California Fly Fishing 9 min read

47 Best Places to Fly Fish in California: Map & Guide

Ken Sperry

Posted by Ken Sperry

February 17, 2024

Guide to fly fishing in California

Imagine a state that offers stunning beaches, snow-capped mountains, and a multitude of lakes, streams, and rivers that provide some of the best fly fishing in the country. That’s exactly what you’ll find in California. California presents year-round fishing so that no matter when you visit, you’ll find some fabulous opportunities.

To keep things simple, anglers tend to break the state up into the northern, central and southern regions. Each of these regions is unique, and will offer its own types of conditions. California fish species include various types of trout, salmon, and the famed steelhead.

So let’s get started and take a look at the best places for fly fishing in California!

California Fly Fishing Map

map of best fishing spots in California

Get Directions to the Fishing Access Points shown above with the DIY Fly Fishing Map

Best Places to Fish in California

California isn’t just exciting because of its wealth of movie stars, it’s also perfect for fly fishing. Both the north and south of the state offer their own unique waters, filled with a variety of species. Here’s a look at some of the top spots to fly fish in California.

North California Fly Fishing Hots Spots

Northern California is a fly fishing paradise nestled between the Sierra Nevada mountain range and the stunning coastline. This region offers a diverse range of fishing experiences, from the volcanic landscapes of the southern Cascades to the cool coastal waterways.

In the southern Cascades, you’ll discover a unique blend of volcanic geology, flora, and fauna that transitions from the Sierra Nevada to the Cascade Range. This cool water is perfect for trout, making rivers like the Pit, Hat Creek, Fall River, McCloud, and the upper Sacramento River a haven for anglers.

Heading towards the coast, the climate is cool, and the rivers flow through vast conifer forests before reaching the Pacific Ocean. The rivers north of Monterey Bay offer reliable and abundant spawning habitat. The Russian River, the upper Trinity River, and the Klamath River are popular destinations for fly fishing enthusiasts, each offering its own unique experience.

Whether you’re exploring the volcanic landscapes of the southern Cascades or casting your line in the cool coastal waterways, Northern California promises an unforgettable fly fishing adventure. So pack your gear, immerse yourself in the natural beauty of this region, and get ready to reel in some incredible catches.

Southern Cascades

The southern Cascades of California offers a unique and captivating destination for fly fishing enthusiasts. This region showcases the transition from the Sierra Nevada mountain range to the Cascade Range as it is near the Feather River drainage. Not only does the geology change, but the flora and fauna also transform to resemble that of the Cascades.

One of the key features for flyfishers is the volcanic geology, with two active volcanoes, Mount Lassen and Mount Shasta, shaping the landscape. The result of eruptions over millions of years is a vast network of porous rock and underground lava tubes that provide cool water to the local streams, even during the hot summers. This cool water creates an ideal environment for aquatic life, including trout.

The southern Cascades of California boast famous rivers such as the Pit, Hat Creek, Fall River, McCloud, and the upper Sacramento River, which are revered by anglers and have inspired innovative fly tiers in the sport.


The Upper Sacramento River in California

DIY Guide to Fly Fishing the Upper Sacramento River in California

Gorgeous waterfalls, breathtaking scenery, and an abundance of trout! Sound like heaven? Not quite! It’s the Upper Sacramento River. Located North of Redding, the Upper Sacramento River is a fly fisherman’s paradise. The Upper Sacramento River offers varying levels of

fly fishing Pit River in Northern California

DIY Guide to Fly Fishing the Pit River in California

As a fly fisherman, if any of the following statements sound like you, you will definitely want to check out the Pit River in California: 1. You are not afraid of a challenge 2. You think the best things in

McCloud River in California

DIY Guide to Fly Fishing the McCloud River in California

The trout in the McCloud River are sure to leave an impression. You see, the river is home to the famous Oncorhynchus Mykiss species of rainbow trout. This species has been used to stock streams all around the world.

Hat Creek in California

DIY Guide to Fly Fishing Hat Creek in California

Hat Creek is classed as trophy water for wild trout. There are sections of this creek that are incredibly challenging, while others are slower paced and more relaxed. The fish species here are brown and rainbow trout. Both these fish love the brush that lines the banks of the river, as it acts as the perfect hiding places for them.

Fall River in northern California

DIY Guide to Fly Fishing Fall River in California

When it comes to trout streams, we feel the bigger, the better. And it doesn’t get any bigger than the Fall River in California. Fall River is the largest spring creek in the United States and is home to sizable

Eagle Lake in California

DIY Guide to Fly Fishing Eagle Lake in California

Can there be a greater pleasure than catching a large rainbow trout, while majestic eagles soar overhead? Eagle Lake is the second largest natural lake in California, and is famous for its Eagle Lake trout, a subspecies of rainbow trout

Yellow Creek in California

DIY Guide to Fly Fishing Yellow Creek in California

When it comes to Yellow Creek, California, most anglers can agree that the stream has seen better days. Seasoned fishermen lament that 50 years ago, you could easily catch large brown trout.  Unfortunately, things change.  Still, there are many reasons

Coastal Rivers

The coastal rivers of California offer a paradise for fly fishing enthusiasts. Nestled along the stunning coastline, these rivers offer a unique opportunity to catch steelhead, a prized fish species known for its strength and beauty.

Unlike the southern rivers of California, the north coast rivers in California boast reliable and abundant spawning habitat for steelhead, thanks in part to greater annual precipitation. While the steelhead runs may have been affected by various factors over the years, the rivers still provide excellent opportunities for a successful fishing trip.

In this guide, we will explore three popular rivers for fly fishing in California: the Russian River, the upper Trinity River, and the Klamath River. These rivers offer diverse fishing experiences, from urban river fishing near Santa Rosa to remote and pristine locations in the Coast Range. So grab your fly rod and get ready to immerse yourself in the beauty of California’s coastal rivers and the thrill of fly fishing for steelhead.


Trinity River in California

DIY Guide to Fly Fishing the Trinity River in California

If there is one species known for its fighting spirit, it’s the steelhead. Averaging in at six pounds, steelheads’ determination and tenacity are well-documented by thrill-seeking anglers. And where do steelhead like to congregate? The Trinity River.  Of course, there’s

Russian River in California

DIY Guide to Fly Fishing the Russian River in California

The Russian River was once a popular destination for fly fishermen, because of its impressive steelhead population. Sadly, the River has faced problems throughout the years, owing to flooding and chemical spills. Fortunately, the River still has value as a

Klamath River in California

DIY Guide to Fly Fishing Klamath River in California

To the casual angler, the Klamath River might be intimidating. You see, the Klamath River is the second largest river in California. Because of its sheer size, many anglers are unsure of the best places to fish. Additionally, the salmon

Eel River in California

DIY Guide to Fly Fishing the Eel River in California

Dynamic, yet serene. Battered, yet resilient. Intimidating, yet awe-inspiring. You could say the Eel River in California is a contradiction. The River and its tributaries form the third largest watershed in California, flowing through forests of towering redwoods, including Humboldt

Central California Fly Fishing Hot Spots

One of the highlights of fly fishing in central California are the Central Valley tailwaters. These tailwaters, located near urban areas such as Bakersfield, Fresno, and Sacramento, provide quality fishing for salmon, trout, steelhead, striped bass, and American shad.

Another must-visit region for fly fishing enthusiasts is the Sierra West Slope. Stretching from Chico to Bakersfield, this area is blessed with abundant waterways that hold fish.

For those seeking a truly breathtaking experience, the Sierra East Slope is the place to be. Along Highway 395, which runs along the east slope of the Sierra Nevada mountain range, you’ll be treated to stunning scenery and iconic destinations such as Lake Tahoe, Mono Lake, Yosemite National Park, and Death Valley National Park.

Whether you’re a seasoned fly fisher or a beginner looking to try your hand at this exciting sport, central California has something for everyone. So pack your gear, prepare to be amazed by the beauty of the region, and get ready for an unforgettable fly fishing adventure.

Central Valley Tailwaters

The central valley tailwaters of California are known for rich fly fishing opportunities. Historically, the rivers in this area were unimpeded, flowing freely into the Sacramento or San Joaquin Rivers. However, in the 1950’s and 1960’s, many of these rivers were dammed to create water storage for California’s growing population and agriculture. While this resulted in the flooding of important spawning areas for salmon and steelhead, it also created new tailwater fisheries with cooler waters and higher flows.

Today, fly fishers in cities like Bakersfield, Fresno, Merced, Modesto, Stockton, Sacramento, Marysville, and Redding, can enjoy quality fishing for a variety of fish species such as salmon, trout, steelhead, striped bass, and American shad close to their homes.

The winter months offer stable and warmer flows, making it an ideal time to explore these tailwaters. While salmon and steelhead are primarily found in rivers north of Modesto, the southern parts of the valley offer solid trout fisheries. With decent public access, these tailwaters are a paradise for fly fishing enthusiasts.


Putah Creek in California

DIY Guide to Fly Fishing Putah Creek in California

Putah Creek has a fascinating history. In the early 1900s, Putah Creek was a thriving stream that was teeming with steelhead. But by the late 1980s, extended drought caused the Creek to go dry. A subsequent controversial lawsuit was resolved

Mokelumne River in Calfornia

DIY Guide to Fly Fishing the Mokelumne River in California

Flowing west from the rugged Sierra Nevada mountain range, the Mokelumne River’s mighty waters hold more than their fair share of trout, steelhead, and salmon. Additionally, the River has an excellent aquatic insect population and breathtaking views that every outdoor

Lower Yuba River in northern California

DIY Guide to Fly Fishing the Lower Yuba River in California

The rainbow trout in Lower Yuba River are known for their fighting spirit and cunning, so you will need to be on your toes to outwit the feisty denizens of Lower Yuba’s waters. If the promise of rainbow trout isn’t

Lower Stanislaus River in California

DIY Guide to Fly Fishing the Lower Stanislaus River in California

The Lower Stanislaus River can be dangerous, so if you are planning on taking on this mighty River, you’ll want to be meticulous in your preparation. In addition to the turbulent waters, the River contains long runs and deep riffles,

Lower Sacramento River in California

DIY Guide to Fly Fishing the Lower Sacramento River in California

The Lower Sacramento River is a great destination for any eager angler. The River not only provides year round fishing, but also holds a wide variety of species, including steelhead, smallmouth bass, largemouth bass, chinook salmon, strippers, and rainbow trout.

Lower Kings River in California

DIY Guide to Fly Fishing Lower Kings River in California

The Lower Kings River in California was once a premiere fishery, famous for its excellent rainbow trout population. Unfortunately, in the early 90s, drought and irrigation caused this River to sink in quality.  However, we are happy to report that

Lower American River in California

DIY Guide to Fly Fishing the Lower American River in California

The Lower American River in California is a great choice if you are looking for an excellent steelhead experience. The average winter steelhead runs eight to ten pounds, but fish can get as large as 20 pounds . You’ll also

Feather River in California

DIY Guide to Fly Fishing Feather River in California

The Feather River in California is known for two things: the excellent steelhead fishing it provides and its natural, scenic beauty. The steelhead fishing is very productive, with steelhead ranging from five to ten pounds. Fishing is open year round.

Sierra West Slope

The Sierra Nevada’s west slope in California is a haven for fly fishing enthusiasts. Spanning from Chico to Bakersfield, this region offers a diverse range of waterways that are teeming with fish.

While the rivers of the west slope have undergone significant changes over the past century and a half, with many being dammed and traditional spawning grounds disrupted, there are still plenty of fish to be found.

With easy access provided by state highways, Forest Service, and logging roads, we will explore the most popular fly fishing spots as well as venture into the lesser-known, secluded waters. Get ready for an unforgettable fly fishing experience in the stunning Sierra Nevada’s west slope.


The Upper Tuolumne River in California

DIY Guide to Fly Fishing the Upper Tuolumne River in California

The Tuolumne River is a mighty river that flows for 149 miles through Central California. It is a wonderfully diverse fishery that is the perfect destination for your next fishing trip. In this guide, we are going to focus on

San Joaquin River (South Fork) in California

DIY Guide to Fly Fishing the San Joaquin River (South Fork) in California

In the Mono language, the San Joaquin River is called typici h huu’, which means “important, great river.” As the longest river in Central California, the San Joaquin certainly lives up to its Mono name. The South Fork of the

fly fishing the North Fork Yuba River in California

DIY Guide to Fly Fishing the North Yuba River in California

The North Yuba River is the perfect location for novice anglers eager to hone their fly fishing skills. While the trout are fairly easy to catch on the North Yuba River, wading will provide enough of a challenge that we

Merced River in California

DIY Guide to Fly Fishing Merced River in California

Located in Yosemite National Park, the Merced River is one of, if not the most, stunning bodies of water in the United States. The River’s natural beauty has a tendency to eclipse the Merced’s value as a fishery. But the

Lake Davis in northern California

DIY Guide to Fly Fishing Lake Davis in California

Many years ago, Lake Davis was overrun by northern pike, which harmed the trout, steelhead, and salmon population. The California Department of Fish and Game treated the Lake with rotenone in 2007 to remove all fish, and then re-established the

Lake Almanor in California

DIY Guide to Fly Fishing Lake Almanor in California

When given the choice between Lake Tahoe and Lake Almanor, most anglers would choose Lake Tahoe. But Lake Almanor has its own bragging rights, with an impressive Hex hatch and picturesque views. The hex hatch attracts anglers from all over,

Kings River (South Fork) in California

DIY Guide to Fly Fishing the Kings River (South Fork) in California

You’re not likely to find the largest fish in the South Fork of the Kings River in California. In fact, the trout in these waters typically fall somewhere in the six to eight inches range. But the River makes up

Kern River (North Fork) in California

DIY Guide to Fly Fishing the Kern River (North Fork) in California

Known as the “Killer Kern,” the Kern River is not to be taken lightly. As of May 25, 2018, it is believed that the River has claimed 294 lives since 1968. Typically, the people who died were recreational users who

Feather River (Middle Fork) in California

DIY Guide to Fly Fishing the Feather River (Middle Fork) in California

The Middle Fork of the Feather River in Northern California boasts an excellent population of rainbow and brown trout. Whether you are a seasoned angler or an enthusiastic beginner, you will be able to find success and joy in these

Cosumnes River in California

DIY Guide to Fly Fishing the Cosumnes River in California

As one of the few rivers in the western Sierra without major dams, the Cosumnes River should be the classic example of a healthy watershed. Unfortunately, due to the invasive fish species present in the River and the pollution from

American River (South Fork)

DIY Guide to Fly Fishing the American River (South Fork)

The South Fork of the American River was the site of James Marshall’s famous discovery of gold on January 24, 1848, which sparked the California Gold Rush. Nowadays, the River is more popular with white water rafters than prospectors, with

Sierra East Slope

The east slope of the Sierra Nevada mountain range in California offers breathtaking scenery and a wealth of outdoor activities. Along Highway 395, which runs through this region, travelers can explore iconic destinations such as Lake Tahoe, Mono Lake, Yosemite National Park, Mammoth Mountain, Mount Whitney, and Death Valley National Park.

Additionally, this area is renowned for its exceptional fly fishing opportunities, with rivers like the Carson River, Walker River, Owens River, and Hot Creek attracting anglers from all over the country.

In this guide, we will delve into the details of each of these rivers, as well as introduce you to some lesser-known fishing spots along the way, ensuring that you have an unforgettable fly fishing experience in the Sierra Nevada’s east slope.


West Walker River in California

DIY Guide to Fly Fishing the West Walker River in California

A successful fishing experience is by no means guaranteed to every angler who attempts to fish the West Walker River. The angling difficulty level on this River depends heavily on the yearly flow conditions. Your chances of productively fishing this

West Carson River in California

DIY Guide to Fly Fishing the West Carson River in California

The West Fork of the Carson River is the perfect location for fly fishermen of all skill levels. With plenty of wild and stocked rainbow, brook, and brown trout to spare, seasoned anglers will be able to hone their skills,

Upper Owens River in California

DIY Guide to Fly Fishing the Upper Owens River in California

The Upper Owens River may not be the perfect trout fishery, but it comes pretty darn close. Its waters are teeming with large rainbow and brown trout that are very well fed, thanks to the River’s thriving aquatic insect population.

Truckee River in California

DIY Guide to Fly Fishing the Truckee River in California

Named after a Native American chief, the Truckee River is a remarkably diverse fishery. Your strategy and overall fishing experience will vary greatly depending on where you choose to tackle these waters. In addition to stocking the River with brown

Rush Creek in California

DIY Guide to Fly Fishing the Rush Creek in California

Rush Creek has all the traits of a promising fishery in Sierra Nevada: easy roadside access, plenty of rainbow and brown trout, and breathtaking scenery to boot. But Rush Creek offers more of a challenge to anglers than one might think.

Upper Red Creek in Tolyabe National Forest in California

DIY Guide to Fly Fishing Red Lake Creek in California

The Red Lake Creek is a small fishery in California that is known locally for its numerous beaver dams and feisty trout. At this Creek, you’ll find brook and brown trout that love eating mayflies and caddisflies.

Aerial view of McGee Creek as it flows into Crowley Lake

DIY Guide to Fly Fishing McGee Creek in California

Emerging from a freestone snowmelt source near Mammoth Lakes, McGee Creek winds its way into Crowley Lake, and offers plenty of good fishing along the way.  Certain sections of the stream have specific restrictions in the spring and fall, so

Lower Owens River in California

DIY Guide to Fly Fishing the Lower Owens River in California

The Lower Owens River in California boasts a large population of brown and rainbow trout that respond well to dry flies. But fishing the Lower Owens River is not exactly a piece of cake. Accessing the water will require a

Little Truckee River in California

DIY Guide to Fly Fishing the Little Truckee River in California

In Little Truckee River’s cool waters, you’ll find an impressive population of brown and rainbow trout. These trout are known for their fighting spirit and large size. The surrounding scenery and thriving wildlife will ensure a memorable experience as you

Hot Creek in California

DIY Guide to Fly Fishing Hot Creek in California

Hot Creek is famous, and not just because it’s been used as a filming location for numerous popular Westerns, including True Grit, Shoot Out, and North to Alaska. This unique fishery is located in volcano country, and according to the

East Walker River in California

DIY Guide to Fly Fishing the East Walker River in California

The East Walker River is famous for its large rainbow and brown trout, with the fish caught in these waters measuring upwards of 20 inches. Even though much of the River flows through Nevada, the best angling occurs in eastern

East Carson River in California

DIY Guide to Fly Fishing the East Carson River in California

The East Fork of the Carson River in California holds the Lahontan Cutthroat, a rare species of trout that is considered federally threatened, and the Paiute Cutthroats, an even rarer species only found in Carson River’s tributaries. It’s safe to

Crowley Lake in Calfornia

DIY Guide to Fly Fishing Crowley Lake in California

Crowley Lake’s value as a trout fishery is no secret, and it shows. Between 6,000 to 10,000 anglers make their way to the reservoir every year for opening day. The largest brown trout ever caught on this lake weighed 26

Southern California

Piru Creek and Deep Creek

Piru Creek and Deep Creek are unique in that they are located just outside a major city. With that said they are both quiet and beautiful. Both can be found just one hour outside of Los Angeles, not far from the city of Castaic.

They make for a great half or full-day fishing trip. The creeks are open year-round and you’ll be fishing for trout. Here’s one of the best parts, Piru Creek is an urban wild trout fishery. This means you are in for some fabulous fishing.

The fishery was put in place by the California Department of Fish and Game, Cal Trout, and the Sierra Pacific Flyfishers. Obviously, your accommodation options are vast since you are so close to a major urban city.

National Parks

California is home to some of the most iconic national parks in the US. Several of these parks offer some great fly fishing opportunities that visitors often overlook. Below are a few to check out.


Yosemite National Park

DIY Guide to Fly Fishing in Yosemite National Park

Up in the High Sierras lies one of the crown jewels of the National Park system: Yosemite National Park. As you pass through the front gate station and meander the roads that wind through the valley floor, you can understand

Sequoia National Park in California

DIY Guide to Fly Fishing in Sequoia National Park

No matter where you travel in the world, there will always be two kinds of old growth forests: the rest of the world, and the giant redwoods of Sequoia National Park. If you’ve never experienced the redwood groves of the

Lassen Volcanic National Park in California

DIY Guide to Fly Fishing in Lassen Volcanic National Park

Located in Northeast California, Lassen Volcanic National Park has had a storied past. As far back as 1907, the area was designated under federal protection from President Theodore Roosevelt. At that time, the region was classified as two separate parks:

river in Paradise Valley in Kings Canyon National Park

DIY Guide to Fly Fishing Kings Canyon National Park

On the northern border of Sequoia National Park lies the majestic redwood and cedar groves of Kings Canyon National Park. Covering over 460,000 acres, the park was established in 1890 as General Grant National Park. The third largest tree in

Best Time to Fly Fish in California

This is a state that welcomes anglers all year-round in the northern and southern regions. There are fabulous opportunities to be found every month. If you’re the type that likes to “match the hatch”, as so many anglers do, you’re also in luck. There are hatches happening all year here.

As far as the temperature/climate goes, it varies quite a bit depending where you are in the state. You will find everything form a subarctic to desert climate all in one state. The majority of the state has a Mediterranean climate. This means that winter is fairly mild but wet, while summer is hot and dry. Fog can often be found along the coast. The further inland you go in California, the warmer and dryer it gets in the summer. Winters aren’t quite as cold inland, but they are wet. Obviously once you start heading into the mountain regions, the temperatures start to cool down. These regions experience all four seasons instead.

Because California is such a large and diverse state, it’s best to break it up into two regions when discussing the hatches. The north and south of California experience different hatch seasons, so you will want to be aware of this before heading out. Here’s a look at the average hatch schedule.

Northern California

Caddis Flies: These are found between the months of March through to the end of August. They are at their peak in April and May.

Mayfly: You’ll find this one hatches throughout the year except for maybe May. The summer months are a bit more intense for these hatches.

Terrestrials: Typically, these will be hatching between June and October, with August being the peak month.

Green Rock Worm: These can be found between April and August.

Stoneflies: These can be found from January through May, but they are at their peak in March.

Southern California

Stoneflies: These start up in February but are heaviest in March.

Nymphs: There are varieties of nymphs and at any point of the year one or more may be hatching. Months that see higher hatch numbers are May, June, October, and November.

Little Yellow May: These occur in June in full force and then taper off in July.

March Brown: You’ll find these from February until early May. The month of March is when they are the heaviest.

Gear Recommendations

The larger rivers, lakes, or streams in California call for a 9- or 10-foot fly rod. A 5- or 6-weight rod is fine for trout fishing. If the smaller streams are more your style, you might opt for a shorter fly rod and downsize to a 3- or 4-wt.

For salmon and steelhead you’ll need to size up your gear and might consider a two-handed rod for swinging flies on the bigger rivers.

Within the state are places to fish from shore, wading, by float, and boat. You can take all of these into consideration as you plan out the gear you pack.

Best Flies for Trout Fishing in California

Of course, when it comes to the flies, matching the hatch is usually a good starting point. Besides that, you need to examine where you plan to fish, what time of year, and the type of species you will be catching. As is the case in any state, visiting a local fly shop can ensure you stock your fly box with the best flies.

California Fishing Regulations

The state of California requires that all people who are 16 years of age and older have a valid fishing license. There are resident and non-resident sport fishing licenses available. You can purchase a one-year, 10-day, two-day, or one-day license. Some areas also require a permit. You can purchase the license and learn about the most current regulations through the California Department of Fish and Wildlife.

Trip Planning

Exploring the many fly fishing options in the state of California involves breaking it into the northern and southern regions. Neither should be missed, and both offer fishing year-round depending on where you go.

The fact that you can visit an urban city like Los Angeles and still find fly fishing just one hour out of the city speaks volumes about this state. Choose between freshwater and saltwater, small out of the way creeks, or large lakes, there is no end to the beauty and fishing.

Looking for more places to fish?  Check out our DIY Guide to the Best Fly Fishing in America.