With over 15,000 miles of fishable rivers and streams and 3 million acres of lakes and reservoirs, California offers outstanding and diverse trout fishing opportunities.
From rainbow and brown trout swarming High Sierra rivers to golden trout glistening in the California aquascape, this guide explores the top spots and tips to target trophy trout.
Key Seasonal Considerations
The fishing season of California trout generally runs from late April until mid-November, when trout become less active in colder temperatures.
Spring raises water levels, opening up more fishing terrain and spurring trout to feed aggressively. Focus efforts around lake inlets and outlets and target river pools and riffles.
Summer sends trout seeking cooler waters near creek mouths or springs. Shift to deeper presentations with wet flies, streamers, or spoons. At higher elevations, sip evening hatches with dry flies.
Fall features vivid foliage backdrops for exceptional dry fly fishing as hungry trout prepare for the cold ahead.
Top California Trout Species
Rainbow trout comprise around 90% of trout in California. They thrive in most environments, from high mountain creeks to massive reservoirs.
Common and beloved, they are eager biters and strong fighters, topping over 20 pounds.
Brown trout prefer cooler waters in spring-fed creeks and rivers like California’s McCloud River. In lakes, they behave stealthily, dwelling in deep areas.
Golden trout dazzle anglers with their sheer beauty. Isolated in high elevations like the Golden Trout Wilderness, they willingly bite on mayfly patterns, Panther Martins, and Roostertails.
Prime California Trout Fishing Spots
Crowley Lake – This famous 26,000-acre Eastern Sierra trout destination kicks out fat rainbows, browns, and cutthroats with its massive midge hatches. Fish deep from boats or target tributaries.
Upper Sacramento River – From Pollard Flat to Sims, “The Upper Sac” contains gorgeous wild rainbow trout sipping mayflies. Wade or float this blue ribbon trout stream.
San Joaquin River – Near Fresno, the San Joaquin and its reservoirs offer Central Valley anglers excellent planted and wild trout options from shore or boats.
Convict Lake – Located near Mammoth Lakes, this breathtaking lake allows shore fishing inlet streams for beautiful 5-10 pound rainbows and browns in fall.
Must-Have Gear and Tackle
Basic trout tackle includes a 6-7 foot medium power spinning or bait cast rod with a matching reel, 6-10 pound test mono or fluoro line, and #6-10 hooks.
Useful artificial lures include Panther Martins, Roostertails, Kastmasters, trout jigs, and inline spinners.
Drift or troll nightcrawlers, mealworms, crickets, or Powerbait. Fly rods in 3-5 weights match the finesse presentations trout prefer for flies like Adams, Elk Hair Caddis, and streamers.
Waders and polarized glasses complete the package.
Techniques and Tips
Reading the water – Identify prime trout holding spots by looking for features like undercut banks, submerged structures, drop-offs, riffles, boulders, and logjams. These types of areas allow safe spaces for trout to ambush prey and break the current, so focus your lure presentations and efforts near these high-percentage zones.
Adapt methods to behavior – If you observe trout consistently rising to the surface to sip mayflies or other insects floating by, quickly tie on a properly sized dry fly that matches the bugs. However, if the trout seems to be ignoring surface foods, make a change by switching to drifting nymph rigs, wet flies, or streamers through likely strike zones to entice active fish.
Consider water and weather conditions – During periods of lower, ultra-clear water conditions that allow trout to easily inspect lures, scale down your approach by using lighter lines, longer leaders, and making very natural presentations. In contrast, dirtier water or higher flows give you more freedom to throw flashier spinners, heavily weighted jigs, and brightly colored Powerbait that becomes less visible in off-color water.
Try different retrieves – Don’t be afraid to experiment with varied lure retrieval speeds and cadences to trigger strikes. Sometimes steady reeling works, while erratic motions or halting the bait to let it flutter down also prompts follows or attacks. Pay attention to any preference trout show to dial in the most effective retrieve.
Varying techniques based on environmental factors and fish behavior can mean the difference between a successful outing and getting skunked. Remain alert and flexible as the day progresses.
Conservation and Regulations
Practice catch-and-release fishing to preserve California’s special trout fisheries.
Abide all seasonal, size, catch, and gear regulations for each body of water through the California Department of Fish and Wildlife.
Obtain proper licenses and be an informed angler.
The diverse trout fishing opportunities across California offer something for every angler level. So grab your gear and hit one of the amazing trout waters this state provides.