California Fly Fishing 4 min read

DIY Guide to Fly Fishing the Lower American River in California

Ken Sperry

Posted by Ken Sperry

March 31, 2020

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 find American Shad, Striped Bass, and King Salmon.

Flows on the Lower American River can vary considerable after a winter storm. Be sure to check the flow levels before your visit, and exercise caution when tackling this stream.

Check out our guide to ensure you are well-equipped to take on this mighty river.

About Lower Sacramento River

Fly fishing for steelhead on the Lower American River

The American River is a 30 mile long river in California. It flows from the Sierra Nevada mountain range before joining the Sacramento River in the Sacramento Valley. The Lower section of the River is considered the area between Nimbus Dam to its confluence in Sacramento. 

The Sacramento area was originally inhabited by the Maidu, Nisenan, and Wintun people before they were driven out by white settlers. The area attracted many prospectors during the Gold Rush era in the mid 1800s. 

The Lower American River is one of seven California rivers that is protected as a “Recreational River” under the California Wild and Scenic Rivers Act and the National Wild and Scenic Rivers Act. The River is a popular bird watching and white water rafting destination.

There are over forty species of fish to be found in the American River and over 100 bird species that make the surrounding area their home. You’ll also see deer, coyotes, beavers, and river otters. 

The Lower American River is a mighty River, and shouldn’t be underestimated. If you use plenty of caution and keep your wits about you, you will have a successful fishing experience.

The Lower American River Map and Fishing Access Sites

map of fishing access spots on the Lower American River in California

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

Best Places to Fish Lower American River

The Lower American River is easily accessible via numerous parking access areas off Highway 50. Both sides of the river are designated as the American River Parkway, which is one of the largest urban parks in the state. You can also access the lower reaches from Hazel Avenue, located at the confluence of the American River and the Sacramento River. 

It is safest to fish the Lower American River from a boat, but if you would like to wade, check the flow conditions before doing so. The ideal flow for wading this River is in the 1500s cfs range. Certain areas are off limits during spawning, so be sure to check local regulations around the area you choose to tackle.

Stream Flow and Current Conditions

Be sure to check the stream conditions before heading out to fish the Lower American River. The USGS stream gauge near Fair Oaks, CA provides a good indication of current conditions.

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.


  • Temperature: 56.3 ° F
  • Streamflow: 3020 ft³/s
  • Gage height: 7.31 ft
Temperature GraphStreamflow GraphGage height Graph

Best Time to Fish the Lower American River

The best time of year to visit the Lower American River is dependent upon which species of fish you are intent on catching. No matter when you choose to visit, you are sure to have success catching something for your troubles.

Spring into Summer (April – June) is the best time to visit for striped bass. October is an excellent time to catch King Salmon, which average about ten to twenty pounds.

Juvenile steelhead, commonly referred to as ‘half-pounders’ typically run from September to December. Come January, the larger steelhead arrive and they typically leave by late March. Steelhead smolts are present April through July, along with American Shad.

Fly Box – What You’ll Need

Fly selection on the American depends on what you’re after. For Steelhead your favorite streamer pattern with a Glo Bug dropper is pretty effective year round. If you prefer to nymph, caddis imitations work well from May through September.

Gear Recommendations

There are a variety of ways to fish the American that will dictate your rod selection. Some prefer to use a single-hand rod and either swing flies or fish nymphs, typically from a boat. For winter steelhead, a 9- or 10-foot eight-weight rod is a good choice. A 5- or 6-wt rod is typical for fall half-pounders whereas a 4- or 5-wt rod is all that is needed for fishing smolts.

The most popular two-handed rod consist of an 11-foot switch rod or a 12- to 13-foot spey rod. Most anglers fish a floating running line with a 12- to 15-foot Skagit head.

The Lower American River Fishing Report

Area fly shops, guides and websites that can provide a Lower American River fly fishing report are listed below:

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 Tips

The nearest airport to the Lower American River is the Sacramento International Airport. You can travel to any major or municipal airport in Northern California and arrive at your destination after a few hours of scenic driving.

Because the River is located close to Sacramento, there is plenty of affordable lodging to be found in the area. The Good Nite Inn offers free WiFi and parking, and a seasonal outdoor pool. If you would rather stay on the water, Sherwood Harbor Marina is an excellent option. They have a convenience store and laundry facilities, so you won’t have to worry about the necessities during your stay. 

The Lower American River offers great fly fishing opportunities, with enough variety to guarantee you will never get bored. As long as you exercise reasonable caution, you will be rewarded with a thrilling fishing experience.

Looking for more places to fish? Check out our DIY Guide to Fly Fishing California

Feature image by US Bureau of Reclamation