Moon California Fishing

The Complete Guide to Fishing on Lakes, Streams, Rivers, and the Coast


By Tom Stienstra

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Pack up your rod and reel, stock your tackle box, and discover the best places to cast your line in the Golden State with Moon California Fishing.
  • A Fishing Hole for Everyone: Pick the right spot for you with options ranging from lakes and streams to rivers and reservoirs, rated by number of fish, size of fish, and scenic beauty
  • Strategic Lists: Choose from lists like best freshwater fisheries, best hike-in fisheries, best places to teach kids to fish, and more, including the top places to find California sport fish such as trout, salmon, and steelhead
  • Maps and Directions: Find easy-to-use maps, driving directions, and details on where to park
  • Skip the Crowds: Have the water to yourself with Moon California Fishing’s many off-the-radar spots
  • Expert Advice: Seasoned angler Tom Stienstra offers his experienced insight and honest opinions on each fishery
  • Tips and Tools: Advice on permits, fees, and lodging, background information on climate and landscape, and detailed instructions for novice anglers
Whether you’re a veteran or a first-timer, Moon’s comprehensive coverage and honest expertise will have you gearing up for your next adventure.

Exploring more of the Golden State’s great outdoors? Try Moon California Camping or Moon California Hiking.



Title Page

How to Use This Book


Chapter 1

Redwood Empire

Chapter 2

Shasta and Trinity

Chapter 3

Lassen and Modoc

Chapter 4

Mendocino and Wine Country

Chapter 5

Sacramento and Gold Country

Chapter 6

Tahoe and Northern Sierra

Chapter 7

San Francisco Bay Area

Chapter 8

Monterey and Big Sur

Chapter 9

San Joaquin Valley

Chapter 10

Yosemite and Mammoth Lakes

Chapter 11

Sequoia and Kings Canyon

Chapter 12

Santa Barbara and Vicinity

Chapter 13

Los Angeles and Vicinity

Chapter 14

San Diego and Vicinity

Chapter 15

California Deserts


Angling Records


Copyright Page

How to Use This Book


The sites are listed in a consistent, easy-to-read format to help you choose the ideal fishing spot. If you already know the name of the specific site you want to visit, or the name of the surrounding geological area or nearby feature (town, national or state park, forest, mountain, lake, river, etc.), look it up in the index and turn to the corresponding page. Here is a sample profile:


Every fishing spot in this book has been rated on a scale of 1 through 10. The ratings are based on three elements: (1) number of fish, (2) size of fish, and (3) scenic beauty.

10   Can’t be improved!

9     Has all three of the elements.

8     Has two of the elements, almost three.

7     Has two of the elements.

6     Has one of the elements, almost two.

5     Has one of the elements, parts of the others.

4     Has one of the elements.

3     Almost has one of the elements.

2     Has none of the elements.

1     Hopeless.

Keep in mind that several factors influence a successful fishing trip. Many waters rated a 4 or 5 can provide good fishing and a quality adventure when conditions are ideal. Similarly, even at the highest-rated waters, the fish can go off the bite (no kidding).



This book is divided into chapters based on major regions in the state; an overview map of these regions precedes the table of contents. Each chapter begins with a map of the region, which is further broken down into detail maps. Sites are noted on the detail maps by number.


Author’s Note

Best Fishing Spots

Best Freshwater Fisheries

Best Saltwater Fisheries

Best Hike-In Fisheries

Best Places to Teach Kids to Fish

Most Unusual Fisheries

Fishing Tips

Starting Out

How to Catch a Fish

Fishing Private Ponds

Getting Kids Hooked on the Outdoors

Sport Fish

Author’s Note

California has roughly 400 drive-to lakes, 500 hike-in lakes, 175 major streams, and 1,200 miles of coastline. That means there are enough places covered in this book to fish a different spot every weekend for 22 years. My dream is to capture all of this and to give you the best guide to fishing in California.

To merit your faith, I have personally ventured to all 58 counties in California, searching for every hidden spot, as well as for the secrets at the better-known ones. I, along with senior research editor Kathie Morgan, have checked and reviewed every listing in this book. And while hundreds of people were involved in polishing the final product, the book you hold in your hands right now was personally worked over on my keyboard.

Even though Moon California Camping is my bestselling title, Moon California Fishing is my life work, and it involves 30 years of roaming around California, looking for every spot to cast to.

Each spot has its expert—and when I visit, I try to fish with them. It’s like parting the curtains on a window to a secret world where wonderful things are possible each and every moment. Some 40 fishing experts, each of whom I fished with, were involved in the creation of the how-to section of the book. Now you’re fishing with them too. Each is listed—and thanked—in my Acknowledgments.

I fish, hike, and camp 365 days a year. It’s my full-time job, and has been my career for more than 30 years. If there is one book I want you to have on the seat of your car as you venture out to find California’s best fishing, this is it.

Look for my boat out on the water, the custom-designed 18-footer with the words The Stienstra Navy on the big Honda outboard. See you out there.

—Tom Stienstra

Best Fishing Spots

Can’t decide where to fish? The following lists provide the top California fishing spots in several categories:

Best Freshwater Fisheries

Sacramento River: Redding to Anderson, trout in stream, Shasta and Trinity.

Clear Lake, catfish, Mendocino and Wine Country.

San Joaquin Delta, largemouth bass, Sacramento and Gold Country.

Lake Tahoe, Mackinaw trout, Tahoe and Northern Sierra.

Ansel Adams Wilderness, lake trout, Yosemite and Mammoth Lakes.

Best Saltwater Fisheries

Crescent City Deep Sea, rockfish and lingcod on Point George Reef, Redwood Empire.

Ventura Deep Sea/Channel Islands, halibut on Santa Rosa Island, Santa Barbara and Vicinity.

Catalina Island, yellowtail, Los Angeles and Vicinity.

Santa Monica/Redondo Deep Sea, bonito, Los Angeles and Vicinity.

San Diego Deep Sea, albacore, San Diego and Vicinity.

Best Hike-In Fisheries

Marble Mountain Wilderness, Shasta and Trinity.

Trinity Alps Wilderness, Shasta and Trinity.

Middle Fork Feather River, Sacramento and Gold Country.

Henry W. Coe State Park, San Francisco Bay Area.

Ansel Adams Wilderness, Yosemite and Mammoth Lakes.

Golden Trout Wilderness, Sequoia and Kings Canyon.

Steve Griffin with a Mackinaw trout

Best Places to Teach Kids to Fish

Iron Gate Reservoir/Copco Lake, Shasta and Trinity.

Lake Siskiyou, Shasta and Trinity.

Shasta Lake, Shasta and Trinity.

Clear Lake, Mendocino and Wine Country.

Lake Berryessa, Mendocino and Wine Country.

San Pablo Reservoir, San Francisco Bay Area.

Lake Chabot, San Francisco Bay Area.

Del Valle Reservoir, San Francisco Bay Area.

Pinecrest Lake, Yosemite and Mammoth Lakes.

Convict Lake, Yosemite and Mammoth Lakes.

Pine Flat Lake, Sequoia and Kings Canyon.

Santa Ana River Lakes, Los Angeles and Vicinity.

Lake Perris, Los Angeles and Vicinity.

Irvine Lake, Los Angeles and Vicinity.

Most Unusual Fisheries

Trinity Alps Wilderness, Shasta and Trinity.

Independence Lake, Tahoe and Northern Sierra.

Martis Creek Reservoir, Tahoe and Northern Sierra.

Hell Hole Reservoir, Tahoe and Northern Sierra.

Kirman Lake, Tahoe and Northern Sierra.

Dixon Lake, San Diego and Vicinity.

Salton Sea, California Deserts.

Fishing Tips


Brother Rambob creeps up on the mountain stream as quiet as a scout in a Zane Grey western. For fishing in the wilderness, he wears moccasins, stalks as much as walks, and is careful to keep his shadow off the water. With his little spinning rod, he’ll zip his lure within an inch or two of its desired mark. He probes along rocks, the edges of riffles, pocket water, or wherever he can find a change in river habitat. Rambob is trout fishing, and he’s a master at it.

In most cases he’ll catch a trout on his first or second cast. After that it’s time to move up the river, giving no spot much more than five minutes’ due. Stick and move, stick and move, stalking the stream like a bobcat that homes in on an unsuspecting rabbit. He might keep a few trout for dinner, but mostly he releases what he catches. Rambob doesn’t necessarily fish for food. It’s the feeling that comes with it.

You don’t need a million dollars’ worth of fancy gear to catch fish. What you need is the right outlook—like Rambob’s—no matter what you fish for, and that can be learned. That goes regardless of whether you are fishing for trout or bass, the two most popular fish in the United States, or most any other fish. Though you might buy and try everything imaginable, your fishing tackle selection at your grasp should be as simple and clutter-free as possible.

At home I’ve got every piece of fishing tackle you might imagine, and many tackle boxes, racks, and cabinets filled with all kinds of stuff. I’ve got one lure that looks like a chipmunk and another that resembles a miniature can of beer with hooks. If I hear of something new, I want to try it and usually do. It’s a result of my lifelong fascination with the sport.

Note the teeth marks on this big Dardevle.

all spooled up for spring

But if you just want to catch fish, there’s an easier way to go. And when I go fishing, I take that path. I don’t try to bring everything; it would be impossible. Instead I bring a relatively small amount of gear. At home I will scan my tackle boxes for equipment and lures, make my selections, and bring just the essentials. Rod, reel, and tackle will fit into a side pocket of my backpack or a small carrying bag.

So what kind of rod should be used on an outdoor trip? For most freshwater anglers, I suggest the use of a light, multipiece spinning rod for trout that will break down to a small size. One of the best quality pack rods is a four-piece Daiwa 6.5-foot, number SMC 664ULFS. Other major rod manufacturers offer similar premium rods. It’s tough to miss with any of them.

The use of graphite/glass composites in fishing rods has made them lighter and more sensitive, yet stronger. The only downside to graphite as a rod material is that it can be brittle. If you rap your rod against something, it can crack or cause a weak spot. That weak spot can eventually snap under even light pressure, like setting a hook or casting. Of course, a bit of care will prevent that from ever occurring.

If you haven’t bought a fishing reel in some time, you will be surprised at the quality and price of micro spinning reels on the market. The reels come tiny and strong, with rearcontrol drag systems. Daiwa, Shimano, Cabela’s, BassPro, and others all make premium reels. They’re worth it. With your purchase, you’ve just bought a reel that will last for years and years.

The one downside to spinning reels is that after long-term use, the bail spring will weaken. The result is that after casting and beginning to reel, the bail will sometimes not flip over and allow the reel to retrieve the line. Then you have to do it by hand. This can be incredibly frustrating, particularly when stream fishing, where instant line pickup is essential. The solution is to have a new bail spring installed every few years. This is a cheap, quick operation for a tackle expert.

You might own a giant tackle box filled with lures, but on a fishing trip you are better off to fit just the essentials into a small container. One of the best ways to do that is to use the Plano Micro-Magnum 3414, a tiny two-sided tackle box for trout anglers that fits into a shirt pocket. In mine, I can fit 20 lures in one side of the box and 20 flies, split shot, and snap swivels in the other. For bass lures, which are bigger, you need a slightly larger box, but the same principle applies.

There are more fishing lures on the market than you can imagine, but a few special ones can do the job. I make sure these are in my box on every trip. For trout, I carry a small black Panther Martin spinner with yellow spots, a small gold Kastmaster, a yellow Roostertail, a gold Z-Ray with red spots, a Super Duper, and a Mepps Lightning spinner.

You can take it a step further using insider’s wisdom. My old pal Ed “the Dunk” showed me his trick of taking a tiny Dardevle spoon, spray painting it flat black, and dabbing five tiny red dots on it. It’s a real killer, particularly in tiny streams where the trout are spooky.

The best trout catcher I’ve ever used on rivers is a small metal lure called a Met-L Fly. On days when nothing else works, it can be like going to a shooting gallery. The problem is that the lure is nearly impossible to find. Rambob and I consider the few we have remaining so valuable that if the lure is snagged on a rock, a cold swim is deemed mandatory for its retrieval. These lures in vintage shape from the mid-1960s are very difficult to find (a poor imitation failed an introduction in the 1990s), but I still have a stash. In fact, I keep one on my computer stand.

Basic Steps to Cleaning a Fish: First, slit belly from anal vent to gills. Then sever lower junctions of gills. Next, pull out innards and gills. And last but not least, run thumbnail along cavity to clean out dark matter.

small spoons

For bass, you can also fit all you need into a small plastic tackle box. I have fished with many bass pros, and all of them actually use just a few lures: a white spinner bait, a small jig called a Gits-It, a surface plug called a Zara Spook, and plastic worms. At times, as when the bass move into shoreline areas during the spring, shad minnow imitations like those made by Rebel or Rapala can be dynamite. My favorite is the one-inch, bluesilver Rapala. Every spring as the lakes begin to warm and the fish snap out of their winter doldrums, I like to float and paddle around in my small raft. I’ll cast that little Rapala along the shoreline and catch and release hundreds of bass, bluegill, and sunfish. The fish are usually sitting close to the shoreline, awaiting my offering.


There’s an old angler’s joke about how you need to think like a fish. But if you’re the one getting zilched, you may not think it’s so funny.

The irony is that it is your mental approach, what you see and what you miss, that often determines your fishing luck. Some people will spend a lot of money on tackle, lures, and fishing clothes, and that done, just saunter up to a stream or lake, cast out, and wonder why they are not catching fish. The answer is their mental outlook. They are not attuning themselves to their surroundings.

You must live on nature’s level, not your own. Try this and you will become aware of things you never believed even existed. Soon you will see things that will allow you to catch fish. You can get a head start by reading about fishing, but to get your degree in fishing, you must attend the University of Nature.

On every fishing trip, regardless of what you fish for, try to follow three hard-and-fast rules:

1. Always approach the fishing spot so you will be undetected.

2. Present your lure, fly, or bait in a manner so it appears completely natural, as if no line were attached.

3. Stick and move, hitting one spot, working it the best you can, then moving to the next.


No one can just walk up to a stream or lake, cast out, and start catching fish as if someone had waved a magic wand. Instead, give the fish credit for being smart. After all, they live there.

Your approach must be completely undetected by the fish. Fish can sense your presence through sight and sound, though this is misinterpreted by most people. By sight, this rarely means the fish actually see you; more likely they will see your shadow on the water or the movement of your arm or rod while casting. By sound, it doesn’t mean they hear you talking, but that they will detect the vibrations of your footsteps along the shore, kicking a rock, or the unnatural plunking sound of a heavy cast hitting the water. Any of these elements can spook them off the bite. To fish undetected, you must walk softly, keep your shadow off the water, and keep your casting motion low. All of these keys become easier at sunrise or sunset, when shadows are on the water. At midday a high sun causes a high level of light penetration in the water, which can make the fish skittish to any foreign presence.

As when hunting, you must stalk the spots. When my brother Rambob sneaks up on a fishing spot, he is like a burglar sneaking through an unlocked window.


Your lure, fly, or bait must appear in the water as if no line were attached, so it looks as natural as possible. My pal Mo Furniss has skin-dived in rivers to watch what the fish see when somebody is fishing.

“You wouldn’t believe it,” he said. “When the lure hits the water, every trout within 40 feet, like 15, 20 trout, will do a little zigzag. They all see the lure and are aware something is going on. Meanwhile, onshore the guy casting doesn’t get a bite and thinks there aren’t any fish in the river.”

If your offering is aimed at fooling a fish into striking, it must appear as part of its natural habitat, like an insect just hatched or a small fish looking for a spot to hide. That’s where you come in.

After you have sneaked up on a fishing spot, you should zip your cast upstream and start your retrieval as soon as it hits the water. If you let the lure sink to the bottom and then start the retrieval, you have no chance. A minnow, for instance, does not sink to the bottom, then start swimming. On rivers, the retrieval should be more of a drift, as if the “minnow” is in trouble and the current is sweeping it downstream.

When fishing on trout streams, always hike and cast upriver and retrieve as the offering drifts downstream in the current. This is effective because trout will sit almost motionless, pointed upstream, finning against the current. This way they can see anything coming their direction, and if a potential food morsel arrives, all they need to do is move over a few inches, open their mouths, and they’ve got an easy lunch. Thus you must cast upstream.

Conversely, if you cast downstream, your retrieval will bring the lure from behind the fish, where he cannot see it approaching. And I’ve never seen a trout that had eyes in its tail. In addition, when you’re retrieving a downstream lure, the river current tends to sweep your lure inshore to the rocks.

Finding Spots

A lot of anglers don’t catch fish. The key is where they are looking. The rule of the wild is that fish (and other wildlife) congregate wherever there is a distinct change in the habitat. This is where you should begin your search.

The rule of the wild is that wildlife will congregate wherever there is a distinct change in habitat. To find where fish are hiding, look where a riffle pours into a small pond, where a rapid plunges into a deep hole and flattens, and around submerged trees, rock piles, and boulders in the middle of a long riffle.

big lures

In a river, it can be where a riffle pours into a small pool, a rapid that plunges into a deep hole and flattens, a big boulder in the middle of a long riffle, a shoreline point, a rock pile, a submerged tree. Look for the changes. Conversely, long, straight stretches of shoreline do not hold fish—the habitat is lousy.

On rivers, the most productive areas are often where short riffles tumble into small oxygenated pools. After sneaking up from the downstream side and staying low, you should zip your cast so the lure plops gently into the white water just above the pool. Start your retrieval instantly; the lure will drift downstream and plunk into the pool. Bang! That’s where the trout will hit. Take a few more casts and then head upstream to the next spot.

With a careful approach and lure presentation and by fishing in the right spots, you have the ticket to many exciting days on the water.


An astute few know of California’s nonpublic paradises—some 6,000 lakes and ponds located on private property, where you have a chance to create your own personal haven for hiking or fishing.

Private ponds and lakes are perfect destinations for people who don’t mind making the significant effort to find them and then finagle permission to fish them. In exchange for some work, you can be rewarded with being able to fish and hike in great places with nobody else around.

Many of these lakes and adjoining wild country are on privately owned ranches in the foothills. You might figure I would be the last person in the world that ranchers would let on their private property—after all, a guy who is liable to write about it? But guess again, because by using a relatively simple system, I have gained access to ranches with more than 25 private lakes.

These include ranches on the coast where short hikes take me to lookouts with astounding views of the Pacific Ocean, and ranches with lakes in the foothills where I have caught as many as 50 bass weighing up to six pounds in a few hours. The surrounding habitat is often home to rabbits and deer that are not only abundant but seem more curious than cautious about the rare sight of a human.

First, to imagine what is possible, consider a new perspective. I wish I could take every person who complains about California being too crowded for a ride in my airplane. Looking down, you’ll discover that about 90 percent of the state consists of wild, unsettled country in the hills, while the remaining 10 percent in the flatlands is jammed with clogged roads and towns and cities. In the country, you can look down from an airplane and discover that lakes seem to be hidden away almost everywhere, and this is where your search for a personal paradise starts.

Well, you don’t need a ride in an airplane to discover this; just make a trip to the county assessor’s office of your choice.

The key piece of knowledge is that at every county assessor’s office in California, each acre of land has been mapped and cataloged, allowing anybody with a spare hour to find secret, private lakes and learn who owns them.

The walls of many assessor’s offices are covered with giant maps that show the county in great detail. You can scan these maps to locate hidden lakes on private property. I’ve done it many times. In almost all cases, the maps are split into numbered parcels or grids, and by following a simple numbering system, you are directed to more detailed map books. Eventually you are led to a property owner’s name and address. It’s like connecting the dots—easy detective work—and completing the chain takes about 10–15 minutes per property. If you are new to tracking the paper trail, employees at the assessor’s offices are usually extremely helpful.

So by simply scanning maps and tracking through parcel books, you can find three or four large ranch properties with lakes, as well as the identities and addresses of their owners. This information is available to the public primarily for real estate investors, who track dates and prices of all purchases, and for county officials, who record transactions and levy property taxes for each parcel.

Once you know the identity of a rancher, you need to make a direct, friendly approach, attempting to gain permission for access. A word of warning: Ranch owners are private people, and they do not want to be your friend. Instead of glad-handing, be direct but courteous, get to the point, and don’t waste their time.


• Always keep only the fish you will eat. Never waste a fish.

• Always bring a plastic bag to pick up any litter you come across. Never litter.

• Always check state fishing regulations prior to fishing any water. Never guess.

• Always take personal responsibility for practicing safe boating skills. Never hope.

• Always have a map before venturing to hike-in streams. Never trespass.

• Always conduct yourself quietly in campgrounds. Never disturb your neighbor.

• Always be absolutely fire-safe. Never figure, “It’ll be okay.”


On Sale
May 1, 2012
Page Count
702 pages
Moon Travel

Tom Stienstra

About the Author

For over 30 years, Tom Stienstra’s full-time job has been to capture and communicate the outdoor experience. This has led him across California – fishing, hiking, camping, boating, biking, and flying – searching for the best of the outdoors and then writing about it.

Tom is the nation’s top-selling author of outdoors guidebooks. His documentary on the Tuolumne River received an Emmy in 2017. He has been inducted into the California Outdoor Hall of Fame and has twice been awarded National Outdoor Writer of the Year, newspaper division, by the Outdoor Writers Association of America. He has also been named California Outdoor Writer of the Year five times. Tom is the outdoors columnist for the San Francisco Chronicle; his articles appear on and in newspapers around the country. He also broadcasts a weekly radio show on KCBS-San Francisco.

Tom lives in Northern California. You can contact him directly via the website

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