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 at the Feather River, but the best time to visit depends on which species you are most interested in catching.
At the Feather River, you’ll find striped bass and Chinook salmon, in addition to the plentiful steelhead population.
Be sure to check out our guide so you know the best way to tackle this fishery.
The Feather River is a 73 mile long tributary of the Sacramento River. The main stem of the River begins in Lake Oroville, where the four forks, the South Fork, Middle Fork, North Fork, and West Branch, join together. In general, the River flows south, crossing the Sacramento Valley. The River then receives the Yuba River from the east, about 15 miles south of Yuba City. It finally empties into the Sacramento River from the north, 20 miles from Sacramento.
Historically, the Feather River basin was initially inhabited by the Maidu tribe, although there is evidence to suggest that the Paiute and Washoe tribes had settlements in the area before being driven out by white settlers.
In 1836, John Marsh and Jose Noriega, accompanied by other explorers, found an area along the tributary that was covered in feathers. Thus, the River became known as El Rio de las Plumas, or the River of Feathers. During the 1849 gold rush, the area attracted prospectors to the region.
While anglers are primarily interested in the steelhead run, you can also catch shad, striped basses, and Chinook salmon. On a good day it is not unusual to catch several steelhead.
Click map icons to get directions to fishing spots, boat ramps and USGS stream flow data
There are several access points and boat ramps along the lower reaches of the river (see map). One area is accessible along Arline Rhine Memorial Drive. This access point is open from January 1 to July 15. The access point along Wildlife Area Access Road, however, is open year round.
For the most part, you can wade the Feather River, but you will want to be cautious of deep spots. Drifting the Feather provides better access however there are several sections of frog water that you’ll need to row through.
Be sure to check the stream conditions before heading out to fish Feather River.
The graph below shows the stream flow (discharge) for the past 7-days. If flows are considerably above or below historical norms (yellow triangles on the chart) then fishing conditions ma not be ideal.
The best time to catch steelhead in the Feather River is in October and November, but steelhead fishing continues through the winter. The steelhead follow the salmon during the spawn and feed on the egg drop. After the spawn in January, the steelhead revert to feeding on the local aquatic bugs including mayfly nymphs and caddis larvae. Salmon fishing can be done through the summer.
From April through June, the shad arrive, with striped bass arriving in March. The River is most crowded during the spring and the fall, so if you are looking to avoid the masses, plan your visit accordingly. It’s best to fish during overcast days, or when the water is slightly discolored, so you have a better chance of getting a take.
Here is list of general fly pattern recommendations for Feather River:
A 9-foot 5-wt or 6-wt fly rod with floating line is perfect for fishing dry flies and nymphs on the Feather River for trout. A tapered 9-foot leader, with tippet size 3X to 5X to match the flies you are throwing, is pretty standard.
For steelhead and salmon a single-handed 9-foot six- to 8-weight rod with either a sink tip or shooting head works well. For two-handed rods, a Scandi tip on a floating line is recommended for swinging flies on the Feather River.
Area fly shops, guides and websites that can provide Feather River fly fishing report are listed below:
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.
The nearest airport to Feather River is Sacramento Airport, which is located about 40 minutes away from your destination.
The Days Inn by Wyndham Oroville is located on Feather River Boulevard, so you know you don’t have to venture from your new favorite fishery. The Days Inn offers free breakfast and has a seasonal outdoor pool. The River Reflections RV Resort & Campground is located along the Feather River if you want an even closer seat. You can enjoy the serene beauty of the River, while still having access to a full service laundry room and free WiFi.
Feather River is an excellent choice for your next fly fishing trip, especially if you have a hankering for steelhead. As long as you stay on your toes, you’ll find success tackling this fishery.
Feature image by California Department of Fish and Wildlife
Looking for more places to fish? Check out our DIY Guide to Fly Fishing California
Ken is an avid fisherman of 40+ years who loves to explore and find new places to fish. He created DIY Fly Fishing to help you do the same.
DIY Guide to Fly Fishing the Little Truckee River in California
DIY Guide to Fly Fishing the Truckee River in California
DIY Guide to Fly Fishing the East Carson River in California
DIY Guide to Fly Fishing the Kern River (North Fork) in California
DIY Guide to Fly Fishing the Kings River (South Fork) in California
DIY Guide to Fly Fishing the Upper Tuolumne River in California
DIY Guide to Fly Fishing Merced River in California
DIY Guide to Fly Fishing the Cosumnes River in California