Fly Fishing for Steelhead on the World-Famous Trinity River

The lakes and rivers surrounding Redding, California make it one of the premiere fishing destinations in America. The Lower Sacramento River, flowing right through the middle of the city, is known throughout the west coast as a fabulous fishery for rainbow trout and salmon. But if you’re looking for one of the beautiful steelhead that run through Northern California in the fall, the Trinity River is your best bet.

The Trinity River is a designated as Wild and Scenic, meaning its beauty and stability are protected by the federal government. It’s also one of the best steelhead fishing rivers on the West Coast.

Like salmon, steelhead possess the extraordinary ability to sense their native rivers from more than a thousand miles away in the open ocean. When it is time to spawn, they need no directions. Humans have tried and failed to understand this without success, and even the best GPS units cannot compare with a steelhead’s innate ability to find home. Every steelhead knows where home is.

Steelhead are known to be a fast and feisty fish, with nicknames like “Silver Bullet” and “The Fish of 1,000 Casts.” The best fishing season is in the fall, with the numbers building through September and October, eventually peaking in November.

The Trinity River runs from the Trinity Alps through a remote stretch of NorCal into the Klamath River, which is lauded for its salmon and steelhead runs. When the Trinity and Lewiston Dams were completed in the 1960s, steelhead populations were decimated on the Trinity as the fish could no longer return to their natural spawning grounds. With programs like the Trinity River Restoration Program, the fish were brought back into the area by the thousands, making the river a destination for fishermen worldwide.

The most popular areas to catch one of these beautiful steelhead on the Trinity River sit just about 30-45 minutes west of Redding on Highway 299. Most fish are seen upriver just below the Trinity River, which sits next to the Lewiston National Fish Hatchery. A lot of the steelhead are hatchery fish, but there are also some wild fish in that mix. Here’s a map of the fishing in that area:

With most steelhead fisheries, anglers typically catch only one or two in a good week. An outlier, the Trinity is known for giving fishermen a couple good fish in a single day. The average size of a Trinity River steelhead ranges from 4 to 8 pounds, with mature adults measuring over ten pounds hooked on a regular basis. You may also find some Chinook and Coho salmon in the mix, a welcomed surprise during the fall months.

There are certainly sections where you can fish the waters by boat, but most fishermen take the low-maintenance approach of finding their fish on foot. There are plenty of spots to hop out of your car and fish from the shore, with the many productive spots coming off Highway 299 between Junction City and Del Loma. This approach will give you the nimbleness to move along when the fishing dries up in a particular spot. Most people choose to fish under the section of Lewiston Dam, which creates a traffic jam of spawning salmon and steelhead. Just note that there are sections of the river which are “Fly Fishing Only” and you should check any regulations before fishing.

After your day on the river, you can experience all the beauty and vibes of Redding, which includes a beautiful downtown area with bars, restaurants and even an outdoor food truck park. Stay in one of the many hotels the city has to offer, including the four-star Sheraton that sits along the banks of the Sacramento River right next to the world-famous Sundial Bridge. If you’re looking for a guide to take you on the Trinity River, The Fly Shop in Redding is probably your best bet. Otherwise, see this list of fishing guides in the area.

Fishing might be the best way to experience the great outdoors of Northern California. And the Trinity River outside Redding can give you a fall fishing experience like no other. Want to see what it’s like to fly fish on the Trinity? Check out our video:

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