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An Angler's Guide to California Fly Fishing

California's best fly fishing spots are not to be missed, as they're frequently packed with abundant and clever fish ripe for the reel. Whether you're hunting for a lazy day on a flat river or an adrenaline-filled freestone adventure, these prime Cali fly spots offer tempting challenges for every angler.

With the Golden State delivering so much world-class fly fishing, it can be challenging deciding where to make your first cast. California has it all, whether you're fishing the drift for rainbow trout, brown trout, larger fish, or high-volume fish — but first, you need to know the quality spots where you can bring in the big ones!

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01 Crowley Lake

This High Sierra downflow reservoir has taken the California fly fishing community by storm with rolling hills, easygoing terrain, and frisky trout. Thanks to the sheer volume of fish in Crowley, anglers of any skill level can try their hand at this gorgeous spot. Expect a nice variety of fish in this lake, too — including brown trout, rainbow trout, and large cutthroats. Additionally, if you're considering size when thinking about this lake, we have three words for you: 18-inch lower limit.

One of the best parts about fly fishing in Crowley is the incredible rivers that feed into this reservoir, which provide quickly accessible alternatives to the lake itself. If you prefer to avoid Crowley's potentially thick traffic, it's easy to drive to one of the rivers feeding Crowley Lake. There, you'll find other incredible fly fishing locations — including the Upper Owens River, McGee Creek, Convict Creek, Hilton Creek, and Crooked Creek.

02 Hat Creek

Hats off to all the true anglers out there! Hat Creek is a legendary fly fishing spot for more experienced.

Hat Creek is perfect for intermediate to advanced fishers due to the cleverness of the trout that inhabit this creek. The water is breathtakingly clear, and the bug population is rich with life, which means two things for the fish.

  1. They'll probably see you before you see them.
  2. Your bait may not stand up to the natural stock of bugs they're used to feasting on. Get creative if you're after that catch of the day.

While the fish may be evasive and can drive even the best twalers to frustration, the quality and volume of rainbow and brown trout in this creek make it well worth the challenge!

03 Carson River, East Fork

Picture this: 61 miles of gorgeous winding river, pools, and deep runs, and some of the most aesthetically pleasing fishing holes California has to offer. The East Fork of Carson River is its largest tributary — the perfect environment for migrating fish in search of tasty meals.

This lengthy tributary is the home of feisty browns, rainbows, brooks, and cutthroats. If you're in search of winding river streams, invigorating mountain air, and a good fight, Carson River is your place.

04 Sacramento River

Fishing fanatics should all experience the breathtaking, trout-filled Sacramento River. The river is California's Largest, filled with world-class rainbows and steelheads.

The spectacular fish in this region grow fast and large, due in part to the vast aquatic and insect populations throughout the river and its riparian environments.

Some anglers favor volume and some favor size. If you lean more toward sweeping vistas and a variety of fish that can put up a real fight, the Sacramento River is for you.

05 Yosemite

Dad fishing with son in lake in Yosemite.

The Yosemite region, already immortalized thanks to naturalist John Muir and photographer Ansel Adams, is unsurprisingly rich in opportunities. With endless rivers, vast lakes, towering peaks, and a healthy fish population, you'd be hard-pressed to find a more perfect area than Yosemite.

Host of a multitude of legendary fly fishing spots, Yosemite should place high on your California list. We recommend Merced River and Merced Lake if you can pick only one to kick off your Yosemite adventure. Here, you'll find an incredibly diverse fish population that'll put some excitement at the end of your line.

And if that wasn't enough to sell you on Yosemite, you can expect to land your limit of chinook salmon, as they heavily populate the breathtaking Merced waterways.

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06 McCloud River

One of the most famous species of trout on the planet is arguably the McCloud River rainbow. To find them, of course, you need to seek out their namesake waters. The McCloud River is a thing of true beauty. Full of emerald pools and pocket riffles, this estuary is surrounded by tall, dense forest on both sides of the river bank.

And if you're after a well-balanced day of fly fishing, look no further. This river provides the perfect breeding ground for high-quality flies and an insect population that helps these fish flourish. You'll get to experience both nymphing and dry fly fishing on the McCloud, with streamers working in certain seasons!

07 Trinity River

Local history and breathtaking wilderness abound along the Trinity River. If this sounds compelling, prepare yourself for the kind of natural beauty anglers are constantly searching for.

And as the majesty of nature can only go so far in satisfying your reel, you'll also be exposed to some of the most incredible steelheads the West can provide. Size truly matters on the Trinity River, with its steelheads reaching well beyond 10 pounds!

08 Kern River

The Kern River takes a special spot, as it's home to many species found nowhere else! The "Heritage Trout" originates here, as well as the infamous Golden Trout, the Kern River Rainbow, and the Little Kern Golden Trout. These unique species make this river fisherman's paradise.

With annual stock dispersed throughout the Kern River, population shortages are of no concern. The 165-mile-long river winds through canyons and mountains, making for the perfect adventure. Additionally, water sports such as kayaking and rafting are available — in case your blood isn't already pumping from the unforgettable fish fights.

09 Putah Creek

Once again, if size is what you're after, then make your way to Putah Creek! Here, you'll battle some of the largest rainbows in the United States. What once was a premier steelhead spawning zone has since transformed into one of California's best rainbow trout fisheries.

Putah Creek has been a fly fishing hotspot for decades and today abounds with history and natural growth, primarily surrounding the famous Monticello Dam. Putah Creek is another fantastic alternative if you've found other areas to be unsuitably busy.

10 Mt. Shasta

Roaring rivers, soaring mountains, and cozy campsites will turn your fly fishing trip into an unforgettable experience. The Mt. Shasta area is already a desirable destination for hiking, mountain biking, and climbing, but don't make the mistake of counting it off your fishing list!

When embarking on a Mt. Shasta excursion, you'll not only leave with unbeatable angling stories but with memories of unmatched California grandeur.

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