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Whether you want to catch rainbow trout in freshwater or kingfish in salt, fishing in Northern California always proves an absolute delight.
6 min read
May 25, 2021
Pack your fishing rod and dust off your tackle box—it’s time you gallivanted off to the majestic lands of NorCal. There’s nothing like casting a line on the waters, kicking back, and melting into the untamed wilderness. With breathtaking beaches, pristine campgrounds, and freshwater for days, expert anglers swear this region is the place to go fishing.
Whether you want to catch rainbow trout in freshwater or kingfish in salt, fishing in Northern California will always prove an absolute delight. From inland to coastal, these are the best places to go fishing in Northern California—serenity is truly a fishing trip away.
Burgeoning greenery, water sport opportunities, and the cleanest air in the nation—Clear Lake is known as the “Bass Capital of the West". This beautiful NorCal lake boasts the highest number of big bass—three to five pounders and up. You won’t find larger freshwater bass in California. The lake is shallow towards the entrance, with plenty of easy-to-reach areas; expect three to eight feet of water under docks and near pilings. Head on to the western shore for one of the best bass fishing experiences in Northern California during dusk—you’ll have a ‘reely’ good time.
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Fancy catching a 17-pound bass at one of the best fishing spots in Northern California? Head over to Lake Berryessa in Napa County and give chase in the serene waters. Located north of the San Francisco Bay Area, this scenic charmer is home to catfish, chinook, kokanee salmon, and more. While these species can definitely turn an angler’s head, it’s smallmouth and largemouth bass that make Lake Berryessa a fisherman’s top choice.
Known as one of the best bass fishing lakes in Northern California, Lake Oroville cannot skip your itinerary. Home to four kinds of bass—largemouth, smallmouth, spotted, and redeye—the lake is a mecca for experts and novices alike. Work the banks near rocks and fallen trees for the best chances of a trophy catch; visitor favorites include Middle Fork and South Fork. While bass is definitely the main event, Lake Oroville isn’t a one-fish wonder. You might also catch catfish, brown trout, and coho salmon, a fish found nowhere else in the Golden State.
The 30,000-acre Shasta Lake is among the largest in the Golden State and the ideal place to cast for trophy fish. A typical summer’s day will find you cruising on the crystal blue waters with fishing boats, jet skis, and inner tubes floating all over. Any guide to fishing in California will tell you that the warm waters of Shasta don’t disappoint when it comes to spotted bass. Bring along plastic worms and spinnerbaits at one of the coolest places to fish in Northern California.
Home to one of the best fishing piers in the state, the city of Pacifica brims with opportunities when it comes to crabbing in Northern California. Anglers from all across the state flock to this location for crab season, which usually starts the first Saturday of November. While occasional runs of smaller fish like surfperch, jacksmelt, and baitfish are spotted on the pier, the pursuit of crabs (namely Dungeness crabs) is what draws wayfarers to this scenic Northern California fishing charter.
While it’s illegal to catch Dungeness crabs in the Bay Area, feel free to do so upon reaching the scenic China Beach—a valid fishing license will get you a catch. When you’re ready for a crabbing adventure in Northern California, head to Gus’ Discount Tackle to look through a great selection of quality tackle at an affordable price. The local business will set you up with the best equipment you’ll find, including a crab trap, zip ties, buoy, and a bucket to keep crab and bait in.
While it’s only a 45-minute drive from San Francisco, Half Moon Bay might as well be a world away. This coastal city is an excellent place for ocean fishing in Northern California, so much so that salmon trawling is even considered a part of the beach town’s DNA. Mention Half Moon Bay to any angler in the Bay Area and they’ll instantly tell you’ve set your sights on Chinook salmon. Fishermen from all over the country flock to the area in the first months of the salmon run—the area is rich in the baitfish that salmon feed on.
Visit San Francisco Bay and you’ll find the best salmon fishing in Northern California—period. A crimson bridge, cable carriages, the sparkling bay, and a high chance of chasing king salmon in the summer can even make for an unusual outdoor date in S.F.
The Salmon Highway is a route that the fish take through the Bay all the way to their spawning grounds. It goes without saying that this route is the best fishing spot for trolling in the bay. Here, you might end up catching a massive 20 to 40-pound Chinook.
Travel just 35 miles from San Francisco Bay to find the Farallon Islands located near the best deep-sea fishing opportunities you’ll experience in the state. The warm waters are absolutely filled with salmon action—your best bet is found between the mainland and the islands. Spend an afternoon reeling it in at this fine location, then ride offshore towards Stinson Beach and around Duxbury Reef for extended casting adventures.
Located on the eastern border of the Bay Area, the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta is almost synonymous with the best place to fish for salmon in Northern California. As a major crossroad in the Chinook salmon migration, the inland river delta is a hotspot for catching striped bass, steelhead trout, American shad, and sturgeon. Cast your line in the riverbeds and see reeling magic unfold in front of your very eyes.
Rustic vistas and no boat access—Redwood Creek is a walk and waders’ paradise. Flowing about 67 miles to the Pacific near Orick, this scenic river features the best steelhead fishing in Northern California. While Redwood Creek is home to coho and chinook salmon, steelhead trout are probably what your angler friends keep going on and on about. Start your journey from the upper limit at Bond Creek and move all the way down to the mouth, where the streams flow into the ocean. Unsurprisingly, this is also where you’ll find the best river fishing in Northern California.
Whether you fly fish or use a spinning rod, fishing for steelhead on the Gualala River is a sport for the ages. This NorCal river has a long history of attracting fishermen from all over the country and given the abundance of lush greenery, we can totally see why. Apart from winter steelhead, expect to see fall Chinook salmon, coho salmon, and resident rainbow trout cruising the whirling waters.
A sparkling jewel of the Shasta-Trinity National Forest, the Trinity River offers plenty of water-based fun. Dotted with honey locust trees, this scenic river’s shoreline boasts one of the finest saltwater fishing experiences in Northern California.
While Trinity’s runs of anadromous fish were nearly destroyed with the completion of its nearby dams in the 1960s, recent restoration efforts have brought steelheads by the thousands, ranging from four to eight pounds on average. Anglers in search of other species can find themselves entertained by fresh chinook, coho salmon, and even the occasional sea-run brown trout.
Flowing through Oregon and California, the mighty Klamath River can seem intimidating to the casual angler. Add the fighting spirit of Klamath’s steelhead to the river’s size, and it’ll be a challenge you’ll be proud to tackle. Luckily, the Iron Gate Dam is friendly to beginners, with easy access, slow-moving streams, and a good deal of trophy steelhead cruising around.
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