Take a Turn at Fishing Four Seasons
There is an “Anglers Paradise” where you can fish all year-long in a temperate climate and a beautiful and pristine environment; where anglers have easy access to excellent fishing and yet do not feel crowded. The watershed of Northern California’s Trinity River is such a place.
The vast watershed of the Trinity River drains out of the Shasta-Trinity and Six Rivers National Forests. For those who take the time to learn about the nature of the ecosystem it offers a diverse year round fishery. It is a place where all kinds of fishermen can pursue up to eleven different species of game fish: Black Bass, Small Mouth Bass, Catfish, Kokanee Salmon, Rainbow Trout, Brown and Eastern Brook trout. Trinity Lake holds the state record for Inland Chinook salmon.
The superstars of the Trinity system are the Chinook (King) salmon, Coho (Silver) salmon, and Steelhead. An angler’s quarry can decide the season and locations of their visit.
Springtime fishing in Trinity is well-known by northern California locals – particularly Bass fishermen. Rainbow trout are found throughout the year. And, as summer warms the waters, large schools of rainbows have been known to frequent the lake’s major tributaries—Stuart Fork on Swift Creek and the Trinity main stem and East Fork on the Trinity River.
Four Season Fisheries
The traditional opening of the trout season, on the last weekend of April, is an ideal starting point to chronicle the seasonality of the Trinity watershed. Each season brings a change in environmental conditions that in turn determine the fisheries.
In May, the lakes at the lowest elevations of the Trinity Alps, the headwaters of the watershed, start to unfreeze, and snow melt begins to swell all the tributary streams with spring runoff. Trout begin to feed heavily, lining up at the mouths of all the streams entering Trinity Lake.
By early summer in the Trinity Alps alpine lake’s and streams ice-out has occurred at even the highest elevations. This is the time to be in the Alps because Brown trout and Brook trout begin a non-selective feeding spree that will continue until the waters begin to warm. Some of the largest trout of the year comes out of these waters at this time. Brown trout to 18″ and Brook trout to 14″ are available. Catchable Rainbow trout are planted by the California Department of Fish and Wildlife in lakes that do not have self-sustaining populations.
For best fishing on the Alpine lakes timing is critical. Anglers should stay in touch with local information sources and must be prepared to hike. Just after run off occurs, usually by mid-June, fishing for Brookies, Brown and Rainbow trout really kicks into high gear.
Rainbows from the two to three-pound range begin their spawning migrations up most of the sizable streams feeding Trinity Lake. These free stone streams have good populations of aquatic and terrestrial insects. Major Mayfly, Stonefly and Caddis fly hatches occur during this period and dry fly fishing can be superb.
Good fishing in mountain streams extends from June through August. Some of the best trout fishing is found on the Upper Trinity River, the Stuart’s Fork and East Fork of the Trinity River, Swift Creek, and Coffee Creek. Warming waters, following spring runoff, signals the migration of small mouth bass and black bass seeking spawning beds along the rocky shorelines and islands of Trinity Lake.
These bass are exceptionally aggressive under these circumstances and a well-placed streamer can attract record size fish. The California state record small mouth, from 1987 to 2007, weighted over 9 pounds and was caught from Trinity Lake. Trinity Lake can be fished from shore, however it is a huge reservoir, nearly 30 miles long and with hundreds of miles of shoreline. To cover Trinity Lake thoroughly power boats are necessary.
Lengthening daylight and warm May weather stimulate prolific Callibaetis Mayfly hatches on Lewiston Lake that is actually the forebay of Trinity Lake. Lewiston Lake is about five miles long and quite narrow making it perfect for anglers with float tubes, canoes and small skiffs. It is a shallow lake with cold clear water, and it sustains a huge trout population. In recent years Lewiston Lake has developed the well-deserved reputation of being one of California’s premiere trout fishing lakes. Rainbows and Browns to 5 lbs. on a size #16 dry fly are not uncommon.
On the main stem of the Trinity River during May, June and July most anglers are catching pre migrant salmon and Steelhead juveniles. These trout are abundant and range in size from 6 – 14 inches. But it is the migration of spring run Chinook salmon moving into the system that attracts the most attention.
Anglers must be prepared for some fishless hours with the spring run of Kings or “Springers.” These fish are fresh from the ocean, healthy, strong and wily. The key to successful angling for these creatures is to fish the migratory obstructions and deep holes found throughout the river with deep drifted offerings. The most significant in obstructions making these fish available to the sportsmen are waterfalls, large rapids, fish counting weirs operated by the Department of Fish and Game, and of course the dam where the hatchery is found in Lewiston.
“Springer” fishing can be good into August. Midsummer brings yet another opportunity for exciting angling. The tailwater fishery below the Lewiston Dam on the Trinity River, is famous as a brown trout fishery.
In the “fly only” water of the Trinity River, which extends from the Lewiston hatchery 1.5 miles downstream to the Old Lewiston Bridge, predatory Brown trout in the 10 lb. class are hooked each year.
By the thousands, fall run Chinook (King) salmon, make their way up the river in September seeking their natal waters for spawning. Immediately following the Chinook runs come the Coho (silver) salmon. Although most often fished for with conventional fishing techniques using bait and lures, fly fishers using 8-9 wt. rods and sinking or sink-tip lines with streamers or tiny salmon egg patterns have a good chance at hooking these heavy weights.
Steelhead follow close on the heels of the fall Salmon. The sea-run Rainbows are readily taken by all techniques, but truly this is the season of the fly fisher. Trinity Steelhead range in size from “half-pounders” up to 3 lbs., to adults, of 4 lbs. to 14 lbs. The average Steelhead is about 6 lbs.
The Steelies have migrated into the river system to spawn and do not need to feed. However, experience has shown that they will take advantage of any readily available food sources. Knowing this, many fly fishers rely on the “egg hatch,” free floating salmon eggs released by spawning Salmon. Patterns like “Egg Omelet,” “Babine Special” and the ubiquitous “Glowbug” have deceived many Trinity River Steelhead. Wet flies, nymphs, streamers, and skating or riffle-hitched flies can bring spectacular takes by Steelhead. The longer the Steelhead has been in the river the more trout like their behavior becomes. Near the end of the run many Steelies will begin to focus and feed on hatching aquatic insects like Stone fly, Caddis and even diminutive Mayfly.
Trinity Fishing Guides and Resources
Below are a few of the fishing companies that guide in Trinity. Inclusion in this list is not necessarily an endorsement.
- Trinity River Guide Association, (530) 359-TRGA
- “D” Fishing Guide, (530) 629-3554
- Fish Rivers Guide Service (530) 410-9620
- Maverick Outfitters, 530-949-1136
- North Coast Outfitters, 530-739-3519
- Old Bridge Rafting and Guide Service (530) 778-0509
- Steve Huber Guide Service, (530) 623-1918
- Sweet Trinity Guide Service, 530-623-4695
- Trinity Fly Shop (530) 623-6757
- Trinity Lake: The “Maine” Guide, (530) 623-4352
- Trinity Outdoors : Weaverville, general sporting goods, fishing, hunting, hiking, maps, books, clothing, disc golf
- Trinity River, Tributaries, and Lake Data: California Department of Water Resources
- Reservior Storage: California Department of Water Resources
- Fishing Report : Willow Creek Chamber of Commerce by Ed Duggan, “D” Fishing Guide
- Trinity River Fishing News: My Outdoor Buddy
- USFS Trinity River Fish Hatchery: Recreation.gov
Articles and Resources
- Trinity Lake: Just far enough away
- Getting to know California’s Landlock Salmon
- State Angling Records
- Permitted state fishing contests/tournaments — Black Bass tournaments are popular on Trinity Lake
- Fish planting schedule: California Department of Fish & Game