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36 Great California Fishing Trips

36 Great California Fishing Trips

With hundreds of Golden State fishing destinations to choose from, it's difficult to pick the best places to go. This year's 12-month preview narrows the field to three dozen trips you don't want to miss.


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By Brian Sak

It seems like weather conditions have been anything but typical for so long that I no longer know what normal is. But even with that uncertainty, I know I can count on at least three Golden State freshwater or saltwater destinations each month where the fish are going to be biting.

Whether you're looking for limits of fish or trophies, here's a month-by-month assortment of quality adventures to help you make sense of 2004.

Spotted Bass
Lake Shasta
In the middle of winter is the time for some of the best fishing of the year at Lake Shasta, where spotted bass have anglers boasting of 100-fish days. Don't expect to catch big fish in January, but by bundling up and getting out between storms you'll catch loads of 1- to 3-pound bass.

The key to catching cold-weather spots is to understand how the fish react to rising and falling lake levels. Target the shallows, wherever there's deep-water access, with ripbaits and spinnerbaits when the lake is coming up. Move deeper when the lake's dropping, and fish soft-plastics and jigs tipped with pork over drop-offs and creek channels.

For information, call Shasta Tackle & Sport Fishing, (530) 275-2278.

Other Choices
Dressing warm and fishing deep are requisite for anglers on Lake Tahoe this month for catching 4- to 6-pound mackinaw with spoons or live minnows.


With the right amount of rainfall, any of several Mendocino County streams provide excellent steelhead action for anglers drifting roe.

American River
You can expect lots of winter-run steelhead in the American River this month, but it takes cooperative weather, some skill on your part and a bit of luck to catch them. As long as there are a few dry days between storms, much of the 22-mile stretch of river from Nimbus Basin to the Sacramento River will remain fishable from boat or shore. Local anglers and guides prefer roe, roe/Puff Ball combinations, and back-trolled plugs; experienced flyfishers use nymphs when flows aren't extreme.

For information, call Fran & Eddys Sports Den, (916) 363-6885.

Other Choices
The relationship between rain and river flow makes or breaks a steelhead trip to any of several North Coast streams. Call for conditions before heading out.

Muddy waters can only mean one thing in the Delta - big sturgeon on the move. Use pile worms or shrimp on both sides of the tide in Cache, Montezuma or Steamboat sloughs.

San Francisco Beaches
For a change of pace, head to the beach and cast into the surf for barred, redtail and walleye surfperch. Leave your heavy surf-casting rod at home; today's beach anglers challenge themselves with sturdy 9-foot steelhead rods.

You'll find plenty of action on Ocean Beach, from Sloat to the Cliff House, with Baker and China beaches being popular too. Local anglers prefer fishing live bloodworms or sand crabs on drop-hook rigs, while motor oil mini-grubs take their share of perch too.

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

Other Choices
Rainbow trout up to 20 pounds are giving tiny Lafayette Reservoir a big reputation. Try using in-line spinners, small plugs, night crawlers and dough baits in East Cove.

You wouldn't expect to find quality smallmouth in a Sierra foothill impoundment, but Tulloch Reservoir is an exception. Spinnerbaits and ripbaits take most of the bass in the Green Springs arm.

Gary Dobyns used a rip bait at Clear Lake in April for this chunky largemouth bass. Photo by Brian Sak

Largemouth Bass
Clear Lake
Despite a steady pounding from anglers, California's largest natural lake remains the place to go for 6- to 10-pound bass. You'll find fish at both ends of Clear Lake, around an abundance of cover that includes docks, rock walls, ledges, tules and weedbeds. Big bass congregate around isolated structure, so spend extra time on any downed tree or rockpile you encounter.

A variety of typical bass lures work at Clear Lake, but when fishing for trophies you should bump the size up; big swimbaits have been particularly productive. Don't wait until summer to tie on a frog pattern; they work around spawning areas in the spring.

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

Other Choices
Solid limits of rainbow trout are there for the taking at Lake Cachuma. Trollers using one to three colors of lead-core line do best. Drag night crawlers behind flashers in the Johnson Bay area.

As long as Sacramento River flows remain stable, you'll find plenty of minnow-eating stripers from Sacramento upstream to Colusa.

Largemouth Bass
San Pablo Reservoir
This small East Bay Municipal Utilities District lake is often passed up by a

nglers traveling away from the Bay Area, and the rule that limits access to inboards and 4-stroke outboards (2-strokes are okay when using the trolling motor to get around) keeps most high-powered bass boats away. Too bad for them! Little pressure, and a steady supply of high-protein food - stocked trout - make San Pablo a great destination for anyone looking for that largemouth of a lifetime.

Don't expect to catch numbers of bass when fishing for a trophy that tips the scale into the teens. For monster fish, you'll be casting for one or two bites a day. Throw 7- to 9-inch swimbaits to any cover or structure you find. Your chances at success increase when there's deep water nearby. Try starting at the boat ramp.

For information, call San Pablo Reservoir, (510) 223-1661.

Other Choices
Schools of hungry white bass attack shad-pattern rip baits at Lake Nacimiento this month. There are no size or take limits for whites, but it's illegal to possess live fish.

You'll find trophy brown trout to 9 pounds on the prowl at Bridgeport Reservoir, although Eastern Sierra weather can be a factor this time of year. Use plugs and swimbaits.

San Francisco Bay
As Bay Area party boats transition from salmon to halibut, you can count on backbreaking action close to home. You'll find halibut to 30 pounds at well-known hotspots: Alcatraz, Angel Island, Berkeley Flats, Brooks Island, Paradise, the Sisters and Treasure Island.

Because halibut move around this time of year, call ahead find out where the action has been hot. Fishing is usually best when drifting live bait during relatively small tidal swings, with incoming tides better than outgoing.

For information, call Emeryville Sportfishing Center, (510) 654-6040.

Other Choices
Aerobatic shad make your reel scream on the lower Feather River. Popular spots for casting shad darts or flies for fish to 6 pounds include the mouth of the river at Verona, Shanghai Bend and Vance Riffle.

Locate a school of kokanee at Whiskeytown Lake and you'll catch a limit by trolling a pink Koke-A-Nut behind double Sling Blades.

King Salmon
Shelter Cove
Home to what was once a large group of undersized commercial salmon vessels known as the Mosquito Fleet, Shelter Cove is now dominated by sportfishing boats. Huge king salmon swim close to shore along this portion of the Lost Coast, making this port ideal for small and large craft alike. The good news/bad news to Shelter Cove is the treacherous drive from Highway 101. It keeps the number of visitors to a minimum.

Finding salmon is the first order of business, so take the time to talk with other anglers when you arrive. Typical hotspots that you may hear mention of include the Hat, the Old Man and an area between them called the Slot. Although mooching sometimes works, regulars here prefer to troll for their fish. Expect kings averaging 15 pounds, with a few 30- and 40-pound fish mixed in.

For information, call Lost Coast Landing, (707) 986-1234.

Other Choices
Kokanee are the draw this month at New Melones Reservoir, but you'll need a boat with downriggers to troll near the dam and spillway with bright kokanee bugs or hootchies.

Soak sand crabs in the surf along Santa Monica Bay's southern beaches for corbina to 3 pounds.

Lake Berryessa
Berryessa is coming on fast as one of the state's top kokanee reservoirs. By taking the time to locate these small salmon, you'll find it easy to a limit in the boat. Look for kokes pushing 2 pounds to be on the main body or near the dam this time of year.

The thermocline dictates how deep to fish. Plan on using downriggers to get your offering down 70 to 120 feet. Local anglers prefer 8- to 12-inch chrome dodgers in front of small, bright lures, especially Uncle Larry's spinners in blue tiger.

For information, call Angler's World, (510) 243-1300.

Other Choices
As Lake Del Valle water temperatures peak, catfish feed day and night trying to keep up with their metabolisms. Use night crawlers or chicken livers at the south end of the lake.

Assuming the warm current that normally flows well offshore moves eastward again this year, anglers fishing out of Monterey, Moss Landing and Santa Cruz will score big numbers of albacore tuna in midsummer.

Largemouth Bass
California Delta
One of the best bass factories in the nation, the maze of rivers, channels and sloughs that form the California Delta offer more fishable cover and structure than any other body of water in the state. You'll catch lots of fish here and have a legitimate chance at a trophy largemouth.

For those new to the Delta, either hire a guide or launch in the vicinity of where you want to fish and stick to that area, tossing topwater poppers off the ends of islands early and late in the day. Spinnerbaits work well around sparse tules once the sun is up, as do crankbaits retrieved parallel to rock levees. Pitch bulky soft plastics or jigs to holes in submerged vegetation when the bite gets tough.

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

Other Choices
You'll avoid crowds and experience above-average rainbow trout fishing at Loon Lake. Concentrate on the east end of the lake, top-lining a night crawler behind a dodger.

San Luis Reservoir and its forebay are known for producing record striped bass. Have a shot at your own fish of a lifetime by soaking jumbo minnows or trolling big plugs.

San Francisco Coast
October is a great time to be out on the ocean; the weather's fair, seas are typically calm and the fish are big. Lingcod are no exception. You'll find lings pushing 20 pounds on several shallow-water reefs off Pacifica and Moss Beach. They can be caught with typical bottom-fishing gear, but you'll increase the fun by using light tackle. Bring along your salmon mooching gear and try jigging heavy spoons just off the rocks.

Restrictions have been in a state of flux for several years now, so check the current fishing regulations before you go.

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

Other Choices
You can quickly fill a bucket with chubby bluegill by fishing worms or crickets righ

t near the marina.

Want a shot at a trophy bass? Try tossing 12-inch swimbaits at San Vicente Lake. Beating the world record here may be a long shot, but bass over 5 pounds are not.

King Salmon
Smith River
It's a long way up the coast, but the size of Smith River salmon makes the trip tolerable. This river clears quickly and becomes fishable soon after winter storms, but flows are so low when autumn storms don't materialize that officials sometimes close the river. Rain and river flow dictate where salmon will be, so make sure you're up-to-date on conditions. Always call ahead.

Catching kings in low, clear water requires a stealthy approach. Look for fish in the reach downstream of the Highway 101 bridge when the water is low. The Piling and Bailey holes are popular. Try any of several holes upstream to Jedediah Smith State Park in high flows and stained water.

Shrimp and marshmallow combinations or salmon eggs under bobbers take fish in clear water, while drifting roe or back-bouncing Kwikfish works when flows are up.

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

Other Choices
You'll have to hit the water between storms and dress warm, but rainbow trout to 6 pounds will keep your blood boiling at Eagle Lake. Start in the shallows north of the Youth Camp, trolling flashers followed by flies or soaking marshmallow and night crawler combinations.

Many consider sanddabs the best table fare in the Pacific, and they're available to anglers fishing light line on sandy flats off San Francisco. Use pieces of squid on drop-hook rigs.

Cutbow Trout
Lake Amador
Lake Amador's cutbow trout planting program is in full swing by December - when large fish go on a feeding binge. This small fishing-only lake fishes equally well from boat, float tube or shore. You'll find trout throughout the lake; anglers targeting areas near the dam, boat ramp and spillway take the most fish.

It really doesn't matter what you throw - spoons, spinners, minnow plugs, flies, night crawlers and dough baits all take their share of cutbows.

For information, call Lake Amador Resort, (209) 274-4739.

Other Choices
Spotted bass turn on all over Lake Oroville as the holidays approach. Find a rocky point and fish 4-inch soft-plastic worms on dart heads.

You can't go wrong at Pyramid Lake for numbers of striped bass, where casting plugs to boils on the surface near the dam or soaking anchovies on the bottom in deep water produce good results.

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