Fishing in Northern California

Northern California is home to some of the best fishing anywhere. Period. Open coasts, wild rivers,  endless streams, and high mountain lakes offer plenty of fish year-round – located away from it all in pristine wilderness.

Whether it’s a fast current or still water that’s calling your name, below are some great fishing options, with even a couple of fish adventure options for kids. No worries! We won’t be giving away any secret fishing spots.

Types of Fish in Northern California

Northern California boasts a rich diversity of fish species inhabiting a variety of environments including rivers, lakes, reservoirs, and the Pacific Ocean coastline, including:

  1. Salmon: Chinook (King), Coho (Silver), and Sockeye Salmon.
  2. Trout: Steelhead Trout, Rainbow Trout, Brown Trout, Brook Trout, and McCloud River Redband Trout.
  3. Bass: Largemouth Bass, Smallmouth Bass, and Striped Bass.
  4. Sturgeon
  5. Catfish: Channel Catfish and Bullhead Catfish.
  6. Panfish: Bluegill, Crappie, and Perch.
  7. Rockfish: Various species such as Vermilion, Copper, and Black Rockfish.
  8. Halibut
  9. Lingcod

River Fishing in Northern California

Northern California offers unparalleled opportunities for truly wild river fishing that are serene and abundant with fish species.

The Klamath River

The Klamath River is the second largest river in California, running 263 miles from Oregon through California, to the Pacific Ocean. From September through March, Klamath River salmon fishing is at its peak. Plan for a multiple-day stay in Happy Camp or Hornbrook to fish the hard fighting salmon and steelhead. On the scenic drive stretching from Hornbrook through Yreka to Happy Camp, there are as many as eight river access points that provide access to the Klamath.  The Klamath River Resort Inn in Happy Camp and the Klamath Ranch Resort & Blue Heron RV Park in Hornbrook also offer front row stay and play access to the river. While much of Klamath is ideal for skilled anglers, the Iron Gate Dam is a friendly NorCal spot for beginner fishers, with easy access and slow-moving streams.

Redwood Creek

Redwood Creek in Humboldt, County is renowned for its river fishing, especially for walk and waders, thanks largely to its no boat access and pristine vistas. Nestled within the majestic Redwood National and State Parks, the creek meanders through ancient groves of towering redwoods, offering anglers a serene and breathtaking backdrop. The creek is home to a diverse array of fish species, though it’s mostly known for some of the best steelhead fishing in Northern California. Coho and Chinook salmon, which migrate upstream during spawning seasons, are also abundant.

Trinity River

Home to both wild and hatchery fish, Trinity River is a renowned hotspot for river fishing in Northern California, great for drift boat, shore fishing and fly fishing. It is the main tributary of the Klamath, and like the larger river and Redwood Creek, it is one of the best steelhead trout streams in the western United States. The best times for fishing on Trinity River are during the fall and winter months. From September to November, the river sees a significant run of Chinook salmon, while steelhead trout are most abundant from November through March. These peak seasons attract anglers eager to catch trophy-sized fish, benefitting from the river’s clean, cold waters and well-maintained fishery management practices. Though not native, Brown trout were heavily stocked until the late 1970s, and today have notable self-sustained populations cruising the upper sections of the river.

Upper and Lower McCloud River

The McCloud River is a designated wild and scenic river that offers a true wilderness experience and has been fished by dignitaries, railroad barons and even presidents. The upper and lower portions are so named by their division at the McCloud Reservoir. The narrow canyon – also famous for its waterfalls – holds deep pools of unpolluted, aerated water creating great fishing conditions year round, even in the summer months. The McCloud River is also home to one of the most famous strains of Rainbow trout on the planet, exported to stock bodies of water around the world.

Sacramento River

The Sacramento River spans nearly the entirety of Northern California, running nearly 400 miles south-southwest from its headwaters in the Klamath Mountains all the way to the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta and San Francisco Bay, where it finally joins the Pacific at Golden Gate. Probably the most versatile fishing river in NorCal, you can catch something on “The Sac” any day of the year.

Upper Sacramento River, flowing from Lake Siskiyou to Shasta Lake, is where you go fly fishing for trout.  Lower Sacramento River, spanning Shasta Lake all the way to San Francisco Bay, is where you’ll find many drift fishing from a boat for Chinook Salmon. And along the way you’ll find bass and even sturgeon to keep things fun. Nymphing is popular year-round, through the heat of summer and into the cold of winter when the river is open for catch and release, but it’s in the fall, when the October Caddis flies return to the river to lay their eggs, when fishing the Upper Sac provides one of the most action packed fishing experiences in Northern California.

Lake Fishing in Northern California

Lake fishing in Northern California features stunning lakes like Shasta Lake, Clear Lake, and Lake Tahoe that offer diverse fish species, including rainbow trout, largemouth bass, kokanee salmon, and catfish.

Lake Siskiyou

Lake Siskiyou is a reservoir formed by Box Canyon Dam on the Sacramento River.  The 30,000-acre lake is nestled at the foot of the Trinity Divide and fed by five mountain streams, and has become a prime recreational hub, especially for fishing boats. The fish in Lake Siskiyou include Rainbow and Brown Trout, Chinook Salmon, Largemouth Bass, Smallmouth Bass, Spotted Bass, Crappie, Bluegill, Channel and White Catfish, and Brown Bullhead. Oh yeah, and Lake Siskiyou is home to some legendary-sized sturgeon, like the estimated 400-500 pound one a local angler took 3-hours to reel in.

The McCloud Reservoir

Where you might find yourself cruising Lake Siskiyou alongside jet skis and tubers, the McCloud Reservoir in Siskiyou County feels like your own private lake tucked away deep in the Shasta National Forest. Serving as the division between lower and upper McCloud River (another great spot for river fishing), the reservoir is home to the famous McCloud River Trout. It is also fed by silt that flows in from Mud Creek that remains suspended in the still water of the reservoir and reflects back the sky. This gives the McCloud Reservoir its typical vivid turquoise hue.

Clear Lake

A gorgeous alpine lake near the town of Mount Shasta, Castle Lake is “the Bass Capital of the West,” located in Northern California’s Lake County, about 90 miles north of San Fran and 35 miles east of the Pacific Ocean. As the largest natural freshwater lake entirely within California, Clear Lake is a top destination for fishing enthusiasts.. The lake has the highest number of freshwater bass in NorCal (some 3-5 pounders and up!), and is especially known for its exceptional largemouth bass fishing. It also hosts crappie, bluegill, catfish, and carp. Spring and early summer are prime times for bass, while catfish thrive in the warmer months. Accessible from numerous public docks and parks, such as Clear Lake State Park.

Lake Oroville

Lake Oroville, located in Sierra Nevada foothills, is a top spot for shore fishing in Northern California. As the second-largest reservoir in the state (behind only Lake Shasta), it boasts diverse fish species, including largemouth bass, smallmouth bass, spotted bass, rainbow trout, brown trout, and Chinook salmon. With numerous access points, including the Lake Oroville State Recreation Area, the lake is also well-suited to boat fishing.

Jaunita Lake

Juanita Lake is an off-the-beaten path jewel that offers a unique combination of recreation opportunities, and is regularly stocked with trout and has a bass and catfish population. There is a 1.5-mile paved, barrier free trail that circles the lake with 2 fishing jetties for easy access to the lake and is ADA accessible.

Orr Lake

Orr Lake is a popular fishing area with a gorgeous view of Mt Shasta. Here you’ll find trout, bass, and catfish. A scenic trail along the east edge of the lake provides access to several fishing jetties and connects the 4 campsites on the east side of the lake with the 4 double sites on the north end of the lake. A boat ramp on the east shore and a hand-launch boat ramp on the north end also provide easy access to the lake.

Gumboot Lake

A high alpine lake on south slope of Mount Eddy, Gumboot Lake is 7 acres wide and about 18-feet deep. The reedy lake is rimmed by a grass shore and pine trees and stocked with rainbow trout. No motorboats are allowed on the lake but it is easily fished from the shore.

Kangaroo Lake

Kangaroo Lake is a gorgeous reservoir nestled among rocky bluffs and is located conveniently from Callahan or Weed. It is seasonally stocked and is a hotspot for fly fishing, baitcasting and spinning. There’s no boat ramp but motorless boats are permitted. There are also well-maintained facilities at the adjacent campground and ADA access to part of the lake.

Lake Tahoe

Fishing in Lake Tahoe on its Northern California side is a unique experience. Notably, 90% of its fish swim in 10% of the lake, making it easier to find hot spots. But don’t worry, that still leaves plenty of room on this 191 square mile lake to spread out and get lost in nature. Lake Tahoe is the second deepest lake in the U.S. (up to 1,644 feet deep!) making it a great place for deep-water fishing, like trolling for Mackinaw. Popular access spots include Kings Beach and Tahoe City for both boat and shore fishing.

Ocean Fishing in Northern California

From rugged coastal cliffs to expansive sandy beaches, Northern California’s coastline is dotted with prime ocean fishing spots.

Humboldt Bay

The city of Eureka on the Redwood Coast is a prime spot for world-class bay and ocean fishing out of Humboldt Bay. In its waters you’ll find salmon, striped bass, halibut, steelhead, tuna and more. Eureka has multiple access points like the Del Norte Street Pier that’s open to the public and doesn’t require a fishing license.

San Francisco Bay

At the southern tip of the region, San Francisco Bay offers the best salmon fishing in Northern California. There’s actually a famous route known as the “Salmon Highway” that salmon take to their spawning grounds, passing from Marin County right through San Francisco Bay. Trolling this route is surefire way to reel in a massive Chinook. Shore fishing off the Marin Headlands is also a good place to snag rockfish, lingcod, and halibut. A port city at heart, the area is also an ideal place to charter a boat out to Farallon Islands and other nearby deep-sea fishing adventures targeting rockfish, salmon, lingcod, and even shark.

Pacifica Pier

Pacifica Pier, located in San Mateo County, is the only pier in the Bay Area where you can fish and crab for free. In fact, it’s one of the best crabbing spots in Northern California, especially for Dungeness Crabs. You’ll find crabbers from all over flocking here at the start of the season, typically the first Saturday of November. While crabbing is the big draw, occasional runs of smaller fish like surfperch, jacksmelt, and baitfish pass through, with the summer months a good time to find salmon and striped bass. Angles have been known to even catch giant-sized white sea bass off the pier from time to time.

Fort Bragg

Located along the rugged Mendocino Coast, Fort Bragg offers exceptional ocean fishing opportunities. The area is famous for its rocky shoreline fishing, where anglers can catch species like cabezon, surfperch, and lingcod. Additionally, fishing charters departing from Noyo Harbor provide access to deeper waters for salmon, halibut, and bottom-dwelling fish.

Crescent City

Nestled near the Oregon border, Crescent City is another top spot for ocean fishing in Northern California. Its proximity to the Klamath River mouth makes it ideal for salmon fishing during the migration seasons. Anglers can also target rockfish, lingcod, and Dungeness crab from the rocky shores or venture offshore for deep-sea fishing adventures.

Guided Adventures & Resources

Fishing in Northern California is one of the region’s favorite and most popular pastimes, so there’s no shortage of bait shops, charters, and guides on offer. Nearly every city or town near to the spots listed above will have what you’re looking for. Below are some of the top ones you’ll find in and around Siskiyou.

Ted Fay Fly Shop is a full-service destination shop with local information and everything you need to fish the Upper Sacramento and McCloud Rivers. Located in downtown Dunsmuir.

Wild Waters Fly Fishing This outfitter and trout specialist based out of Mount Shasta was officially endorsed by Orvis in 2018 as the fly-fishing outfitter of the year. Also partners with McCloud Fly Fishing Adventures.

SC Guide Service Specializing in drift & Jetboat Fishing Trips with food, gear and tackle provided. All you need is a fishing license.

Ironhead Guide Service Specializing in salmon and steelhead adventures on the Klamath River, with peak season September through March.

Jack Trout Fly Fishing Offering guided fly-fishing trips with gourmet meals and unmatched personal attention.

NorCal Fish Adventures for Kids

Mt. Shasta Fish Hatchery

The Mt. Shasta Fish Hatchery is the oldest trout hatchery west of the Mississippi where you can feed the fish. 1 N. Old Stage Road, 530-926-5508, open year-round 8am-sundown. Added bonus: next door to Mt. Shasta Sisson Museum (open March 31-December)

Iron Gate Fish Hatchery

The Iron Gate Hatchery is a salmon and steelhead hatchery that releases fish back to the Klamath River.  In the fall during spawning season, it is also a great spot for kids to watch the salmon run.

Just note, to fish you must have a current California Fishing License in full view and be familiar with Dept. of Fish and Game regulations. Local regulations and limitations may apply to specific streams so make sure to check before you go!

Go Fish Northern California

Northern California offers anglers a diverse and rewarding fishing experience amidst some of the state’s most picturesque landscapes. From pristine mountain lakes to winding rivers and hidden streams, the region’s waters teem with a variety of fish species, ensuring that every fishing expedition here is filled with adventure and memorable catches.

The California Department of Fish and Wildlife has a great interactive fishing map to learn more about each specific fishing spot in Northern California, as well as get the latest dates for fish planting (stocking) in the region. NorCal Fish Reports is another great resource for tips, guides, resources, and to see what other angles are catching in the region.

For more local insights on fishing NorCal, take a listen to our podcast where we talk with several local experts on the best ways to enjoy fishing in Siskiyou.


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