January 30, 2018
By D.H. Willis
JANUARY - Trout: Caples Lake
This is a longstanding good ice-fishing lake in Northern California. It lies at 7,800-feet elevation. As winter progresses, it takes on good ice. Popular winter species include rainbows and browns, and sometimes Mackinaw lake trout. Caples lies in a beautiful mountain setting, with enough frigidity during winter to totally turn off the fair-weather crowd. The result is perfect — excellent ice-fishing and relatively few others around who are not interested in this sport. Much of the best ice-fishing takes place relatively close to shore near the dam.
Other Options: Lake Murray Largemouths: Murray is a smaller lake (171 acres) not far from downtown San Diego. But it has big bass. Orange County Jacksmelt: A wonderful pier fish but also caught near rocky shores all up and down the coast.
FEBRUARY - Largemouths: Lake Havasu
This wonderful desert lake on the California-Arizona border has excellent largemouth fishing much of the year. And right now, when other areas are cold or frozen, marks one of the best times to go after these warmwater fish. Unlike some waters, reports coming out of Havasu indicate good largemouth fishing in later morning or even mid-day. In fact, some fishermen think that boat traffic that churns up the water helps stimulate bass feeding. Smallmouths also inhabit Havasu, so sometimes anglers can pursue both species together. Some of the most consistent largemouth fishing here takes place on and just off rocky points.
Other Options: Goleta Pier Halibut: This pier and other waters in Southern California coastal water hold good halibut. Live smelt are a popular bait. Halibut feed here on queenfish and sardines. Lower Sacramento River Rainbows: Good fishing now when other waters are frozen. Dry flies work on warm days, and this is a year-round river in the lower sections
MARCH - Sharks: Southern California Coast
Leopard sharks start biting more earnestly in Southern California saltwater, even in human populated areas like San Diego and Los Angeles. These predators have dark gray bodies with black bars and spots and are sometimes called cat sharks. Some of these fish will grow to 70 pounds. Leopard sharks are often caught in bays and along sandy stretches in this part of California. A rather mysterious leopard shark die-off occurred last year in the San Francisco Bay area, so anglers may have varied success up there this year. Up north the best fishing is usually later in the summer.
Other Options: Largemouths in Lake Perris: Many lakes here to choose from, with publicly owned Lake Perris 19 miles from Riverside being a prime one to hit. Good bluegill fishing, too. Crappie In Calero Reservoir: This lake is near San Jose and is one of the best bets for big crappies in this part of California. Also, there's good largemouth fishing.
APRIL - Smallmouths: Trinity Lake
A former California state-record topping 9 pounds came from Trinity in Northern California. The fishing remains good, and this lake is perennially one of the top smallmouth waters on the West Coast. South-facing rocky structure is especially good this time of year, as it gets lots of sunshine warming the water. Crankbaits and plastic lures work well now. Fly-fishermen use larger flies and streamers here. April is a good time for trophy smallmouths in Trinity. Trinity smallmouths are noted for being more cooperative than usual on topwater lures and flies. There is also a good largemouth population in this clear lake, so anglers pick up both types of bass.
Other Options: Yellowfin Croaker Along The Southern California Coast: Oceanside Pier is a good location. Anglers fish mussels, sand crabs and shrimp. Humboldt Squid Near San Diego: It's a fishing frenzy when 5- to 20-pounders show up.
MAY - Largemouths: Castaic Lake
This is one of the best largemouth waters in California and has produced bass topping 20 pounds. This time of year, the coves and points produce nice fish. Plastics of many varieties are popular here because anglers will also pick up smallmouths and stripers in Castaic Lake. Castaic is very fertile, thus the excellent growth on largemouths and other fish. Crawdads and threadfin shad are mainstays in the diet of the large predator fish here. And as if that weren't enough, the bigger bass also occasionally feed on the protein-rich trout that are planted in the lake.
Other Options: San Miguel Island Lingcod: The lingcod bite on jigs and plastics, especially near deep structure. Clear Lake Channel Cats: The cats are starting to feed heavily as the water warms. It will peak in summer.
JUNE - Steelhead: Klamath River
These are beautiful fish and are highly prized. During June stonefly hatches both fish and anglers swarm the upper and middle Klamath. Fishing during the hatches of these meaty insects is spectacular. The tailwater below Iron Gate Dam is especially good right now. The tailwaters are more immune from muddied runoff, and the trout fishing here is consistent. The lower reaches near the mouth of the river heat up in August, and later in the season as temperatures cool into October the fishing in the middle section of the river produces nice catches.
Other Options: Sierra Nevada Trout: Start at lower elevations early in the summer season and work up higher as weather warms. San Diego Grunion: very interesting and fun run on the Southern California beaches.
JULY - Albacore Tuna: California Coast
Albacore tuna is known to most people as something out of a can or as one of the more expensive slabs to put on the grill. Southern California anglers know it as a large, feisty fish that they love to catch. These tuna are running in the 25- to 50-pound range, with some up to 90 pounds. Albacore are found up and down the coast, but they are temperamental about water temperatures. They prefer the south if the water is relatively cool, but will head further north if the year is a particularly warm one, heading into waters off the central and Northern California coasts. These tuna are commonly caught by trolling lures behind boats.
Other Options: Truckee River Trout: Both browns and rainbows with 12 miles of wild trout water starting at about the town of Truckee and running downstream. Lake Wohlford Channel Cats: Cats love the hottest weather of the year, and they get up to 15 pounds in this lake. Many of the fish are 2 to 3 pounds, though.
AUGUST - Barracuda: Southern California
This is a great conservation success in California waters. These fish have been brought back and are now a common big predator in Southern California waters. Some get to 4 feet long and weigh in at 20 pounds. That makes them terrific fighters. They like the edges of kelp beds, where they roam in search of schools of prey fish. One of the best places to fish for them is near the sand flats, which attract lots of baitfish. The barracuda swoop in on them. And anglers move in on the barracuda. They can be caught on anything that imitates their prey — including jigs and baits.
Other Options: Point Conception Sand Bass: These fish like a lively bait fished off the bottom along the coast. Hat Creek Trout: Wild trout fishing at some of its most classic, reminiscent of the chalk streams of Europe.
SEPTEMBER - Rainbow Trout: McCloud River
Enjoy a scenic mountain setting with excellent rainbow fishing at a prime time of the year — after the summer rush but before the deep freeze sets in. Trout are devouring mass quantities of high-protein insects right now. Many wild 14-inch rainbows are caught here, and a few brown trout. This is a rather remote area of Northern California, being five hours from San Francisco. The Upper McCloud has lots of access. Some of the stream can be crossed on foot. The Lower McCloud has bigger rainbows roaming the blue-green water as the stream grows to river-size. The most isolated stretch of the McCloud flows below Ash Camp. The Pacific Crest National Scenic Trail winds high above the river for three miles. All of which makes this not only good fishing, but a fantastic outdoor experience.
Other Options: California Coast Corbina: Sneaky presentation helps in stalking this silvery saltwater fish most common on the south coast. San Joaquin River Channel Cats: The state record came from here, and you won't have much catfishing competition.
OCTOBER - Chinooks: Smith River
In the heady rivers of northern California there are legends made as anglers go after magnificent Chinook salmon this time of year. Some of the biggest fish in Northern California come from here. There are a few hatchery fish in some streams flowing into the Smith. But the majority of this excellent fishery is composed of wild Chinooks that make their way up the river this time of year. A commonly used technique is the cast-and-retrieve with a fly rod. This presentation is best in the more still waters of the river. It works well in autumn for both Chinooks and steelhead. Some of the best fishing scenery in California can be found on the Middle and South Forks of the Smith.
Other Options: Lake Ming Largemouths: By autumn, both the moss and water-skiers have subsided, with good largemouth fishing in full swing. San Francisco Area Stripers: The best of the striper fishing here usually begins in October.
NOVEMBER - Surfperch: Coastal California
This is the wonderful little fish that is so available that anglers can find action when other species are more finicky. Some good locations include Salinas State Beach, Marina State Beach and Zmudowski State Beach. But many locations along the California coast are good. Surfperch feed heavily on crabs, so casting near crab beds is one of the tried-and-true tactics to catch these fish. Food is plentiful. Steeper beaches are good because the wave action churns up little creatures that surfperch feed on.
Other Options: Smith River King Salmon: This is a perennially good place to land trophies. San Clemente Croaker: Fish near the pier in Richard Nixon's old California beach haunt.
DECEMBER - Rockfish: Coastal California
The wide variety of rockfish in California takes in more than 90 species. They are beautifully ugly fish. And they're very popular with anglers because of their abundance and availability on the coast. Expert rockfishermen often recommend covering a lot of ground to find feeding fish. With so many types of rockfish, there is lots of different habitat to explore in search of them. A few of the noteworthy hotspots include Bodega Bay and the Big Sur coast. Seasons, areas and regulations vary quite a bit, so anglers will want to pay close attention.
Other Options: Kern River Rainbow Trout: Good fly-fishing here in winter, but check flows before heading out. Juanita Lake Trout: Ice-fish way, way off the beaten path by skiing in on the unplowed mountain road.