If you looking for the best spots for trout fishing in California, you’ve come to the right place.
When most people think of California, they think of Hollywood and beaches. For many people vacationing here, that may be the case, but it is a trout fishing paradise for fishermen. Beyond the cities lies many beautiful lakes, streams, and rivers full of fish.
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Fishing in California is pretty simple, and for a nonresident, it only requires purchasing a license, and you are ready to start fishing. Licenses are fairly inexpensive and available at multiple vendors throughout the state.
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Sunny California may be home to some giant cities and theme parks, but some amazing opportunities to catch giant fish are hidden in this state. Here are some of the best locations for the best trout fishing in California.
Top Locations for Trout Fishing in California
1. Lake Almanor
Found near the headwaters of the Feather River in Northern California, Lake Almanor is one of the state’s most challenging trout fisheries. This lake is home to monster trout, and anglers can regularly catch browns weighing 4 to 9 pounds and rainbows averaging 3 to 6.
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Found at 4,500 feet in a mountain valley in the shadows of Lassen Peak, Almanor is a beautiful alpine lake that makes for a great view while fishing. It is a great change from the state’s usual foothill waters, which are surrounded by rolling hills with heavy brush and oak.
Compared to some other locations on this list, Almanor is often thought to catch fish. It is not a place you go in order to catch a limit of trout to eat, but rather a destination to target and catch a few giant trout for the patient angler. This is the place to go if you are after a monster brown or a big rainbow!
2. Pyramid Lake
Further to the south, you will find a favorite among California trout fishermen, even though technically, it mostly resides in Nevada. Found on the California and Nevada border, Pyramid Lake covers almost 125,000 acres, giving you plenty of room to avoid the crowd.
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The scenery at Pyramid Lake is amazing, and even better is the fishing. This lake is famous for its large cutthroat trout that average around 5 pounds, and some have even been caught upwards of 30 pounds. Giant cutthroat is common here, and to be considered big for this lake, a trout needs to weigh over 15 pounds. Anglers from around the world travel here in hopes of catching one of these monster fish for themselves.
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Here you can fish from the banks and do alright, but the most luck is found taking a boat into the deeper water where, the larger fish like to hide. If a giant cutthroat trout is on your list, this is one lake you will have to travel to.
3. New Melones Reservoir
Many Californian anglers regard New Melones Reservoir as central California’s best trout fishing location, and maybe they are right. This reservoir consistently produces big rainbow trout and can grow some decent browns.
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The average rainbow trout here runs about 2 pounds, and fish that weigh from 5 to 8 pounds are very common. Browns in the 8 to 11-pound range are very common, and upwards of 13 pounds are often found. There are not many places in the world where the average fish weight is this good, making this a very popular choice for anglers.
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Most fishermen here have the best success fishing from the shore, which makes sense as this reservoir is relatively small. While it can be crowded at times, the fishing here is well worth the trouble, and you may be able to catch your new personal best trout.
4. Los Vaqueros Reservoir
Just west of New Melones Reservoir lies another popular reservoir, Los Vaqueros Reservoir. This small lake opened to fishing in 2001 and quickly became known as some of the best trout fishing near the state’s coast.
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While some places’ trout populations vary from year to year, at Los Vaqueros, there is always a great number of holdover fish thanks to its mild temperatures and plentiful bait fish. The state stocks this reservoir with plenty of rainbows every year as well, always giving the larger fish something to eat.
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Shore fishermen here do very well and will usually catch their limit in healthy rainbows. For anglers wanting to catch giant browns, the northern part of the lake is best. Whether you love big rainbows or hungry browns, this little reservoir may be just what you are looking for.
5. Crowley Lake
One of California’s crown jewels when it comes to trout fishing, Crowley Lake is simply a world-class trout fishery. It ranks as the top best trout water time and time again in the state and offers excellent rainbow, brown and cutthroat trout.
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Crowley Lake is the best place to go if you are looking for trout in the double digits. It is also one of the prettiest and most remote lakes in the whole state, making it a great choice for somebody who also wants to avoid the crowds and have some water to themselves.
6. Hat Creek
Hat Creek is the perfect place for anglers who want to escape the crowds and fish for wild trout. This location is infamous for being the first successful wild trout fishery in California, thanks to the Wild Trout Program in California.
This stream is full of both brown and rainbow trout, with healthy wild populations. If anglers take their time and have some patience, they can easily catch these smart fish as much as they like!
Wild trout can be a great challenge for many fly anglers, but Hat Creek will give you plenty of great opportunities to catch them. Not to mention all of the beautiful scenery that goes along with it.
7. McCloud River
The McCloud River is a unique fishing location in California that gives anglers some great trout waters. It is surrounded on all sides by a forest and would appear to be a mountain stream, but it is actually found at a low elevation.
This river is fed by streams, which means the water is crystal clear and stays cold year-round. These conditions make it the perfect habitat for its nice population of rainbow trout.
Before fishing on the McCloud River, make sure you study its unique rules and regulations as well. You are only allowed to keep two fish and must be using barbless hooks. If you can deal with this, you will experience some of the best fishing the state has to offer here.
8. Carson River
The Carson River is a perfect place to search for trout if you want a beautiful mountain stream to do it in. It is open year-round, although the best time to fish it is generally from May until October.
Anglers who head to the Carson River will want to focus on the East Fork. This stretch will provide challenges to anglers with its deep pools and long runs. If you are persistent, however, you will find plenty of brook, brown, cutthroat, and rainbow trout.
Found near the town of Markleeville, there are plenty of different access points that provide plenty of space for many anglers. You can also try accessing the river through the Silver King Trailhead, which will require more hiking but hold less fishing pressure.
9. Owens River
Found in Southern California, the Owens River has both upper and lower portions that you can fish. It can, however, be a difficult river to fish because of its fast-flowing water and small access areas.
It is these challenges that make this river so great to fish. Here anglers will find brown and rainbow trout, and they can grow up to some large sizes thanks to the difficulties that the river provides to anglers.
Avoid fishing here during the weekends if possible, as the few access points can fill up pretty fast. During the week you should have much less competition and can focus on catching some of the big browns and rainbows that call these waters home.
10. Putah Creek
Putah Creek is a very interesting fishing location and a controversial area for many anglers in California. This creek used to be a steelhead spawning area but was dammed up, and the steelhead population was forced to relocate.
But while the steelhead fishing was gone, the dam helped create an excellent rainbow trout fishery. Found in the Sacramento Valley, this is now one of the best rainbow trout locations in the state.
For anglers looking for the biggest number of fish, try fishing down below the dam. For a fisherman that knows what they are doing, you can easily catch your limit here while enjoying the cool waters.
When Does Trout Season Start in California?
One of the great things about many western states is that trout fishing is very open and many times available year-round. California is no exception; many of its warmer trout waters are open year-round to fishing with a valid license.
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Some areas, such as Los Vaqueros and Lake Almanor, do have special regulations regarding when you can and cannot fish there. Generally, most trout fishing in the upper elevation areas occurs in the spring to summer, after much of the snow has melted off allowing access.
How Much Is a Fishing License in California?
The state of California offers many different types of fishing permits because of the amount of water and being on the coast, but here we will focus on freshwater trout fishing.
- An annual sport fishing license is available to non-residents for $134.74 and $49.94 for residents.
- Both residents and nonresidents can purchase 1-day or 2-day short-term licenses for $16.20 and $25.10, respectively.
- Nonresidents can purchase a short-term 10-day license for $49.94.
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California is a great state to fish in but can be a little pricey. Luckily they offer nonresidents a few more options when it comes to short-term licenses. For more information on their license fees and structures, visit the California Department of Fish and Wildlife’s website at https://www.wildlife.ca.gov/Licensing/Fishing.
Where to Buy a Fishing License in California
California is a fishing state, so there is no shortage of places to buy a fishing license. The easiest way is to purchase one online before traveling to the state, but for anglers that prefer to buy one in person, there are plenty of stores to do so.
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With over 1,000 licensed dealers throughout the state, you should easily be able to find one in your area. To view a list of all the available license dealers, visit https://www.wildlife.ca.gov/Licensing.
Trout Fishing in California | Final Thoughts
The Sunshine State of California is one of the most beautiful western states and underrated by most trout fishermen. Any serious angler will know not to judge a book by its cover and realize California is not only home to some giant trout but some of the best trout fishing that the United States has to offer.