Since I’m a native of the Golden State, I might be biased, but I firmly believe there is no better state for an angler to call home base than California. Do you like trout fishing? How about river salmon and steelhead? Maybe trophy-size largemouths and smallmouths are your bag? Perhaps you fantasize about panfish, catfish, halibut, striped bass or ocean-run kings?
If the answer to any or, in my case, all of these questions is yes, you find yourself residing in the right place, because California boasts outstanding fishing for all the species mentioned and more.
With a square mile of water for every 20 square miles of land, California has a plethora of freshwater fishing destinations. And with a coastline 840 miles long, saltwater fishing opportunities are diverse and plentiful.
To my knowledge there isn’t another state in the union where you can target mackinaw at a high-elevation mountain lake one day, drive to the ocean and troll for salmon the next and wrap up your three-day adventure at a lake or river with trophy-class largemouth bass in your sights. In California, not only is such an adventure possible, it would be pretty easy to plan.
It doesn’t matter what species you plan on targeting in 2012, you’re going to enjoy some excellent fishing. Our lakes are healthy after two wet years, trout planting is going strong and the ocean salmon population is rebounding nicely. Here is a month-to-month primer for the top spots for California fishing to make your dreams come true.
California plays host to a list of steelhead rivers, but none of them are as good as the Smith when it comes to the shear volume of fish and the 20-plus-pound size they attain.
The best stretch lies below the forks. This piece of river offers very good bank access for anglers plunking with roe, but for the absolute best results side drifting pieces of roe from a drift boat is the way to go.
If you like really big game, forget the Smith and head for San Pablo Bay where monster white sturgeon will be cruising the mudflats. To hook up, soak mud shrimp in shallow water during strong outgoing tides.
For south state trout enthusiasts, Lake Irvine is the place to cast out dough baits and inflated worms for big rainbows and plenty of them.
The Bay Area is home to more than 7 million people, yet for a country feel and a stringer of big rainbows all you need to do is cruise over the East Bay hills to 315-acre Lake Chabot.
Bank access is outstanding and fishing piers are centrally located around the lake. Most bank anglers rely on dough baits, salmon eggs and worms. Rental boats are available and trolling small Rapalas from one of them is a great approach.
For a day of winter steelhead action the Feather River is a good February option. They average 4- to 6-pounds and will nail roe, spoons, egg imitating flies and nymphs.
Lake Tahoe is not only California’s largest lake, but it also produced the 37.6-pound state-record mackinaw. To catch macks, troll structure with large plugs or rigged minnows.
Freshwater runoff ignites topnotch sturgeon action in Suisun Bay toward the end of winter.
The Mothball Fleet is a well-known hotspot. Shrimp baits are a favorite offering of many anglers, but lamprey eel fillets and uncured salmon roe work great, too.
The keys to success are still-fishing these baits on the edges of channels during periods of strong tidal movement. Bites can be subtle, so watch your rod closely and if it pumps down, set the hook hard.
Southern California and big bass go together like peanut butter and bananas. Lake Perris is a good spot to toss rainbow pattern swimbaits for something over the 10-pound mark.
While steelhead fishing is winding down at many destinations by March, the bite on the Russian River will still be going strong for anglers pulling plugs and drifting roe.
A huge 21.11-pound largemouth came out of Dixon in 2003 and many believe the next world record swims these waters.
The lake is heavily stocked with trout, so rainbow swimbaits are a key offering, but jigs and plastic worms pay dividends, too.
During April, bed fishing for large spawners is a proven approach, but you’ll have plenty of company from other trophy hunters if you choose to take this approach. Small baits work best for tempting highly pressured bed fish.
If your travels take you to the northern end of the Sacramento Valley, Lake Shasta is a great place to hook energetic rainbows while trolling shad-imitating spoons.
For big numbers of bass, Lake Oroville is hard to beat. All it takes to hook up is a 3-inch naturally-colored grub rigged on a darter head.
Check out page two for top California fishing options for May, June, July and August