The Golden State offers a wide variety of options for anglers throughout the year. From scenic trout streams to saltwater action and bass lakes that produce rod-bending lunkers, there's a diverse collection hotspots to explore.
What follows are a few top picks that are worth considering for your next fishing trip. They represent some of the best options for each month of the year, so put these waters on your list.
Big Sur River Steelheads
California anglers are now going after one of the premier sport fish on the planet. The entire Big Sur coastal area is famous for steelhead runs reaching into some of the Golden State rivers. When the steelheads are doing well, it's an indication of how successfully we are managing and preserving this magnificent fishing environment.
A favorite method for catching steelheads is swinging the fly. Fish in an active mood go after the fly aggressively, and sometimes a heavier tippet is needed to keep the fish from breaking off.
More popular in some Big Sur rivers is dead drifting nymphs with an indicator above the fly. This works especially well in slower water and in deep pools. Drift boats are used extensively here. They allow anglers and guides to cover a lot of water, sometimes 10 miles of river in a day. The cold humid weather during winter requires good gear at times, but the fishing is worth it.
Other Options: Skwala Stoneflies come into play for trout on the Lower Yuba River in January and February. Rockfish bite well on Coast Guard (Breakwater) Jetty on the coast.
Southern California Squid
Fishermen hope for a repeat of some of the fantastic squid fishing that has taken place off the Southern California coast the past few seasons. The angling was so good it drew even non-fishermen who responded to the news stories announcing that Humboldt squid from 5 to 20 pounds were being hauled in by anglers just as fast as they could get a line in the water.
In the past the squid sometimes came up out of the depths from hundreds of feet below in their pursuit of one of their favorite foods, krill. Some of the squids off Orange County were weighing in at near 60 pounds. Some of them were breaking fishing rods. It's unpredictable what it will be like this year, so anglers keep an eye on the fishing reports, and the squid. If the run comes on strong, the squid harvest will be fantastic.
Other Options: San Lorenzo River steelhead are active, and this is considered a top angling spot this time of year. Suisun Bay sturgeon measuring nearly 60 inches come from the salt off Solano County.
Monterey Beach Striped Bass
Classic California fishing this time of year takes place on the Monterey Beaches where striped bass move in to pursue easy pickings of their own. Anglers take plenty of fish weighing 8 to 10 pounds, with some going over 20 pounds. Favorite techniques include casting plugs such as the Spook fished on topwater.
It's one of the most exciting ways to catch these hard-fighting fish. Bait fishermen also do well on these beaches using sand crabs. The fishing will continue into April. Stripers maneuver the areas in pre-spawning mode.
Eventually they swim into the San Francisco Bay estuary and up into the rivers to spawn. It is during all this activity that much of the fishing takes places. They fight hard and are in good condition. Stripers are not native here, but they were first planted in the early 1900s.
Other Options: In Tulloch Reservoir the rainbow trout should be biting in the Stanislaus River inlet. Famous and excellent, the Carmel River steelhead fishery is in high gear.
Sierra Nevada Trout
The prime season approaches for the vast mountain trout fishery in the Sierra Nevada Mountains of Northern California. Many species are there — rainbows, browns, cutthroats — and many unique local native trout. In the Inyo, Sierra, and Toiyabe national forests there are more than 600 lakes of 25-acres or more.
That doesn't even include the national parks and some of the best scenery in North America. Most of these waters hold trout. Dry flies, nymphs, wet flies all work well. One of the most fascinating fishing methods is to get a map of one of the national forests, or national parks, and just head out. It's an exploration.
With so much out there it can't all be done in one lifetime. But then that is one of the great things about the Sierra trout paradise.
Other Options: Shore fishermen catch halibut using live smelt off of Ponto. West Fork brookies are especially active right now.
Lake Nacimiento White Bass
This is the best place in California to fish for white bass. They are hungry and moving into the shallows. These fish run big, with the largest ever caught from the lake coming in at more than 4 pounds. When the run is really on it doesn't matter too much what one fishes with because the white bass hit hard and fast.
They are often chasing threadfin shad, especially later in summer when the water surface boils with shad schools being chased to the top. There are also lots of crawdads in the lake, and fishermen report that some white bass caught have their faces scratched up from rooting around for these crustaceans. So, the white bass are hungry much of the time.
The Nacimiento River is where the white bass run into during their spawn. Late in that spawn the huge females weighing in at 2 to 4 pounds are caught. As a bonus, anglers can also pick up some nice channel cats here.
Other Options: Anglers have picked up largemouth bass over 15-pounds at Diamond Valley Lake near Palm Springs. Jacksmelt are in bite-mode off piers in Southern California.
Caples Lake Trout
Caples Lake is one of the more productive trout lakes in California. It lies at 7,950-feet elevation in the Eldorado National Forest, so for part of the year it's in the deep freeze. But right now the fishing for coldwater species is excellent. The California Department of Fish and Wildlife stocks lots of catchable size trout in this lake, of which rainbows are one of the main species caught. They tend to grow well, so bigger fish are always swimming the lake.
Brookies and browns are also in Caples. At 600 acres, it has more than six miles of shoreline and some nice coves to fish. As such, it is also popular with kayakers and canoeists. For some gentle fishing, these small craft make a pleasant way to troll spoons and cover lots of lake in search of trout.
This is a good lake to enjoy in summer because by October there is a good likelihood that snow will have descended.
Other Options: Check the moon schedule for the Southern California grunion runs on beaches at San Diego, Santa Barbara, Cabrillo and elsewhere. Sharks are taking baits off Southern California shores.
Wading, casting and enjoying the mellow California life is what many angling dreams are made of. It can still be done for surfperch on the beaches near Monterey. Anglers can use simple outfits, or go for high sport with fly-fishing gear. Anglers catch some surfperch up to 14 inches. They're great fun on lighter gear
. The perch are in shallow where they feed on sand crabs, which crawl in abundance as the tides move in and out. As a result there is great summertime feeding here along this coast. This is the type of fishing that is open to anyone, and on short notice. There is lots access.
Other Options: The Blue Lakes are excellent for trout right now in both the upper and lower lakes. Fish the piers at Ventura for croaker catches.
Central Coast Rockfish
This is a big time for rockfish on the central coast. This fishery enthuses lots to different types of anglers in that it is both shore and boat based, and all of it is excellent. Some of the best is off the rocks of Big Sur. Biologists studying the populations noted that boat fishermen are usually guaranteed limits of eager rockfish.
Note that there are Marine Protected Areas where catching fish in any manner is forbidden. These areas were set up so all fish species can recover and propagate, and the protected areas appear to be working. Anglers must know the locations of these areas in order to avoid them.
Outside of that, the plentiful rockfish make an excellent species for fast action and a good introduction to coastal saltwater fishing in California.
Other Options: Klamath River king Salmon are famous, and justifiably so, as these huge fish can be tackle smashers. Red Lake trout should be biting among a scenic Northern California setting.
The great thing about fishing in Yosemite National Park is that even if you don't get one single bite, the trip is worth it. This park is considered one of the crown jewels in the national park system, and it's the envy of much of the world. And there just happens to be good fishing to go with it.
The Merced River, at 2,000 feet elevation in its lower stretches, is good in early spring and very late fall. But right now many fly-fishermen will seek out the early autumn at 7,000 to 11,000 feet elevation. The small streams up in the high country turn magical come fall as the leaves turn. The trout are in a feeding mood. And the warm afternoons still produce good hatches, so anglers can use the wonderfully aesthetic dry-fly techniques.
Other Options: Incredibly ferocious looking lingcod of good size bite off the Channel Islands west of Los Angeles. Pit River trout are now in a feeding attitude as cold weather approaches.
El Capitan Largemouths
Set in the arid mountains of Southern California, El Cap is one of the premier largemouth lakes in an area of the state known for some of the top bass fishing in North America. El Cap is home to lots of 2- to 6-pound largemouths. This lake gets a lot of bass fishing pressure, and thus the largemouths are very well educated. But it remains an excellent place to entice fish.
Early mornings and late evenings are wonderful here, with the golden glow of the sun reflecting off the surrounding desert terrain. Bass can be taken in shallow water through much of the year. So, spinners, topwater lures and flies work great. The range of structure in El Cap is varied, from flooded brush to rock piles. So many types of fishing techniques can come into play, adding to the appeal.
Other Options: Heenan Lake in the Sierras has Lahontan cutthroats, and anglers are restricted to barbless lures and flies only. Lake Ming largemouth bass are in their fall feeding time.
San Luis Reservoir Striped Bass
This is considered one of the best striped bass fisheries in the West. Shoreline anglers pick up some nice fish. Boat fishermen can get out farther. There are places where this freshwater lake goes down more than 250 feet. Anglers drift live minnows and mudsuckers.
Topwater fishing continues into autumn and is one of the most exciting ways to catch some of these big stripers. Popular lures include Zara Spooks, Pencil Poppers and Pop-Rs. When fishing some of the baits, such as anchovies or mackerel, it is possible to tie into one of the really nice channel cats in this lake as well. Some of those run 10 to 25 pounds.
San Luis is exceptional mainly because the prey fish population does very well, and stripers eat like pigs. They have a steady diet of high protein food here. And fishermen have a steady diet of stripers.
Other Options: The classy bonefish angling picks up this time of year near San Diego. Russian River steelheads bite on those cold blustery days on this northern river.
O'Neill Forebay Smallmouths
This reservoir in an arid part of California just might turn up another state-record smallmouth bass. It has already produced one such fish in the past. December is perhaps the best time of all to get out on this lake because the usual strong winds tend to lighten up this time of year. The result is easier boat handling, good fishing and conditions tempered to make for an easier day.
Fishermen find success with minnows as well as the usual assortment of smallmouth lures. Smallmouths here can be caught at a great variance in depths, from a couple feet deep near shore to down 100 feet in the dark depths of O'Neill Forebay. The fish sizes vary from small, to the potential state record-setters that are out there, waiting.
Other Options: Castle Lake trout ice-fishing is good with views of the mountains on the horizon. Guitarfish are caught this time of year off the piers in Southern California.