not be any trout here there are actually a significant amount of very pretty brook trout.
When discussing Hat Creek, you must break it down into three sections, the upper, the middle and the lower. The section known locally as “Upper Hat Creek” runs from its beginning in Lassen National Park to Hwy 89 just upstream from the town of Old Station. The fishing here is excellent and there are plenty of planters and native brook trout. Public access is good but much of the creek is difficult to fish due to the thickness of the trees and rough terrain. Camping is plentiful all along the Hat for RVs and general camping and I will cover this in more detail in a bit.
Hat Creek Near Old Station
The Middle Section runs a much greater distance from Old Station to Baum Lake. This is the section that is fished the most by locals and tourists. Hat creek flows north along Hwy 89 and access is plentiful with plenty of camping spots. Hat Creek campground near old station is stocked regularly, almost once a week, and the fish range from 8 inches to 20 inches.
This is an excellent place to camp and fish. Hat Creek campground has plenty of access and plenty of good fishing spots. This is mostly hit by bait fishermen, but the fly folks do good here as well. Park in the campground day use area or park outside the campground and walk in. This is an easy walk for kids and the elderly and there are some good holes here and you can see the fish you are casting to, making this a great place to take the kids and gramps. Power Bait and nightcrawlers work very well. Almost any color power bait will work but I have had better success with the bright green power bait.
Farther down stream past Old Station near the intersection of Hwy 89 and Hwy 44 is Cave Campground, this is also a good place to fish but the access here is almost too easy, so this area is prone to over fishing but the DFW stock at this location, so it is replenished almost weekly. This campground is near Subway Cave, this is an underground lava tube that all the kids need to see if you are passing through.
Just park in front of the cave and walk in, take a flash light and a jacket and enjoy the cave.
Rocky Campground is just down the road from Subway Cave and right on Hat Creek. This is another decent campground with good fishing access.
Just down the road from Rocky is Bridge Campground has a small section of access to the creek and I enjoy fishing under the bridge itself. There is a dark shadow and a deep hole here and the trout stack up in the deep water.
The down stream side of the bridge at Bridge Campground. This is a normal flow not a high flow.
Down stream from Bridge Campground
Rancheria RV Park is on the west side of Hwy 89 and is not along side the creek but access to the creek is close by. Hat Creek Hereford Ranch RV Park and Campground is located off Doty Road just past Rancheria RV park. This is a nice little park with fishing access, within the park, and a nice pond for the kids to fish and play.
Honn Campground is about the end of the public access on Hat Creek until you get to the town of Cassel. Personally, I haven’t had a lot of luck in this area.
Cassel Forebay is a very good place to fish. You can park within 20 feet of the creek and anyone can walk up to the edge of the creek to fish. There is a railing to lean against and you can drag up a lawn chair and just relax. You can walk upstream out of Cassel and fly fish all evening with great success. If you don’t believe me that there are some big trout in here put on your polarized sunglasses and look in the water right below the bridge, you will see some nice fish.
Cassel Parking lot
Disabled Fishing Access
Disables Fishing Access looking down stream
This area is hit hard by bait and fly fishers, but it is stocked every week and it is not uncommon for a 7-pound trout to be pulled out, especially near the post office parking lot. The nymph fishing here is very good during the day when the sun is on the water and the trout can see that bug flickering in the fast-moving water.
Upstream from Cassel Bridge and next to the Post Office Parking lot.
Farther upstream from Cassel you will find plenty of fly fishing
Fish your nymphs deep and with weight, deep meaning 6 feet or more and just enough weight to get the bug down but not get hung up. Dry fly fishing here in the evening is fun, frustrating and often humiliating but very productive. If you fish here with nymphs, fish from the bridge at Cassel up stream for about 40 yards. Fish as far out as you can cast and try to slow your line down so that the bugs sinks under the indicator and swings low so you can see the fish swim up and inspect the bug and see if its what they like. I give them 3 casts. If I see fish come up to bite and they don’t take the nymph after 3 times in their face I switch to either a different bug or a smaller size. Often, it’s the size that they are looking at not the type of bug. One day a size #12 Beaded Head PT works great and the next day or maybe even an hour later, they want a size #18.
A great way to throw them a curve ball is to tie on two flies at the end of your leader and then a second fly of a smaller size about 18 inches lower on a short piece of additional leader material (check my tips section, I will provide an example). When you have indecisive fish that look at your nymph but don’t commit to a bite the second nymph will often trigger a strike.
On hot days the dry fly fishing by the post office in Cassel is phenomenal especially in the evening about half an hour before dark. You will need an assortment of flies, Light Cahill, Pale Morning Dunn, Elk Hair Caddis and any other small dry fly as long as you can see it. It will take several casts to try and figure out what they are taking, and every day is different.
The dry fly action is all throughout this section of the creek but is more concentrated by the post office. If you are standing along side the creek facing the creek with your back to the post office with the bridge on your left, you will see a long line of buoys. Count 3 buoys out from shore, from the third buoy to about the seventh buoy and for about 50 yards upstream, this is where the best dry fly action is on this stretch of the river. In my opinion, if you only have time to fish one spot on all of Hat Creek, fish this spot at the post office. The fly fishing only section below Baum is good but usually very slow.
Another trick to fishing this section is the proper net even for small fish. You can’t wade this stretch because it is deep, and you will go under, you must stand on the bank, and lean out over the water to grab your fish, so landing even a small fish can pop your fly off. Local Tip take your standard small, one-handed fishing net and duct tape it to a long broom handle or pole. I use an adjustable painters pole, like what you would attach to a paint roller, so it can be adjusted out to about 12 feet. I can stand on the canal bank and as I reel in the fish I can reach way out and scoop them up without hanging off the bank or climbing down the side of the canal and slipping into the water. In the evenings here, you will almost always have a wind out of the west coming at your back. It is a difficult to bring your cast in but easy to put it out. It can be frustrating but if you try to keep your cast low and deliberate, you will be okay.
Sign to Cassel Campground
Down stream from the post office and bridge is Cassel Campground, a nice PG&E campground. This is dry camping without hookups, but the campground is somewhat nice but very dry. Manzanita and rattlesnakes are the added amenities and I don’t think they allow fires after the summer weather dries the brush out.
Camping at Cassel Campground is dry somewhat rustic, but there is great fishing within easy walking for anyone and wheelchair access
If you drive through the campground you will arrive at a fork in the dirt road one way goes to Baum Lake the other goes to the intake pipe that feeds the powerhouse at Baum lake, this is the Forebay. This is a deep area and it can be fished with a fly rod, but a spinning reel and power bait seems to work best. Fish about 30 feet in front of the intake and right next to the intake between the intake and the concrete wall of the canal. There is a slow eddy and the fish stack up here.
Forebay above Baum Lake
Hat creek feeds into Baum Lake at the Hat #1 Power House just below the before mentioned intake. Baum Lake is tough to fish if you don’t have a boat. You don’t need a big boat, as a matter of fact, there are several folks that like to kayak fish this lake. Its slow and quiet and holds a bunch of nice fish. This is a nice winter fishery as it’s open to fishing all year. When you arrive at the parking lot look west and you will see a small stream feeding into Baum lake from Crystal Lake. The area where this creek dumps into Baum on the Baum side is good fishing from the bank or with a boat. The Crystal side is closed to fishing for several feet as is dumps into Baum so be careful and read your regulations.
Instead of fishing the area near the parking lot try the Hat #1 powerhouse where the water dumps from Hat Creek into Baum Lake.
This is the powerhouse at Baum Lake known at Hat #1 where Hat Creek feeds into Baum Lake.
You can stand on either side of the powerhouse and lean on the rail, cast your nymph or bait against the wall and let it sink and flow past you watching and feeling for the big strike.
Fly Fishing with dry flies is great in the evening on Baum Lake. This pipe is near the power house and although there is some weeds, the area opens up just past the old pipeline.
From the Baum Lake parking area look east and you will a see a fish hatchery. Drive past the fish hatchery and you will arrive at the powerhouse parking area. You will see the powerhouse, right where the powerhouse flows into the stream is a deep hole and this is good for bait and fly fishing and you will experience some good fishing. Add a long leader to your fly line, 12 to 15 feet will work. With a nymph of your choice (prefer PTs and Hare's Ear) add it to the end with a split shot about 8 inches above the bug and a very buoyant indicator preferably a large one attached as high on the leader as you can and adjust it as you fish. If your fishing 8 feet deep your too shallow if you are at 15 you will probably snag up, depending on the out flow. If your bug is just suspended and swirling, you won’t catch much it has to be deep so add more weight. Cast up against the back wall where the water flows in and let her sink. You will start getting hits and just let it go past you and out as far as you like. This has been a successful method for me in the past. If this bores you, you can walk along the stream as it joins the lake and use dry flies. The evening fishing with a dry fly is very good here. Bait fishing is almost too easy at the powerhouse. This is a good place to catch some nice meal size trout to cook around the campfire. Use power bait, nightcrawlers or whatever tickles your fancy the trout in here are plentiful and the lake is planted weekly from the local hatchery 100 yards away.
Hat Creek Trophy Trout Section
This stretch runs from below Baum Lake to Lake Britton. Check your regulations for the exact description of the area and tackle and size limits. This is one heck of a trophy trout section and if you were to just walk up and look at it you would fish the wrong spot. Most new comers arrive at the parking lot at the Hat #2 Powerhouse and spot the inviting riffle out in front of the parking lot. There are some good fish in here and its worth fishing. The truth is better fishing starts down stream about a quarter mile where the stream narrows and the water deepens. You will need waders, a net and about 5 gallons of bug spray to dip yourself in before you start walking. The mosquitoes and gnats are terrible here and the stinging nettles along the bank add to the experience. The reason I say you must take waders is because it is next to impossible to fish this section without being out in the water and fishing either up stream or down stream due to the thick vegetation along the creek. It’s not big, tall and thick with trees it’s just tall grass and weeds punctuated with the occasional willow and barbed wire fence. From the bank your back cast will get tangled up and between untying snags and swatting mosquitoes it would be a tough evening. Take the waders, stand in the stream and when you’re not watching your fly check out the deer along the bank. I like to use nymphs but on this section in the evening it comes alive with the evening hatches. You will need a few different flies and it varies from year to year. Take your favorite dry flies and a mosquito pattern along with Caddis Flies and you should do well. “Local Tip” use the smallest floating leader that you can manage. If you can manage a 7X or 8X leader here, use it. These fish have been biting artificial flies their entire lives and they are the most leader shy fish I have ever experienced. I have been on this creek several times and had other anglers from out of the area approach me to ask what I am using. I will show them my fly and they will show me theirs and it will be the exact same fly but when you look at the leader they will have a 5X or 4X leader, but I will have a 7X leader. Go for the small leader and set your drag loose but play them out so they won’t pop off. The farther you walk away from the parking lot the better, you can fish this stretch all the way to the Pit River where the Hat and the Pit meet near Hwy 299.
Camping along Hat Creek is plentiful. I usually take my trailer and stay at Rancheria RV Park or at the PG&E campground at Cassel but there is usually not a problem finding a campground with available space after the opening weekend of trout season.
This is a narrow river more the size of a creek that flows along Hwy 89 south of Mt. Shasta. There is plenty of access to this river and you can drive right up to it from several different dirt roads going south from Hwy 89. Camping is available all along Hwy 89 you can tent or car camp at several improved campgrounds along Hwy 89 or if you opt to take the RV there are some RV Parks in McCloud that are safe and secure and within a reasonable drive to the McCloud River and McCloud Lake.
Cattle Camp Campground is a nice camp to start and the fishing on the river near the camp is good, but it can be a little tight, the vegetation and the steep stream banks make it tough but there are some fish in this section. Upper Falls and Middle Falls seem to produce the most fish for me. There is easy access and almost anyone can fish here. One thing I like about the McCloud is the Red Banded Rainbow Trout. These are neat little fish and a 12inch fish would be a very nice catch. They look like a standard rainbow with a heavy red stripe on there side. The Lower Falls is also a good bet and you will find trout, but you will run into more campers.
The McCloud River looking upstream near Lower Falls
There are several Day Use Areas and several campgrounds in the area to choose from
Easy access is abundant but most of the river is very difficult to fish due to the vegitation
In all the years I have lived in Northern California I have never seen the McCloud when it wasn't running high. Be prepared to fish this river at higher than normal flows, but still very fishable.
If this guy can make if here in this sedan any vehicle can make it. All the roads I know of that take you to and around the McCloud River can be accessed by a sedan.
McCloud Lake is nice, but you really do need a boat, there are some areas to fish but it seems like whenever I go there everyone else had the same idea. The McCloud river below the lake offers some very excellent fishing but you need to have your hiking shoes on to get to the good fish. I have had good success on this river using #14 Red Copper John. This is a beaded nymph. The trout in the section above the lake prefer supper small bugs and small leaders. A 7X leader would be very appropriate. Below the Lake the trout tend to get bigger and a X6 would work but if they are turning away from your flies (if you can see them) switch to a smaller leader.
California DFW Fish Planting Schedule
If you are wondering where and how to find the fish stocking or planting information for California DFW click on the link below or copy it into your browser. Scroll to the bottom of the page and you will see how to enter the information. Or skim through the results that are already visible. When you look at the information and then look at the “Map” remember that the arrow on the map is just a general location so you can locate the stream or body of water, it is not specific at all. Maybe within a few feet or a few miles.
Are you starting to notice a pattern? I use Pheasant Tail Nymphs and Beaded Head PT or Beaded Head Hare's Ear for most of my nymph fishing and here is why. Remember I said that I may help you save some money, I have fly fished in Northern California going on 30 years. I have been to every fly shop and sporting goods store in the area and I have spent an unbelievable amount of money on the newest fly and the most trendy, super-duper fish getting fly that they sell. More often than not, no matter what comes up, by the end of the season I am back to using PTs, BPTs, and Hairs ears and a few other generally inexpensive flies because they worked, and all those expensive flies didn’t. Remember fly shops and sporting good stores want to sell you flies, and gear, that’s how they make their money and if you can’t catch fish with their flies then it’s your fault and they want you to hire a guide, their guide. In my Tip and Tactic Section I will cover what flies I think you will need to fish all the lakes and streams in Northern California and a few other tips that will significantly help you catch more fish on the fly and with bait. And remember you can always email me through the Contact Me tab on my main page if you need to ask me a question or suggest I write something on specific waters that I haven’t covered, I personally answer all emails.