8 Best Fly Fishing Locations in California to Catch Fish

fisherman fly fishing in river

California has some of the best fishing weather in the United States. For fly fishing enthusiasts, Northern California is one of the more premiere locations to catch fish. Many rivers and small streams in Northern California stay open year-round offering a great variety of fishing destinations. These following are the 7 best fly fishing locations in Northern California to catch fish. 

Best Rivers for Fly Fishing in California 

Now there are plenty of great waterways in Northern California worthy of this list. Narrowing it down to just a few is actually pretty hard to do. These selections are just based on my personal experiences fly fishing rivers and streams of California for the last 30 years. Keep in mind that this list is in no particular order.

Fly Fishing the Lower Sacramento River

lower Sacramento river

The lower part of the Sacramento River is a prime place to catch rainbow trout, stealhead, smallmouth and largemouth bass, and stripper. The lower Sacramento river provides amazing year-round fishing opportunities.  You can catch some huge fish in both winter and spring, but spring brings a large caddis fly hatch bringing the fish out in droves.  You can also find some great salmon catches on the river – especially in the fall and winter.

My personal favorite location to fish the lower Sacramento is between Shasta Lake and the town of Redding. This is a large section of water but has some great trout fishing and even better views.

The best time to fly fish the lower Sacramento is March through June. You will see an abundance of hatches this time of year. Stone flies and stimulators seem to work best for me.

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Feather River Stealhead Fishing

The Feather River is a great place to catch steelheads.  Fishing on this river is exciting, productive, and challenging all at the same time.  The best fishing is in the fall where adult steelheads weighing over four pounds can be found quite easily.  In the spring, you will also find some great opportunities to fly fish for some record breaking fish.

The middle fork of the Feather River is probably the most popular. My favorite spots to fish the stretch of River are around the town of Quincy. There is plenty of public land around this area for fly fishing anglers to wet a line.

I have had the most luck here fly fishing with big stone flies. Black stones with gold beads have always been my go to and have not let me down yet. I once had an angler out fish me 3 to 1 though using a red San Juan worm.

East Fork Carson River

If you’re looking for a one of a kind fly fishing experience in Northern California, you may want to look at the East Fork of the Carson River.  This river provides trout anglers with many different experiences – number of fish being one. The narrow, fast-flowing upper reaches, above Wolf Creek, are accessible only by a rough four wheel drive trail, on horseback, or by foot. 

This is a classic freestone stream with lots of riffles, rapids, runs, and pools. Summer is the better season to get on and try your hand on the East fork.  Large fish are consistent on the Carson, especially around the Nevada border where the river branches off providing a great place to find the fish.

I love to fish in the Markleeville area using stone flies, may flies, and red San Juan worms. Literally, these are the only three flies I use here and have caught fish every time.

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Truckee River Fishing Northern California

The Truckee River is the largest of three major river systems in the Northern California/Reno area.  The good weather provides year-round fly fishing with easy access, beautiful canyon scenery, and feisty wild trout.  Many experts rate the Truckee as one of the Top fly fishing rivers in Northern California.  It is, however, a tough river to fish because of the flows due to snow run off.

When you get to Truckee you don’t even care if you catch fish or not. The town is an experience in itself. The fishing has always been hit or miss for me. The reason its on this list is because when it hits, it hots hard. Some of my best days fly fishing Northern California have come form the Truckee River.

Fall is my favorite time to fish this great river because this is when the big brown trout come out to play. Drakes, Dunns, and Mayflies are all good choices this time of year, although my biggest Truckee River trout came off of a crayfish pattern.

Fish the edges of the deep runs for the big trout. They’re in there and they are always lurking.

Owens River Above Crowley Lake

Located above Crowley Lake, the Owens River is one of the best places to fish for trout in California. The river is one of a kind with a gentle current that flows through a glacial valley between mountains that are 9,000 feet tall or more.

At one time, the Owens River provided water and power to Los Angeles. When they converted the gorge, much of the fish died out. With restoration of the river back to a fly fishing destination, you can now find some beautiful brown or rainbow trout here. 

Spring and fall are the best times to fish the Owens river. Use black caddis flies and blue winged olives for best results. Although I have not caught huge fish in this section, there are a lot of really nice fish.

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McCloud River

The McCloud River is one of California’s premier trout fisheries. This River feeds Lake Shasta and was the breeding ground for rainbow trout that was shipped all over the country to stock other rivers and streams. You can find big brown trout as well as rainbow trout in plentiful supply on the McCloud. 

This area has a lot of private land as well as public lands. The desolate area can be tough, so pack accordingly.

The best time to hit up the McCloud River is May and June. Bring some Caddis, Stones, and Dunns and your should be good to go.

Middle Fork San Joaquin River

fisherman holding brown trout

In Northern California, the Middle Fork of the San Joaquin River provides some great fly fishing for some excellent trout.

This river is one of the few places designated as wild trout waters by the state. This area receives a lot of fishing, so it’s a good idea to get there early in the morning to beat the crowds.

Besides the normal species of trout, this river also boasts a hybrid variety of rainbow and golden trout with bright orange sides. 

My favorite spots to fish here is below the Florence Lake. This river is about the only place I can catch fish on a green drake. Fishing summer months has been good to me here. There are plenty of places to access the river so I tend to drive around fishing multiple places in a day.

Hat Creek Northern California

hat creek

Hat Creek is another great place to fly fish in California. These, too, have been designated wild trout waters, and you will find plenty here.

This creek is very well-suited to both beginning as well as experienced fly fisherman. The banks are covered with heavy brush that provides some great hiding places for brown and rainbow trout.

Fish here wont set world records, but that not to say that 20 inch trout cant be caught. Fall is the best time of year to fly fish Hat Creek.

Fly fishing with terrestrials, stone flies, and small golden stones are my go to flies here. Opening day will see a lot of pressure. Getting away form the crowd will be the key.

8 Best Fly Fishing Locations in California to Catch Fish

These are just a few of the best fly fishing locations in California. I have personally caught fish in every single one of these waterways. Just by doing a little bit of research you can find yourself a little spot on one of these rivers or creeks for a day and catch some fish of your own.

Do you have a river or creek in California that you think should be on this list?

Drop a comment below and let me know, I always love hearing form fellow anglers and their experiences.

fly fisherman catching brown trout