California Fly Fishing 4 min read

DIY Guide to Fly Fishing the Pit River in California

Ken Sperry

Posted by Ken Sperry

February 15, 2020

fly fishing Pit River in Northern 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 life are the things you earn

3. You’re often referred to as the “crazy one” by your other angling friends

The Pit River is known for its tough wading conditions and difficult access, but if you make the journey, you will be rewarded with sizable trout and a great fishing story. You will need to be extremely careful about tackling this River, so make sure you check out our guide to get all the information you need to be safe.

About Pit River

Fly fishing the Pit River with Cal Trout

The Pit River is a major river located in northeastern California. It is the longest tributary of the Sacramento River, and is about 207 miles long. The River gets its name from the pits the Achumawi tribe dug along the waters in order to trap game that visited the River. 

The River rises in several forks in Modoc, Lassen, and Shasta counties in northeastern California. Two major tributaries, Squaw Creek and the McCloud River, join the stream from the North. In general, the river flows west-southwest, through Modoc County, past Canby, and through the Modoc National Forest. It then turns south to pass through Lookout, through the town of Fall River Mills. The river then drops over Pit River Falls, entering a canyon that cuts through Cascade Range, before joining the Sacramento River north of Redding.

This river is infamous for its swift and deep water, the slippery beds, and the low visibility. Therefore, it is difficult to wade and it is highly recommended that you exercise caution doing so. Be sure to bring a wading staff and pay close attention to where you step.

The Pit River is also well known for its strong, fighting rainbow trout, which are about 12 to 16 inches long. There are also reports of trout as long as 20 inches. The river’s high pH level is what provides the stream its excellent aquatic insect population. Of course, the high pH level also means that algae is prevalent, making the bottom of the river very slippery.

Pit River Map and Fishing Access Sites

map of fishing access spots on the Pit River in California

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

The river is dotted with large, slippery boulders and access can be tricky, as the river flows through a tight canyon with plenty of pocket water.  The water flows largely depends on the time of the year, and the nearby dams and powerhouses.

The natural beauty of the River attracts more than fly fishermen. Many tourists visit the area as a sight-seeing spot, as you can spot bald eagles in the area, as well as breathtaking waterfalls.

Best Places to Fish the Pit River

The best place to fish the Pit River is in the upper section, below Lake Britton. This is the area that flows down to the Pit 3 Powerhouse. The areas above Pit 4 and 5 are also similar to this area. You will most likely want to avoid the sections near Pits 6 and 7, as access is difficult.

You can access some areas of the stream from the road, but you might have to hike along the stream in order to reach certain sections. Some areas have heavy brush obstructions along the banks, so you will want to use caution when navigating the banks.

Stream Flow and Current Conditions

Be sure to check the stream conditions before heading out to fish Pit River. The USGS stream gauge near Canby, 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.


  • Streamflow: 2.10 ft³/s
  • Gage height: 2.03 ft
Streamflow GraphGage height Graph

Best Time to Fish Pit River

Early spring fly fishing on the Pit River in California

The best time to fish the Pit River is in the spring and summer. Blue-winged Olives are one of the most prolific mayflies you’ll encounter, emerging in mid-April through May, and then again in September through November.

In May and June, the most plentiful hatches are Stoneflies, with the most important hatches being Giant Salmonflies, Golden Stoneflies, and Yellow Sallies. 

Summer brings a bounty of Caddisflies that provide good action June through September.

In the fall, October Caddis and Slate Drake mayflies grace the water. You can still fish this river in the coldest winter months, just be sure to bundle up! During the winter, midges are the name of the game.

Fly Box – What You’ll Need

Here is list of general fly pattern recommendations for Pit River:

  • Blue-winged Olive (#16-22)
  • Golden Stonefly (#8-10)
  • Salmon Fly (#6-8)
  • Caddis (various) (#14-16)
  • October Caddis (#810)
  • Yellow Quill (#12-14)
  • Trico (#18-20)
  • Isonychia (#10-12)

Gear Recommendations

A 9-foot 5-wt fly rod with floating line is perfect for fishing dry flies and small nymphs on Pit River. A tapered 9-foot leader, with tippet size 3X to 5X to match the flies you are throwing, is pretty standard.

Pit River Fishing Report

Area fly shops, guides and websites that can provide a Pit 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 Pit River is the Redding Municipal Airport. You can also travel to the Crater Lake-Klamath Regional Airport, which is also located near the Pit River. While it might take you a couple hours of driving to reach the Pit River if you travel to a major airport, you’ll have plenty of scenic views to keep you occupied and fascinated during the journey.

There are many beautiful campgrounds in the area to choose from when planning your trip to the Pit River. Shasta-Trinity National Forest offers many camping options, catering to every camper’s individual taste. You can choose whether to stay somewhere with high or low elevation, somewhere by the lake or in the forest…you can even choose if you want to stay in a developed area or enjoy the solitude of a completely natural setting.

But some of us rest easier with a roof over our heads. If you want to stay somewhere indoors, the Shasta Dam Motel has reasonable rates and a seasonal outdoor pool.

As long as you exercise necessary caution, there is no reason why you can’t enjoy the Pit River in all its glory. Start planning your trip today and prepare for an unforgettable and challenging adventure. Happy fishing!

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

Feature image by CalTrout