California is world-renowned for its fly fishing, and for a good reason. The Golden State has more river miles than any other state in the country and is home to both native and introduced trout species. Whether you're a seasoned angler or just getting started, there's a spot on this list for you.
Some of the best places to fly fish in California include:
- Carson River, East Fork
- Crowley Lake
- Eagle Lake
- East Walker River
- Fall River
- Hat Creek
- Hot Creek
- Klamath River
- Deep Creek
- Kern River
- Los Angeles River
- Piru Creek
These and countless other rivers, lakes, and streams offer superb fly fishing opportunities for anglers of all skill levels. With so many options, it can be tough to know where to start. That's why we've put together this list of California's 27 best places to fly fish.
Best Fly Fishing Rivers in Northern California
Northern California is home to some of the best fly fishing in the world. The region's diverse landscape provides various angling environments, from high mountain lakes to fast-flowing rivers.
1. Carson River, East Fork
Carson River's East Fork is one of California's best trout streams. It's located in the Sierra Nevada mountains and is home to both native rainbow and brown trout. The river is easily accessible from the town of Markleeville, and there are several good campsites located along its banks.
Recommended Fly Patterns for the Carson River, East Fork:
- Half Chernobyl - Brown/Orange - Size #10
- Caddis Larva Green - Size #16
- Perdigon Black - Size $14-#18
2. Crowley Lake
Crowley Lake is located 12 miles south of Mammoth Lakes on US Highway 395. Crowley Lake is one of the few places in the Eastern Sierra where you can drive up to the water's edge and enjoy a full-service marina, campsite, and tackle shop. Anglers and sightseers love Crowley Lake's shoreline, which extends for over 45 miles.
Recommended Fly Patterns for Crowley Lake:
- Rojo Midge - Size #16-#20
- Zebra Midge in Black or Red - Size #16-20
- Slump Buster with Cone in Olive - Size #6-#12
3. Eagle Lake
Eagle Lake is located near Volcanic National Park in the Lassen National Forest and is one of the largest natural lakes in California. Eagle Lake is located in Lassen County, northeastern California, approximately 16 miles north of Susanville.
It is the second biggest natural freshwater lake entirely in California and the largest natural freshwater lake entirely within the state. Eagle Lake is a closed basin lake with fluctuating water levels as a result of inflow variations; there are no natural surface outlets.
Recommended Fly Patterns the Eagle Lake:
4. East Walker River
The East Walker River is a diverse and productive river located in the Eastern Sierra Nevada, and it's home to brown and rainbow trout and various other fish species.
The East Walker River begins in eastern California at the Bridgeport Reservoir and flows into Nevada before emptying into Walker Lake. When the circumstances are right, 8 miles of the East Walker River are open to anglers.
Recommended Fly Patterns for the East Walker River:
5. Fall River
The Fall River is a tributary of the Pit River in northeastern Shasta County, northern California, which has a length of 21.3 miles. The Fall River is one of California's best fly fishing rivers and is known for its large population of rainbow trout.
The river flows through a scenic canyon and is surrounded by mountains, making it a popular spot for anglers and hikers. Even during mid-summer, the high amount of spring water inflow maintains Fall River water temperatures near optimum levels for trout growth.
Recommended Fly Patterns for the Fall River:
6. Hat Creek
The Hat Creek is a 48.7-mile long Pit River tributary in Shasta County, approximately 26 miles north of Lassen Park. The Creek was named after a surveyor that lost his hat in the waters.
Because of the creek's clear, calm waters and rich insect life presents a unique challenge to beginner anglers. Hat Creek's calm water allows trout to spot an imitation, so anglers must be stealthy and have a good selection of flies.
Recommended Fly Patterns for Hat Creek:
7. Hot Creek
Hot Creek is a spring-fed creek located in the Eastern Sierra Nevada, approximately 15 miles south of Mammoth Lakes. The creek is well known for its geothermal activity, which keeps the water temperature between 65-70 degrees year-round. This makes Hot Creek an excellent fishery for trout.
Recommended Fly Patterns for Hot Creek:
- Baetis Barr Emergers Plain - Size #20
- Flashback Pheasant Tail Beadhead - Size #18
- Zebra Midge Black or Red - #18-20
8. Klamath River
The Klamath River, which meanders 257 miles (414 kilometers) through Oregon and northern California in the United States before emptying into the Pacific Ocean, is one of North America's major waterways.
The Klamath River begins in the high desert and flows toward the mountains, carving its way through the Cascade Range and Klamath Mountains before reaching the sea. Its salmon, steelhead, and rainbow trout have evolved to withstand unusually high temperatures and acidity levels when compared to other rivers.
Recommended Fly Patterns for the Klamath River:
9. Los Vaqueros Reservoir
Los Vaqueros Reservoir is a man-made reservoir in Contra Costa County, approximately 35 miles east of San Francisco. The reservoir was created for water storage, flood control, and recreation, and it is now a popular spot for anglers. The reservoir is located near the city of Livermore and can be reached via Vasco Road, which connects Brentwood and Livermore.
Recommended Fly Patterns for Los Vaqueros Reservoir:
10. Mammoth Creek
Located in eastern California, Mammoth Creek, a major water source for the Upper Owens River, drains the numerous lakes, streams, and snowfields of the Lakes Basin, as well as Valentine and Sherwin lakes on the southeastern slopes of Mammoth Mountain.
The creek meanders down the valley to the east across Highway 395 before merging with Hot Creek near its point of origin. The Sherwin Meadows Area, just south of Mammoth Lakes off US 395, is this stream's most accessible and productive section.
Recommended Fly Patterns for Mammoth Creek:
11. McCloud River
The McCloud River is a 77-mile-long river flowing east of and parallel to the upper Sacramento River in Siskiyou County and Shasta County. It originates at the springs and meadows of McCloud River Preserve, approximately 10 miles (16 km) east of Mount Shasta.
It feeds a beautiful mountainous region of the Cascade Range, including part of Mount Shasta. McCloud is a tributary of the Pit River, which flows into the Sacramento River.
Recommended Fly Patterns for McCloud River:
12. Merced River
The Merced River, located in central California, is one of the state's major rivers. The Merced River is a long, swift-flowing river that cuts through Yosemite National Park's southern section and is the primary watercourse flowing through Yosemite Valley. Once the river reaches the agricultural San Joaquin Valley's arid plains, it transforms into a sluggish meandering stream.
Recommended Fly Patterns for the Merced River:
13. Owens River
The Owens River is in eastern California and is approximately 183 miles long. It empties into and through the Owens Valley, an arid basin between the eastern slope of the Sierra Nevada and the western Inyo and White Mountains flanks.
The Owens River rises in the Sierra Nevada Mountains, approximately 15 miles (24.1 kilometers) south of Mono Lake and 35 miles (56.3 kilometers) east of Yosemite Valley.
Recommended Fly Patterns for the Owens River:
14. Pit River
In northeastern California, the Pit River is a major river that leads into the state's Central Valley. The Pit River is one of the Sacramento River's main tributaries and contributes up to eighty percent of Shasta Lake's water volume. The main stem of the Pit River is 207 miles long, and some water in the system travels 265 miles to the Sacramento River from its longest source.
Recommended Fly Patterns for the Pit River:
15. Putah Creek
The Putah Creek is a large stream in northern California, a tributary of the Yolo Bypass and the Sacramento River. The 85-mile-long creek has its headwaters in the Mayacamas Mountains, a section of the Coast Range, and flows east through two dams.
The creek rises on the east slope of Cobb Mountain south of Cobb in Lake County and flows to Lake Berryessa. It dips eastward to the hamlet of Whispering Pines, where it bends southeast before heading east along State Route 175.
Recommended Fly Patterns for the Putah Creek:
- Zebra Midges in red, black - Size #18-22
- Beadhead Pheasant Tails - SIze #16-20
- RS2 in olive, gray, black, - Size #18-22
16. San Joaquin River
The San Joaquin River is Central California's longest river. The 366-mile-long river begins in the high Sierra Nevada. It flows through the productive agricultural area of the northern San Joaquin Valley before reaching San Francisco Bay, Suisun Bay, and the Pacific Ocean.
The San Joaquin is one of California's most heavily dammed rivers, providing irrigation water and a wildlife corridor.
Recommended Fly Patterns for the San Joaquin River:
17. Smith River
The Smith River is a river in Del Norte County, California, that runs from the Klamath Mountains to the Pacific Ocean. It is about 25.1 miles long and runs through the Siskiyou National Forest, Six Rivers National Forest, and Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park.
Recommended Fly Patterns for the Smith River:
18. The Trinity River
The Trinity River is a major waterway in northwestern California and the Klamath River's main tributary. The Trinity meanders for 165 miles (266 kilometers) through the Klamaths and Coast Ranges, with a watershed of nearly 3,000 square miles (7,800 km2) in Trinity and Humboldt Counties.
Throughout most of its length, the river flows swiftly through narrow canyons and mountain pastures protected as part of the National Wild and Scenic Rivers System. The Trinity is known for having huge runs of anadromous fish, notably Chinook salmon and steelhead.
Recommended Fly Patterns for the Trinity River:
- Copper John Hot Wire Bead-head - Red Gold - Size #12
- Holy Grail-Tungsten - Hairs Ear - Size #16
- Elk Hair Caddis CDC- Olive - Size #16
19. Truckee River
The Truckee River is a river in California and Nevada. The river flows northeasterly for 121 miles (195 kilometers) before emptying into Pyramid Lake in the Great Basin. Its waters are an essential source of irrigation in its lower reaches and adjacent valleys. The Truckee River is home to some trophy rainbow and brown trout, among other species.
The Truckee has 12 miles of excellent fly-fishing, with several turnoffs where you can park. A bridge across the river may be found near Hirschdale, from which you may access a few pools that might allow you to hook your catch of the day.
Recommended Fly Patterns for the Truckee River:
20. Upper Sacramento River
The Sacramento River is California's major river and the largest in the state. The river rises in the Klamath Mountains and flows south for 400 miles (640 km) before emptying into the Sacramento–San Joaquin River Delta and San Francisco Bay.
The Sacramento River drains approximately 26,500 square miles (69,000 km2) in 19 California counties, most of which is the productive agricultural zone surrounding the Coast Ranges and the Sierra Nevada but also extending into the volcanic plateaus of Northeastern California.
The Sacramento River is the year-round home to rainbow trout, smallmouth, and largemouth bass, as well as a variety of other species that play vital roles in the environment.
Recommended Fly Patterns for the Upper Sacramento River:
21. Yuba River
The Yuba River is a river in the Sierra Nevada and eastern Sacramento Valley, California, United States. The river's main stem is about 40 miles (64 km) long, and its three principal forks are divided at its headwaters. The Yuba River proper begins at the confluence of the North Yuba and Middle Yuba rivers; shortly after, the South Yuba joins. The length of the Yuba River measured to the head of the North Yuba River is just over 100 miles (160 km).
The top species in the Yuba are Rainbow trout, Smallmouth bass, Northern pikeminnow, Brown trout, and Skamania trout. Steelhead migrate into the River in November, with steelhead and rainbow trout fishing at their peak during the winter months.
Recommended Fly Patterns for the Yuba River:
- Caddis Larva - Beadhead - Green #16
- Prince Nymph - Size #16
- Stimulators - Yellow and Orange - Size #10-12
Best Fly Fishing Rivers in Southern California
The California River system includes several world-class fly fishing destinations, many of which are easily accessible from Southern California. The following rivers are all within a few hours' drive of Los Angeles and offer great opportunities to catch wild trout.
1. Deep Creek
Deep Creek rises at an elevation of 7,512 feet (2,290 m) in the San Bernardino Mountains at the head of Little Green Valley. It flows southwest through Arrowbear and Running Springs before turning north. From the west, it is joined by Hooks Creek; and a dam on Little Bear Creek, a tributary of Hooks Creek, creates Lake Arrowhead.
The creek continues north, down a deep canyon in the San Bernardino Mountains and Ord Mountains, after Holcomb Creek and Coxey Creek from the right, before meandering west and forming a canyon between the San Bernardino Mountains and the Ord Mountains. This creek is an unstocked natural stream but still provides plenty of wild trout. Deep Creek's best fly fishing is accessible via Pacific Crest Trail, a trail that runs parallel to the creek.
Recommended Fly Patterns for Deep Creek:
2. Kern River
The Kern River, previously known as the Rio de San Felipe and later La Porciuncula, is an endangered, wild, and scenic river in California, with a length of 165 miles (270 km). It empties into Kern Lake northeast of Bakersfield via snowmelt near Mount Whitney. The river passes through beautiful canyons in the mountains before emptying into Kern Lake.
Recommended Fly Patterns for Kern RIver:
3. Los Angeles River
The Los Angeles River, previously known as the Porciúncula River, is a major waterway in Los Angeles County, California. It begins at the base of the Simi Hills and Santa Susana Mountains and flows nearly 51 miles from Canoga Park through the San Fernando Valley to its mouth near Long Beach, where it enters San Pedro Bay.
Recommended Fly Patterns for the Los Angeles River:
4. Piru Creek
The Piru Creek is a major river in northern Los Angeles County, California, which is roughly 71 miles (114 km) long. It's a tributary of the Santa Clara River, Southern California's biggest stream system that is still largely natural.
The Los Padres National Forest covers the majority of Piru Creek above Lake Piru. There are two major reservoirs along Piru Creek, Lake Piru, and Pyramid Lake, which store water for local irrigation and the California State Water Project.
Recommended Fly Patterns for Piru Creek:
5. The San Jacinto Mountains
The San Jacinto Mountains are a mountain range located in Riverside County, California, east of Los Angeles. Like the adjacent San Bernardino Mountains, the San Jacinto Mountains are a humid island towering above the surrounding arid and semi-arid region. Annual precipitation varies from 15 inches at the western base to as much as 32 inches above 5,500 feet (Idyllwild averages 27 inches annually). On the coast (western) side of the range, more rain falls than on the eastern (desert) side.
The spine of the range is home to the Pacific Crest Trail. The Palm Springs Aerial Tramway Mountain Station, located above Palm Springs, is a popular walking route that starts at the range's high point and ends at the high point.
Recommended Fly Patterns for the San Jacinto Mountains:
6. West Fork San Gabriel River
The West Fork is one of two major tributaries that flow into the San Gabriel River in Los Angeles County, California. The West Fork begins at Red Box Gap in the San Gabriel Mountains and flows for 19 miles (31 km) to its end at San Gabriel Reservoir, where it is crossed by SR 39.
Bear Creek, Devil Creek, and the North Fork San Gabriel River are the three major tributaries of the West Fork. The southern boundary of the San Gabriel Wilderness is formed by the West Fork, with a large portion of the watershed located within it.
Recommended Fly Patterns for the West Fork of the San Gabriel River:
Best Time to Fly Fish in California
When discussing the hatches in California, it's best to split the state into two parts. The north and south halves of California are affected by different hatch seasons, so be aware of this before heading out. Here's a look at the typical hatch timetable in California.
The ideal time of year for fly fishing in California is during the late spring season, which generally lasts from April until May. This is especially appealing to those looking for bigger fish since ice breaks and the trout fishing season begins in April. The months of April and May are when trout emerge from hibernation and migrate to warmer climes.
California has a lot of distinct microclimates owing to its huge variety in terrain, which means that the weather conditions vary considerably from place to place. California is divided into many climate zones, ranging from subarctic to desert. The majority of the state has a Mediterranean climate, which means winter is chilly but humid, and summer is hot and dry.
California Fishing Regulations
California restricts leader length, number of hooks, and fishing hours for most streams and rivers. These restrictions intend to protect fish from being caught during their spawning season or when they are particularly vulnerable to being hooked.
Per the California Department of Fish and Wildlife:
- All fish may be taken only by angling with one closely supervised rod and line or one hand line with no more than three hooks, nor more than three artificial lures (each lure may have three hooks attached) attached.
- You must have a valid fishing license if you are 16 years of age or older
- It is unlawful to fish with any setup of fishing tackle in anadromous waters unless the distance between the terminal hook or lure and any weight attached to the line or leader, whether fixed or sliding, is less than six feet.
To download a copy of all of California's fishing regulations, visit the California Department of Fish and Wildlife website.
Whether you're a beginner or a seasoned fly fisherman, California has a location that's perfect for you. With such a large and diverse state, there's bound to be a place that fits your fancy. Be sure to check the regulations before heading out, and most importantly, be prepared.