February 22, 2012
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
Collins Lake is the most heavily stocked trout lake in Northern California and a good percentage of these rainbows are over the 5-pound mark.
Shore fishing is popular with anglers still fishing from spots along the western shoreline with PowerBait and worms.
Trollers find action throughout the main lake and river arm with the power lines and dam being hotspots, while trolling a variety of offerings, including chrome/blue spoons, small Rapalas, threaded nightcrawlers and wiggle hoochies.
For blocky smallmouths ranging from 1 to 4 pounds, Lake Almanor offers topnotch fishing. Tube baits, plastic worms and grubs teamed with darter heads will all fool big bronzebacks. The stump fields off the airport are a prime location.
If catching and releasing American shad to 4 pounds sounds fun, head to the American River with a supply of small crappie jigs.
San Francisco Bay
During the late spring and early summer California halibut crowd into the bay as they chase anchovy schools. These tasty flat fish average 8 pounds and range up to 30.
Drifting with live anchovies or shiner perch is a favorite method for hooking halibut, but trollers pulling rigged dead baits and soft plastics score, too. Small tides result in clear water conditions, making days with minimal tidal movement the best time for you to score a halibut dinner.
If kokanee trolling is your brand of fun, Lake Berryessa is the place to troll for fish up to 2 pounds. Orange spinners tipped with shoe peg corn pulled behind 4-inch dodgers are a combination for success.
Lake Don Pedro is full of big, beautiful rainbows. The trout feed heavily on shad, so they jump all over shad-pattern spoons.
New Melones Reservoir
Landlocked salmon trollers flock to New Melones because it kicks out the largest kokanee caught in the Motherlode Region every summer. Salmon in the 16- to 18-inch range are common and fish over 20 are caught every year.
A variety of shoe peg corn-tipped spoons, spinners and hoochies will hook the reservoir's kokanee, but for one of the big boys, Apex Lures are a top bet. Pink is a proven color, but the fish can change preferences daily, so come prepared to experiment. The best trolling takes place early in the morning.
The Eastern Sierra is widely known for plentiful trout fishing opportunities and June Lake is one of the top destinations. Shore anglers pitch out dough baits while trollers pull small minnow plugs.
For ocean-going anglers, Bodega Bay is the spot for chrome-bright king salmon.
The coastal waters off central California team with quality rockfish. These predators are ready strikers and provide outstanding table fare.
Private boaters do well and boatless anglers can jump on one of the area's excellent charter boats.
Shrimp flies baited with squid strips are a favorite offering, but yo-yoing metal bar jigs along the bottom can produce limits, too.
While most of the rockfish weigh in at 5 pounds or less, you never know when your jig will hook a 20-pound lingcod or a big halibut.
Castiac Lake holds a healthy population of husky largemouth bass and late August mornings are a great time to hook bass to 8 pounds with topwater baits.
If you live in the San Joaquin Valley and want to beat the heat, head out to Lake Amador for trophy size catfish after dark.
For top California fishing options for September, October, November and December, check out page three
The Klamath is home to a bustling run of fall chinooks and many avid anglers feel that Klamath kings are the state's best-eating river-run salmon.
Several different methods are used to hook these salmon. Near the mouth, bank anglers score while drifting single beads and plunking with roe. Boaters either anchor and still-fish with spinners, or they run the river and drift roe through prime holding areas.
Many of the kings caught in the river are jacks that weigh 6 pounds or less, but adults in the 15- to 30-pound class are common.
September is the time when yellowfin tuna move in close to San Diego. Charter boaters fool ahi with trolled lures and live baits.
Eastern Sierra trouters will find plentiful hookups while drifting bait, tossing lures or casting flies in Rush Creek.
Eagle Lake strain rainbows are known throughout the west for their fast growth and acrobatic fighting style.
Eagle produces quality rainbows all season, but October is the best time to hook trout in the 3- to 5-pound class.
Trollers work shallow water areas with 1.5-inch watermelon-colored grubs, orange trolling flies, orange or red spoons and small fluorescent orange Rapalas.
Fly-anglers set up near tule beds and slowly strip Woolly Buggers and marabou leech imitations in green, brown, purple and orange colors.
Bait anglers enjoy excellent success while fishing threaded nightcrawlers below slip bobbers.
Saltwater anglers like to hit the coastal waters north and south of Half Moon Bay with shrimp flies for numbers of rockfish.
For a shot at a large brown trout, Convict Lake is the spot and a large Rapala is the lure.
November is the best month to hook a trophy 20-plus-pound striper in Delta waters. Some anglers troll large minnow plugs, while others plug with bucktail jigs, topwater lures and swimbaits. Overall, the most consistent action is enjoyed by anglers fishing live and dead natural baits.
Shad are the top dead bait in the Delta, while mudsuckers, bullheads, bluegill and splittail minnows reap outstanding results when fished alive.
The first and last hour of a given tide is the best time to get hit, whether you are using natural baits or lures.
November is prime time to visit the Trinity if you've got steelhead on your mind. Boaters pull plugs and drift roe, while bank anglers score with roe, worms, crickets and flies.
T-55 Flatfish teamed with patience produce monster Sacramento River kings to 50 pounds during the late fall.
The weather is cold during December, but the crappie fishing at Clear Lake is usually hot when Santa Claus is on the prowl.
Any of the lake's docks and deep holes can produce results, but the best fishing is usually found in the area surrounding Shag Rock.
In terms of offerings, small live minnows are the time-tested choice, but small marabou jigs and grubs work just as well most of the time. Different color lures work on different days, but chartreuse and white are must-have colors.
Most of the crappies average about a pound, but massive 3-pounders are possible.
Stormy weather stirs up marine worms, shrimp and crabs, sparking excellent wintertime surfperch action for Santa Cruz beach anglers.
At Lake Del Valle, December is trout time for Bay Area anglers looking to escape the hustle and bustle.