Sacramento River (Lower) Fly Fishing
Travel details: The Sacramento River is located near Redding, California
The lower Sacramento River is a wide, fast, deep and clear tailwater running from the Keswick Dam in Northern California. In addition to a beautiful river, the lower “Sac” presents the serious fly fishing enthusiast with a variety of fishing opportunities including trout, steelhead and salmon.
This fabled California River begins its meandering journey screaming out of the Trinity Divide west of Mount Shasta and ends under the Golden Gate Bridge. The lower portion of the river from Keswick Dam above Redding clinging to Interstate Highway #5 is big and wide. Fly fishers can expect peak season water flows up to 80,000 feet per second! Popular fly fishing sections get busy when the flows drop to 5-8,000 cubic feet per second.
This section of the river is famous for very large trout and requires 7-9 weight rods and in general big water gear. Scenery along this wide water is majestic with vast sections of heavily wooded Oak stands, rugged cliffs mixed with occasional office complexes urban sights and sounds. Depending on the weather and water flows fly fishers can expect a variety of conditions and at times special regulations.
Rainbow Trout are the main residents and their size and strength are not to be taken lightly! Those seasoned bug tossers who crave big water and strong trout that are usually not leader shy may wish to sample this huge buffet. The fact these bows can live up to six to eight years explains the unusual size and brute strength. In many western rivers trout this size are deemed steelhead. In fact an argument is now underway with state fish and game as to what regulations ought to be imposed regarding these mega trout which can easily go 16-18 inches and larger.
During our two days on the lower Sac, we hooked lots of Rainbows in the 16″-18″‘ range, with several over 20″. In fact, my fishing partner landed a deeply colored Rainbow that pushed 23″. In addition, we broke off several hogs (on 5x an 6x tippet) and I even managed to break the hook (size 14) in very large trout that absolutely refused to come to the surface.
As I experienced during a recent trip, it can also provide a very educational opportunity to earn an advanced degree in “The Skill of Fishing with Strike Indicators”. In fact, if you are to be successful in your quest for large Rainbows, then the lower Sac demands that you master the lower Sac techniques for fishing with a strike indicator. Otherwise, you will be the victim of long days …on a fantastic river…. without much to show for your fly fishing efforts.
On the lower sac, strike indicators are more than a fly fishing technique…they are a way of life. So much so, that every guide seems to have developed their own designs. Some guides use very elaborate yarn indicators with an attached center probe (or stick) connected directly to the leader in order to give any indication of the slightest movement of the fly. I have fished many rivers…in many places…and this is the first time I have seen or used this type of indicator.
But they are effective – providing they are used in conjunction with a slight “pile cast” that allows a small curl of fly line to develop just behind the indicator. Of course, the other absolute requirement is a drag free drift. If you can put those two elements together, the lower Sac will provide the trout…and plenty of opportunities to test your strike indicator.
One does not need to worry about exotic hatches and complex patterns. The Caddis family in appropriate seasonal sizes will do the job nicely. Tippets in the ten feet range and waders are the drill. Streamers and most attractors are not necessary. Page. 2
When water flows are down which they are now in the 6-8 thousand feet per second range. Wading is the only way to fly in most areas. In the summer drift boaters rule the water and enjoy many long peaceful runs with a variety of native wild stock and hatchery residents. The fall salmon runs can be impressive and call for special regulations and a good guide.
Entomologists have identified over 2,500 insects per square foot of river bottom. This rich aquatic soup explains the over weight condition of the trout population. In short, the Sacramento River in it’s lower section is a fly fishers wonderland when the water flows drop below 8,000 F.P.S.
The great news is access is generally easy to find and most fly fishers enjoy peace and quiet. Large mouth bass, Salmon, several kinds of sunfish, carp, and squawfish round out the species tally. Prehistoric Sturgeon exist in the deepest sections and can surprise anglers with their size and power. September and October are among the best months for fly fishers who love to wade. Those who seek the thrill of fooling striped bass can find action during the striper season. This river has much to offer regardless of your experience and preferences for fish or scenery.
California is blessed with many great wild rivers still relatively untouched and under fished. This river near the states thriving capital is a gem and easy to get to. Major airports and highways can take you there with little problem.
The river can be fished year round, it is under four hours from San Francisco. Best fly-fishing area is 25-mile section from Keswick Dam to Balls Ferry. Call Bureau of Reclamation for latest current flows. Fine restaurants abound as well as lodging from forty dollars to whatever you’re looking for. Please check special regulations in regard to seasonal Salmon runs. The main city for this section is Redding for more info call Redding Chamber Of Commerce. The closest Airport is Redding Municipal Airport.
In summary, if you like fly fishing on big water…. with plenty of wild rainbows…then the lower Sacramento is the river for you. However, I definitely wouldn’t classify it as an easy river to fish. It requires patience and ability to learn to develop a casting technique that allows the strike indicator to work effectively. If you can master that technique…then you’ll hook and land more than your share of quality trout.