36 Great California Fishing Trips

You'll end the "you should have been here last week" blues by checking out these 36 great fisheries -- three for each month of the year -- starting now! (February 2006)

The Delta can be tough at certain times of the year, but pro Nick Welton finds it to his liking in spring.
Photo by Brian Sak

Can't make it to your favorite stream, lake, port or beach to fish this month? No problem! You happen to live in the Golden State, where something is biting someplace all the time. Go ahead and take care of family and business now. When you decide it's time to go, a great day on the water will be waiting.

Whether you're looking for fast action or for that one big bite, here's a month-by-month assortment of quality destinations for 2006.

JANUARY

Steelhead

Smith River

The Smith is a long drive for most of us, but it's one of those rivers that you'll fish over and over because of its quality fish. Adequate rainfall here is critical. Too little and officials close it. Too much and the Smith gets blown out. But the great thing about this river is its ability to clear quickly after a storm.

Steelhead average 10 to 15 pounds here, and are reachable by bank-bound anglers as well as boaters. And with several productive areas along the 15-mile reach below the Forks, it's important to call ahead to find out where that action is. Two great spots are Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park and Peacock Bar, where drifting roe/Puff Ball combinations is the technique of choice.

For information, call John Klar's Salmon & Steelhead Sportfishing, (707) 442-1867.

Other Choices

You'll enjoy Lake Shasta's outstanding spotted bass fishing when others are home by the fire. Hit the water between storms, targeting the shallows only if the lake is rising.

The difference between success and failure for anglers drifting roe on Mendocino County's steelhead streams is simply a matter of rainfall. Call for the conditions before you go.

FEBRUARY

Mackinaw

Lake Tahoe

Tahoe's macks are big, typically averaging 5 to 7 pounds, but so is the lake -- this huge body of water covers 191 square miles with depths averaging 1,000 feet. Hire a guide if you don't know where to fish. For do-it-yourselfers, look for mackinaw along shelves and drop-offs in Meeks Bay or off Rubicon Point.

Spool your reels with light monofilament and use downriggers or fill your heaviest reels with wire line and bring release clips and lots of lead. Begin by trolling live minnows or flashy spoons in 150 to 200 feet of water, working your way down to 300 feet until you find fish.

For information, call The Sportsman, (530) 542-3474.

Other Choices

American River steelhead are pressured, making this a river for experienced anglers. Back-troll plugs or drift roe/Puff Ball combos between Nimbus and the Sacramento River.

Spooning off rocky points and along submerged ledges can be productive for Castaic Lake's largemouth bass. For bigger fish try soaking live crawdads.

MARCH

Smallmouth Bass

Lake Tulloch

Sierra foothill reservoirs are not normally thought of as smallmouth destinations, but with a steady supply of cold water from New Melones, Tulloch is one of the state's best. Expect bass averaging about two pounds, with an occasional fish twice that size. Smallies bite throughout the day, but late afternoons, after the sun has warmed the water, are ideal.

The Green Springs arm is the best for smallmouths. The river produces its share of fish too. Spinnerbaits are a good way to to cover water until you locate bass. Ripbaits work well when you encounter schools of baitfish near the surface. When you head to the deeper waters of the river, try small jigs and drop-shot rigs.

For information, call Fisherman's Warehouse, (209) 239-2248.

Other Choices

Fish live bloodworms on drop-hook rigs to take barred, redtail and walleye surfperch on Ocean, China or Baker beaches. Incoming tides, just after they turn, are better than outgoing.

Those who brave the cold have a good shot at one of Trinity Lake's trophy smallmouth bass. Cast small crankbaits and grubs to deep water.

APRIL

Largemouth Bass

Clear Lake

Everyone wants to catch the fish that everybody else talks about for the rest of the year. There's no better place to do it than Clear Lake, where 10-pound largemouths are relatively common. This massive lake offers plenty of tules, weed beds, rock piles, ledges and docks as casting targets.

To catch big bass, leave your clear-water reservoir gear at home. Here you need beefy rods, tough reels with heavy line, and big lures. Popular offerings to start with include swimbaits, spinnerbaits and pork-tipped jigs. And don't wait until summer to tie on a frog pattern; they'll fool fish this time of year too.

For information, call Tackle It, (707) 262-1233.

Other Choices

It's hard to believe that there's quality mountain trout fishing within 90 miles of Los Angeles, but that's what Big Bear Lake offers. Most rainbows take trolled flasher/night crawler rigs at the west end.

Spotted bass haven't taken over Lake Berryessa, but they provide consistent action on white crankbaits fished around rocks near deep water.

MAY

Largemouth Bass

Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta

Consider the affects that the ever-changing tides have on bass, the amount of pressure the Delta gets and the fact that the entire place looks like it holds fish (but doesn't), and you see why the Delta can be difficult to fish. Does that mean you should stay clear? No way.

You'll catch big, spawning fish this month if you target the right type of water. Look for clear conditions, concentrating on areas away from the main current that have depth and sparse weeds. Start by casting crankbaits that just tick the top of submerged vegetation, then pitch and flip creature-type soft plastics to cover.

For information, call Hook, Line & Sinker, (925) 625-2441.

Other Choices

Troll plugs through schools of baitfish in Lake Nacimiento's creek arms to locate feeding white bass, then follow up with ripbaits. Possessing live whites is illegal here.

You'll get line-shy shad to bite by drifting bright mini-grubs along the bottom of deep Feather River pools.

JUNE

Rainbow Trout

Merced River

Most Yosemite National Park visitors don't head into the mountains for the fishing, leaving the Merced's wild trout as one of the most underutilized fisheries in the state.

Fly-fishers do best along this accessible section of river, although spinning gear works when you're persistent. Caddis flies take most of the rainbows here, with stonefly and mayfly patterns also useful. The Merced flowing through the park is catch-and-release only, with an artificial lure/barbless hook requirement.

For more, call Yosemite Fly Fishing Guide Service, (209) 379-2746.

Other Choices

New Melones Reservoir boaters catch kokanee by using downriggers to troll pink or chartreuse Hoochies near the dam and spillway.

You'll hook into San Francisco Bay halibut by drifting live bait near Alcatraz, Berkeley Flats, Paradise, the Sisters and Treasure Island when the tide is right.

JULY

Catfish

Lake Del Valle

Del Valle is host to excellent catfish angling less than an hour from San Francisco and Oakland. East Bay Regional Park District biologists stock the lake weekly during summer with 500 to 1,000 pounds of mostly one-pound whiskerfish. There are also plenty of larger fish, with 30 percent of every truckload containing two- to six-pounders.

Lacking at many other reservoirs, Del Valle provides ample shoreline access. The best fishing is in the small coves between the marina and dam. The bite peaks between late afternoon and evening for anyone soaking chicken livers or night crawlers.

For information, call Del Valle Marina, (925) 449-5201.

Other Choices

The average Shelter Cove king salmon this month is 15 pounds, with some pushing 40 pounds. Try trolling between the Hat and Old Man.

While the fish will be relatively small, yellowtail will keep you busy in the mornings and afternoons around paddies in Santa Monica Bay.

AUGUST

Striped Bass

San Francisco Coast

Although there's a chance you'll hook a bass on your first cast, fishing for stripers in the surf is not for anglers expecting immediate success. A relaxing day at the beach this is not. Plan on the possibility of going weeks without a bite. You should also be ready to experience the most frantic few hours of fishing of your life.

The key to success is keeping track of where other striper anglers are fishing -- usually somewhere between San Francisco's Cliff House and Mussel Rock. Birds working baitfish near the surface is also a sign of bass. Use a nine-foot graphite steelhead rod and a reel spooled with 20-pound-test line to cast topwater plugs and heavy spoons.

For information, call Hi's Tackle Box, (415) 221-3825.

Other Choices

Head to the backs of Lake Pardee's coves and soak pieces of worm under bobbers.

Catfish to 20 pounds will take chicken liver or cut mackerel near the marina, boat ramp and in Murphy's Bay at Santa Margarita Lake.

SEPTEMBER

Spotted Bass

Lake Oroville

With the onset of hunting season, salmon in the rivers and most water skiers back in school, bass anglers have California's reservoirs to themselves. With Oroville's huge population of spotted bass fattening up for winter, there is no better time to be casting and reeling. You'll catch a lot of slot bass that must be released, but expect several larger fish too.

Begin your trip by targeting schooling spots off primary points on the main body; if that doesn't produce look for fish in the creeks. Shad boils are a common sign of fall bass activity, so be ready to cast topwater plugs. You might have to fish to 35 feet with small worms rigged on dartheads to find active bass.

For information, call Huntington's Sportsman's Store, (530) 534-8000.

Other Choices

Late summer and early autumn are great times to fish Buoy 1, Duxbury, Rocky Point and Seal Rock off San Francisco, with calm seas and lots of hungry king salmon.

Crowley Lake flyfishers will have their hands full using sink-tip leaders and a variety of midge patterns for rainbow trout. Check the special regulations before going.

OCTOBER

Crappie

Lake Henshaw

San Diego anglers are experiencing some of the best crappie fishing in years, and Lake Henshaw is the premier destination for scrappy, one-pound fighters. Cooling water temperatures will have crappie schooling around structure, so stay in an area once you catch a fish; it's often possible to limit-out from a single spot.

You'll find crappie all over Lake Henshaw, but two top producing locations are the boat docks and the dam. There's also a fishing float where you can drop your offering through a trap door to crappie holding below. Popular techniques include vertically jigging live minnows and mini-jigs in pearl or chartreuse. Small spoons are also worth a try.

For information, call the Lake Henshaw Store, (760) 782-3501.

Other Choices

Eagle Lake's rainbow trout start heading for the shallows this month, where fly and spinning gear work equally well. Look for fish along the tules at the north end of the lake.

Still-fishing and artificials take their share of brown trout as fish enter the streams of June Lake Loop to spawn. Rush Creek is one of the best.

NOVEMBER

Lingcod

Farallon Islands

The 36-mile excursion to the Farallons should be comfortable thanks to typically calm seas off Northern California in the fall. The lengthy trip will be worth the effort too, with lots of big lings getting ready to spawn -- most boats return to port with fish pushing 20 pounds. Although some anglers worry about less time to fish, there's really no need; the action will be fast and furious.

The Farallon's lingcod hold in relatively deep water, so be prepared to get your offering to 200 feet. Lings are taken on traditional bottom-fishing gear; frozen squid-baited shrimp fly rigs, hex bars and leadhead jigs with soft-plastic trailers. For a change of pace, however, you may want to use light tackle; salmon mooching setups work great if your reel holds enough line.

For information, call Berkeley Marina Sport Center, (510) 849-2727.

Other Choices

The San Joaquin side of the Delta provides explosive striped bass topwater action if you're in the right place at the right time. Target the ends of tule islands at the turn of the tide.

Barring an early cold spell, trophy hunters looking for that fish of a lifetime should head to Lake Casitas where monster largemouth bass take live crawdads.

DECEMBER

Sturgeon

Suisun Bay

Getting on the water can be tough with the hustle and bustle of the holidays, but when you get the chance you'll take a step back in time when landing a prehistoric-looking sturgeon. Most of the bay fish fall out of the slot and have to be released, but catching a diamondback pushing 100 pounds is fun even if it can't be kept.

Head out during strong tidal movements, and avoid slack water -- incoming tides are better than outgoing. Suisun Bay is big, but you'll be in prime territory by sticking to the Mothball Fleet. Use a sensitive rod rigged with wire leader and 6/0 hooks baited with herring or shrimp. And check your offering often to make sure small fishes or crabs didn't steel it.

For information, call Martinez Bait & Tackle, (925) 229-9420.

Other Choices

The conditions can be uncomfortable at Stampede Reservoir this time of year, but if you're willing and able you'll experience some of the best brown trout fishing in the state.

With Lake Amador's trout stocking program in full swing this month, you'll catch quality cutbows from boat or shore near the ramp, along the dam or off the spillway.

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