Your Complete Guide to Catching Big Trout in Keswick Reservoir

While gaining access to this fascinating fishery can seem like entering a penitentiary, it's also got some of the most beautiful fish NorCal has to offer

The security guard handed my driver’s license back and announced something into the burly walkie-talkie hoisted from his belt. There was a metallic clang somewhere, followed by a rasping sound like someone dragging a logging chain across a rough slab of concrete. The barrier in front of my vehicle slowly melted away, disappearing beneath the hard surface of California’s largest dam, Shasta. The guard waved me on with a stern reminder not to stop on the dam. While this may sound more like entering a maximum security prison, I’m about to fish California’s most unusual wild trout fishery.

Named for Lord Keswick of London who ran a mining operation here a century ago, Keswick Reservoir is the nine miles of water between Northern California’s Shasta and Keswick Dams, just north of Redding. Hardly a fly fishing destination, it has been around since the 1960s when Keswick Dam was completed. It looks like a river at the top, a lake at the bottom, and fishes like a spring creek. But the magic of Keswick is that, in a state with a population over 36 million, it’s typically devoid of people. It gets virtually no fishing pressure at all; zero, zip, nada.

The obvious question is why do anglers routinely ignore a centrally-located wild trout fishery documented to contain fish in the double-digit range? What’s the catch? Well, probably not a darned thing if you try to fish Keswick in traditional ways, and that’s usually the problem.

If you approach Keswick like other places, you’re likely to join the legions of anglers who try it once and write it off as not worth the effort. Keswick is an “afterbay” reservoir, which means it was designed to moderate conditions in Shasta Lake above, and the Sacramento River below. It wasn’t designed as a destination itself, but apparently no one told that to the fish. They’ve adapted nicely to the constantly-changing conditions and learned to thrive by eating tiny midges almost continually. When the level or speed of the current changes, the fish just move to another comfortable spot and resume feeding. These peculiar conditions dictate a singular approach to successful fishing here. Anglers have to be willing to think outside the box; maybe walk a little on the wild side. But first, just for fun, how would you fish it? At times, grenades come to mind.

The Challenge

Picture a long, deep spring creek flowing through thick, chocking underbrush and plenty of blackberry vines, poison oak and the odd rattlesnake. Sandwiched as it is between two dams, Keswick has almost no bank access. The upper reservoir is at least seven miles from the nearest boat launch ramp, and there are plenty of ominous, house-sized boulders looming above and just beneath the water, some positioned perfectly to tear the bottom off a fast-moving boat.

Most of the fish congregate in the faster-moving water near the top of the reservoir where the speed of the current may fluctuate from fast to slow and back again at any time. The depth of the water may also change while you’re fishing, rising or falling as much as six vertical feet either de-watering the hole you were just fishing, or creating new places to explore. The water is extremely clear and very cold.