California Fly Fishing Hot Spots and Tips (2021)
California has it all, from the ocean to Hollywood to mountains. When it comes to fly fishing, there is something for every angler. Whether you are into saltwater fly fishing, mountain stream fishing, river fishing for beautiful trout, and of course lake fishing and everything in between, you will be sure to enjoy everything Cali has to offer. The vast array of fish species and different climates also helps to make the California fly fishing experience one you won’t forget.
California is a large state, with the Pacific Ocean on the west side of the state spanning almost 900 miles in length. The northern part of California has more mountains and forests, similar to that of Oregon, its neighboring state to the north. When most people think of California, they think of Hollywood, but if you are anything like me, fly fishing is on the top of your mind!
This blog will cover great fishing holes in California, different fly patterns to use, types of fish species you can target, matching the different California insect hatches, and what type of fly fishing gear you will want to be rigged up with before venturing out on your trip. I have been on many fly fishing trips to California, mainly to the northern part of the state, and I would suggest taking the trip to anyone who is thinking of going.
What makes California so good for fly fishing
California’s vast size, different climates, mountains, forests, beaches, the ocean and desert all make for a wild adventure. With the warmer climate comes year long fishing opportunities. It can get chilly in the northern parts of the state throughout the winter, so make sure to check the weather before heading out on your trip.
There are challenging waters in California for the highly experienced angler, and there are calm and easy streams and rivers for the new anglers starting out. I am a huge fan of mountain streams that have colder water as they tend to produce beautiful trout, and of course different rivers that produce monster trout, salmon and steelhead. I have yet to be disappointed when it comes to fly fishing in Cali.
Fish species to target in California
There are far too many fish species to mention, but here are some very common ones that you can target:
- Cutthroat Trout
- Chinook Salmon
- Coho Salmon
- Brown Trout
- Largemouth Bass
- Smallmouth Bass
- Rainbow Trout
- Striped Bass
- Mountain Whitefish
- Lake Trout
- Brook Trout
- Steelhead Trout
- Kokanee Salmon
Great waters for fly fishing in California
If you are in the mood to catch gorgeous rainbows and browns, then Hat Creek is your go to. Anglers from all over the US and Canada head to Cali to fish Hat Creek. There are fast moving waters and slower waters, making it perfect for all anglers. The creek is broken up into 3 parts, the Upper Hat is mainly for bait fisherman, the Middle Hat is popular with everyone and their dog, and the Lower Hat is directed towards fly fishing. Wild trout are bountiful in this creek, so be prepared to catch an epic amount of fish.
Above the McCloud Reservoir the river is much smaller in size making it easier to wade. However, below the McCloud Reservoir, the river is bigger and has plenty of deep pockets which makes fly fishing perfect. It has absolutely beautiful back country as it is in the Mount Shasta area. Rainbow trout here are pure, they are often referred to as the “Rainbow of the World.” Insect hatches are forever occurring on this river, making the trout feast and grow large in size.
Being fed with geothermal springs, the Hot Creek is located out in the Eastern Sierra. The creek is small in size, but produces small and larger fish, perfect for the dry fly enthusiasts. Midges and mayflies are your typical hatches on the Hot Creek, so make sure to stock up on these flies before heading out. Like all creeks, fish can be spooked quite easily. It is best to sneak up to the fishing holes, staying quiet when talking with friends. Fly presentation is everything when fishing creeks, so try and make your fly look as natural as possible. Long leaders are best when using dry flies!
Upper Sacramento River
Every angler has a different view when it comes to the best river or creek, but I think it’s safe to say that most anglers can agree on the Upper Sacramento River being a top choice. Coming in at 447 miles long, each stretch of the river has a different opportunity for all the anglers out there. The river boasts crystal clear water and in many areas it can be quite difficult to wade, but we all know that means the fish don’t get targeted as often!
Nymphing for brown trout and rainbow trout can yield you some beauties coming in over 20 inches long. Reach out to local fly shops in the area you are planning on going to see if they can guide you to a good entry point. They may also be able to tell you what the fish are currently biting at the time of your fishing trip.
What fly patterns are best for fly fishing in California
All of your standard caddis, mayfly, and stonefly patterns are great. If you are fishing rivers, nymphing is always key unless its hopper season or a hatch is on and the fish are rising to the surface. Hare’s Ears, Pheasant Tails, Copper Johns, Prince Nymphs, and Caddis Midges are all common nymphs to try in California waters.
I always suggest having the above common fly patterns, but to always stock up on a solid variety of different patterns in case the fish aren't biting the usual's. Every fly fishing angler should carry a minimum of 50 different fly patterns to increase their chance of catching fish on each and every fishing trip.
Not having a solid variety of flies can amount to a lousy trip, I have seen it time and time again. My old man carries a backpack full of fly cases and he always seems to be able to find a hook that the fish will bite. He catches more fish than anyone I know or fish with.
Zinger Fishing has multiple fly assortment cases if you want to make sure you have a decent starting point before heading out on your next fly fishing adventure.
Great dry fly patterns
There are thousands of fly patterns and variations out there these days, but you would be surprised at what works! The classics are always a go to for me, but I always fully stock up on a variety of different patterns.
These are great dry fly patterns for Cali waters.
Great nymph patterns
Matching the hatch
Zinger Fishing has a blog on matching the hatch, if you would like to read more into it. Matching the hatch is something every angler should do, but normally the beginners like to skip it as they are too excited to get their hooks wet.
If there are insects on the surface of the water or subsurface, take the time to scoop one up with your hand or hat. Take a look at its characteristics, what size it is, what color it is, and its shape. Then take a few minutes to see if the fish are rising to the surface, or if they are staying subsurface. If no fish are rising, you probably don’t want to be using dry flies, and if the fish are rising, then the use of nymphs probably won’t yield you all that many fish.
Open up your fly cases to see what fly patterns you have that matches the insect that you pulled from the water. Try to match it the best you can and start there. If the fish don’t bite your hooks within 10 minutes, I would suggest trying a new pattern. Keep this going until you start hooking up.
Standard fly fishing equipment for California waters
California has such a large array of fish, so when it comes to the correct fly fishing equipment, you will need to figure out what fish species you are targeting first. For most trout and fish of that size, your standard 5 or 6 weight rod works like a charm. It gets the dry flies and nymph rigs out into the perfect holes with ease, but if you are fishing for salmon or bass, your 5 or 6 weight rod will have trouble with the larger fly patterns.
7 or 8 weight rods are generally ideal for the larger aggressive fish. The same goes for your fly reel and line, you always want to make sure their weights match up. Even if you are fishing for lake trout, you may want to increase your rod weight.
California Fly Fishing
I love to try fly fishing in different rivers and streams throughout North America. My first fly fishing trip to Cali was back in 07 and I’ve been back 16 times since then. I can’t get enough of the beautiful scenery, weather, and fish that California produces. If you have been thinking about getting into fly fishing, or if you are wanting to head over to Cali to try and land a large trout, I highly suggest you go for it, you won’t be disappointed. My best piece of advice is to make sure you have a good variety of flies before heading out. Tight lines!!
If you like reading about fly fishing, our Zinger Fishing blog has a wide variety of different articles. We cover places to fish, what patterns to use, techniques, gear, and everything else to help fellow anglers land more fish in their nets.