California likely has more diversity of fishing than just about any other place in North America. It's all in one time zone, but the environmental zones here encompass that of the entire continent.
So, if you like short-sleeves weather a lot more than down parka frigidity, there is the bass fishing all year-round in the south. While at the exact same time someone up north is pulling frisky trout through the ice of one of the mountain lakes in the northern Sierra.
And the difference between fishing for saltwater behemoths off into the Pacific as compared to enticing a sunfish inland is, well, huge.
It runs the gamut from king salmon to potential world-record largemouths to the every fisherman's surfperch along the sands of coastal California. And all of it is going on, all year.
JANUARY - Trout On The Lower Yuba River
Rainbows feeding in pocket water highlight excellent fishing in the Lower Yuba River. This tailwater fishery is good all year, so there is winter fishing for open-water trout here when much of the rest of the best California trout waters are freezing over. Steelhead and chinook salmon also inhabit the river at times. Good flies in the Lower Yuba include Pale Morning Duns (PMDs), March Browns, Pink Alberts, Caddisflies, and the Skwala Stonefly. Sizes 8 and 10 are good this time of year. Trout range from 8 to 24 inches. These are colorful wild fish. It's catch-and-release with barbless hooks. Light lines and careful presentation help when the water is exceptionally clear.
Other Options: Anglers in drift boats are "swinging the fly" to catch impressive steelheads in the Big Sur River. Saltwater fishing in Suisun Bay turns up very nice sturgeons, some measuring nearly 5 feet in length.
FEBRUARY - Yellowfin Croaker In SoCal
Yellowfin croaker anglers have lots of good fishing access spots available to them. Piers are one of the best places to go after them in Southern California. One of the better ones is Oceanside Pier. Others include Crystal Pier, San Clemente Pier, Huntington Beach Pier, Seal Beach Pier, Belmont Shores Pier, Manhattan Beach Pier and Malibu Pier. At Oceanside the croakers run between 2 and 4 pounds. Some grow up to 6 pounds. Anglers use number 4 or 6 hooks to fish shrimp, mussels, sand crabs and bloodworms. Anglers fish the incoming tide. Some of he best action occurs from sundown through the night. Croakers are most commonly found south of Ventura.
Other Options: Rockfish bite on the coast where anglers go after them frequently in their favorite habitat, rocky areas. The squid of Southern California turn to legends during some years when the Humboldt in the 5- to 20-pound range are caught near San Diego.
MARCH - Halibut At Carlsbad Lagoon
Fishermen are targeting halibut using live bait. Smelt and anchovies are good, reported Noah Parnell, with Pacific Coast Bait and Tackle. Halibut are taken year-round. Most are about 22 inches, but some go up to 30 inches. Anglers concentrate on a sandbar in the lagoon. It is a well-known spot and only about a two-hour drive from Los Angeles, so sometimes fishermen are standing about 30 feet apart, advised Parnell. The convenience and the good fishing pull fishermen in. Fishermen can use lighter tackle to add to the sport. Jerkbaits and soft plastic lures work well. Live baits drifted over he bottom are also excellent.
Other Options: Stripers toward shore for excellent fishing in Monterey Bay, especially the surf between Sunset Beach and Rio Del Mar. More excellent steelhead fishing is expected, and the Smith River is noteworthy because it is California's only major river without dams.
APRIL - Stripers In The American River
April is the beginning of very good striper fishing on the American River. As the water warms, fish begin moving up into the rivers. Striped bass grow fast, and they feed like pigs. Smaller stripers eat shrimp, but after they attain some size they feed on threadfin shad, young striped bass and other small fish. American River anglers are catching stripers on the Clouser Minnow and American River Special. Bait fishermen use cut anchovies or sardines. Stripers are fished along much of the California coast, and anglers can key in where the fishing is hottest on many rivers such as the Klamath, Smith, Russian, Trinity and Sacramento.
Other Options: Brook trout are continuing to be active where anglers can fish small streams where water remains clear, or lakes such as the Mammoth Lakes system streams are muddied by runoff. The coast is alive with saltwater smelt enthusiasts who fish a falling high tide.
MAY - Eastern Sierra Nevada Trout
Starting sometime in April the trout fishing on the eastern side of the Sierra Nevada range gets really good. There are many smaller lakes and streams, and a huge part of the fun is the exploration. One could spend a fishing lifetime doing it. Browns, rainbows and cutthroats inhabit water ranging from 2,500 to 10,000 feet elevation. Anglers can gradually work their way higher as the season progresses. Lakes usually have larger trout. Stream trout run smaller, ranging from 8 to 15 inches.
Other Options: Lake Nacimiento white bass are hungry and eager to fulfill their roll in the food chain, which for some is in a creel and then a hot frying pan. Lakes Dixon, Jennings, Poway, Miramar and Murray near San Diego have largemouths biting on spinners.
JUNE - Merced River Trout
The fantastic Merced flows into Yosemite National Park, which of course makes it one of the most scenic stretches of trout water in the world. There are fishing restrictions on the river in places, such as barbless hooks and catch-and-release only, and anglers should check the regulations for the area they fish. All of it is good water and is fished heavily. This makes the Merced trout wary and often difficult to catch. But that does not detract from the quality and scenic appeal of the fishery.
Other Options: Lots of bluefin tuna, with some weighing more than 100 pounds, have likely made their way into Southern California waters, to the delight of fishermen here. The Blue Lakes trout fishing gets under way, with rainbows stocked in large numbers.
JULY - Smallmouths In The Delta
Bass are biting in many areas of the Sacramento — San Joaquin River Delta. July and August are considered the prime months here for smallmouths. The fish are going after streamers, topwater lures and flies. Good patterns include the Umpqua Swimming Frog, Umpqua Pike Fly and hopper imitations. Smallmouths up to 4 pounds are caught, but the majority of the catch is smaller. They prefer rocky areas and riprap. Since smallmouth and largemouth habitat overlaps, there is a likelihood that fishermen will pick up both species, no matter which one they are keying in on. As water warms, early morning fishing becomes better due to water temperatures and also from lighter numbers of people being out early in the morning.
Other Options: Corbina are on the summer bite along the surfline at Goleta Pier. Salmon fishing at Bodega Bay for fish in the 12- to 15-pound range, with some to 20 pounds.
AUGUST - California Yellowtails Off Catalina
Many yellowtails in the 25- to 35-pound range are caught near Catalina Island. Some weigh in at 50 pounds.
"There are all sorts of ways to catch them," said Ken Lindsay, with Fishermen's Spot at Van Nuys. "Bait such as anchovies and sardines, but they also use jigs and flies. Sometimes they are up on surface bustin' bait, and sometimes 150-feet deep."
Some really huge yellowtails hang around all year. But smaller ones tend to be more migratory. The highest number of yellowtails moves in to warming waters during summer.
Other Options: The slower pools of the Eel River can turn up coastal cutthroat trout. Spiny dogfish, surfperch and other species are biting on live sand crabs, bloodworms, ghost shrimp and mussels at San Simeon Pier, which is not far from the Hearst Castle.
SEPTEMBER - Lake Shasta Spotted Bass
Shasta has been producing some really big spotted bass, thereby securing a reputation. And as the weather cools, the September fish bite picks up as many different species here start gorging on food. A lake-record 8.85-pounder spotted bass was taken out of Shasta a few years ago. California spotted bass records have been falling, with a 10.38-pounder from New Bullards Bar Reservoir, then a 10.48-pounder from New Melones Reservoir, and making the rounds are reports of an 11-plus-pounder caught and released by two fishermen from a California "mystery lake." Shasta, with the mountain rising up in the distance, will be in the running for the next spotted bass record.
Other Options: Jacksmelt abound at the Pismo Beach Pier, which is one of the heaviest used piers on the West Coast. Crowley Lake is heavily fished, but the trout are turning hungry and autumn comes on.
OCTOBER - California Coast Surfperch
Surfperch are like the bluegill of saltwater. They're small but feisty, and they are very available. Anglers who love fishing love these small fish, too. The beauty of is that they can be caught in the plenty in a lot of saltwater and with very little equipment. In fact, the lighter the equipment, the better and higher the sport. Surfperch feed on shrimp, sand crabs and other crustaceans that get knocked lose when a wave rolls over the beach. Baits or flies can be effective. Feeding tends toward the nocturnal, so early morning and late evening fishing is ideal. And best of all, there are a great many surfperch out there to be caught.
Other Options: El Capitan largemouths have a long growing season, meaning all year, and there are some huge ones in the lake. There are lots of 2- to 6-pounders being caught as well. Catch-and-release fishing for trout heats up on Hot Creek.
NOVEMBER - Largemouths In Castaic Lake
The Florida strain of bass grow the entire year in this productive warm Southern California lake. And anglers can fish for them all year. Largemouths in the 15-pound range are being taken right now. Other plentiful species here include striped bass, rainbow trout, catfish and crappies. In fact, the bass feed on less-than-savvy hatchery trout, and that is one reason some anglers think that easy high protein diet could create an ultra-huge largemouth for the record books.
Other Options: The extremely gnarly lingcod is biting along the entire coast and is caught in the same places as rockfish. Trout are biting as weather turns frigid on Castle Lake near Mt. Shasta in open water or on the ice, depending on the year.
DECEMBER - Caples Lake Rainbows
It's hard not to list Caples Lake for ice-fishing in California because it annually has some of the very best. Trout are the quarry. It's mostly rainbows, but there are also brookies in here. Many 10- to 14-inchers are caught through the ice. Caples is big enough to handle a lot of fishing pressure, being 2 miles long with 6 miles of shoreline. And at 7,800 feet elevation and considerably over a mile high in the dead of winter, the climate tends to weed out the faint-of-heart. Only the dedicated hard-core ice-fishermen stick around for the long term. They are rewarded, however. The fishing is good. Worms do well here, as do ice-fishing jigs.
Other Options: O'Neill Forebay is suspected of harboring a potential record smallmouth somewhere in the depths, and many more not-quite-so-big bass in this top-notch water. Croakers bite during winter along the coast, with some moving farther offshore as waters cool.