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Northern California Fly Fishing
I moved to Northern California in August 2011 for a change of scenery, to find a career, and to fish new water. The latter being the most important. After years in SW Washington and about a year in SW Montana, I had already fished some amazing and famous waters. But Nor Cal had been on my radar for a long time. I used to spend my summers here and had fished a few local streams recommended by local fly shops, but hadn’t gotten to fish any of the really famous streams, so I was pretty excited when the opportunity popped up.
For the first couple of months I only fished locally, without much luck. The best of the local streams had seen a huge increase in numbers of people (mostly bait fisherman), and a decrease in numbers of fish. A few years back I hiked into the canyon on the upper end of Bidwell Park to fish Big Chico Creek. I remember not seeing any sign of people, and a ton of hungry rainbows. The first time back there after moving down here, there were Styrofoam worm containers and Powerbait and egg jars all over the place, along with a huge amount of other garbage. Also, there were no fish to be found. I was bummed.
By the following spring I had become friends with a guy who loved to fish and wanted to do some exploring, so we planned a trip to Hat Creek for the week after opening weekend. I had been reading about Hat for years, and was super anxious to fish it because every article I had read hyped it up so much. We fished the lower section, which is a Wild Trout designated area highly regarded as one of the best fly fishing spots in California. I quickly found out that it’s also one of the most technical and highly pressured places to fish. I ended that trip with only a few takes at a dry fly. It wasn’t until another friend took me to upper Hat Creek the following fall that I caught my first fish on the creek. The upper portion isn’t well known for fly fishing, but it’s some really cool water. It’s full of hungry rainbows and brookies, and they get big there.
Between trips to Hat Creek I started fishing the Sacramento River, which is said to be one of the best tail-waters in the country. And it’s no joke. My first evening on the river, I saw fish rising all over the place. They were all huge rainbows. I don’t think we saw a fish that was under 18 inches. But none of them wanted to eat any of my flies. The fish in the section I was fishing are extremely picky.
From the dam down through Anderson is the best bet for catching good fish on a regular basis. This is the section that gets the most attention from fly anglers and guides. Here you can catch big, fat rainbows almost all year long, making it the best choice for anyone coming from out of the area.
If you have time to do some driving, there are so many places to fish that at times it can be overwhelming. Within an hour or so from Redding in any direction, you can find just about any kind of fishing a guy could ask for. You can find salmon, steelhead, multiple species of trout, carp, largemouth bass, and stripers on all kinds of water from small spring creeks, freestones, man-made ponds and tail-waters. This is also the only place where you can catch rainbows who’s genetics are responsible for almost all other rainbows around the world, the famous McCloud River Redbands. Northern California is the West Coast’s fly fishing paradise.
A little further from Redding, to the SE, is Lake Almanor. The Lake Almanor area is well known for HUGE browns. Late last fall I headed up there to find them. It was a really slow day, but I saw two big browns (both easily 8 pounds), and quite a few other good fish. They were in a tiny, gin-clear creek, and they saw me long before I saw them, so all I could really do was look at them and dream.
If I’ve learned anything about the fish down here, it’s that they’re smart. And while the success rate hasn’t been very high, I’ve come to love it here. Trout are rarely found in ugly places, and Northern California isn’t an exception to that statement. Like anywhere new, it’s going to take some time to figure things out, but that’s the goal for the coming year. I’m hoping my next article will have some good CATCHING stories, instead of just FISHING stories. Until then, keep your lines tight, and watch your back cast.
Cody Lindberg aka troutbum89