Klamath River Spring Trout Fishing

Trout fishing on the Klamath River has got to be California’s best kept fishing secret! I fished the Klamath for steelhead last November with Guide Albert Kutzkey. We had an incredible day and were the only boat on the river. “The trout fishing in the spring is even better,” he told me. So here I was 6 months later to see if the trout fishing was really that hot.
We launched Albert’s drift boat at the base of Iron Gate Dam. Albert handed me a 5 wt. fly rod rigged with a sinking tip and a Golden Stonefly nymph. He handed his daughter Aundi an identical fly rod with a “brown bug” attached.
We let out about 50′ of line out in front of the boat and Albert began to work us slowly us through the channels, holes, and riffles. The sinking tip will put the fly 3 to 4 feet underwater at that distance. We weren’t on the water for five minutes before Aundi’s rod snapped toward the water and a nice rainbow leaped out of the water in front of us. Aundi masterfully boated the fish, three runs later. We quickly took the photo and released the fish back into the Klamath.
The rainbows on the Klamath River are a mixture of wild trout, and hatchery steelhead, which naturalized.
Brown Bug
When low water conditions occur at downriver migration periods, a large number of steelhead will just stay put. Neither DFG nor NMFS can tell you which fish is a trout and which fish is a steelhead. To add to your confusion, native rainbows can and do join the steelhead migrations to open sea. Go figure!
This year the Klamath River Rainbows are particularly fat and spunky. Because of the requirements of the Endangered Species Act finally being adhered to, the current water release at Iron Gate is 2200 Cubic Feet per Second. In the past the release has been around 800 CFS this time of year. The ‘bows are getting a steady flow of “cold” water and it appears to be stimulating the aquatic insect community also. These fish are active and aggressive, no need to finesse them with your presentation.
Golden Stone
I had barely got myself situated, after putting away the camera and getting my line back in the water, when Aundi’s rod doubled over into the water. “Fish! Fish! Aundi. Reel, Reel” Albert encouraged. This fish was bigger and stronger than the first. On the third run, it finally came out of the water violently shaking its head in an attempt to shed the hook. Aundi battled the fish run after run as Albert kept the boat pointed straight through a stretch of fast water. Finally the fish tired, Aundi tired, and we got the beast into the boat.
Albert Nets Another I have never seen an 8 year old so deftly handle a fly rod. She had two fish to the boat, the biggest near 5 pounds, on flies she tied, and I hadn’t even got a bite! Guess that’s why they call it fishin’.
Next it was my turn, the rainbow was out of the water BEFORE I got a chance to set the hook. You have never seen so much slack line in your life. It was a miracle the barbless hook stayed attached to the fish while I ran through my keystone cop routine franticly stripping line. As for fight, these fish aren’t slouches and they seemed to abnormally aerobatic. Maybe it’s the steelhead in their blood.
In addition to the first class trout fishing, the Klamath River offers superb wildlife viewing and photo opportunities. In the few hours we were on the water, we saw eagle, osprey, blue heron, merganser (one with 20 babies), deer, muskrat, and a group of maybe 10 turtles sunning themselves on a snag.
When we were fishing shallower sections of the river, Albert had us switch over to nightcrawlers on a spinning rod with a sliding slinky sinker (about 4 BBs) and an 18″ leader. The rainbows loved it!
We fished until lunchtime, the action never stopped. Sure enough, the Spring action could just well outshine that fantastic steelhead run, and, we were the only boat on the river!
Fish-On On the Klamath
The Klamath River is a barbless fishery. One hatchery fish (clipped adipose fin) may be kept per day.
To get to Iron Gate:
Take the Hornbrook exit off Interstate 5, approx 15 miles north of Yreka, CA. Head east until you get to the dam, about 10 minutes. Don’t worry; you can’t drive by it without seeing it.
Numerous motels are available in Yreka, CA.
There are a couple of nice B & Bs within a half an hour who cater to anglers:
Peerless Hotel… Ashland, OR… 800-460-8758
The Wild Goose… Fort Jones, CA… 530.468.2735
Sandwiches can be obtained at the Raley’s Deli or at Subway at the Highway 3 exit on the south side of Yreka. The Old Boston Shaft, a chop house, is right across the street. The only other restaurant in the town of Yreka worth mentioning is Casa Ramos, authentic Mexican well prepared. The place is always packed.

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