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Northern California Winter Trout

Gary Heffley, author photo,

By Gary Heffley
12/01/15 -- There are some outstanding opportunities for targeting trout in Northern California during the winter months, anglers may just have to bundle up like those fellow crazies who don't think they're truly fishing for steelhead unless they are knocking ice off the rod guides.

Even-though the general trout season for streams closed last month some prime trout waters like the Upper Sacramento River and Pit River are open with special catch and release and gear regulations. Angling these rivers can be a test of both skill and technique with river flow and water clarity a big consideration as storms hopefully come and go this season.

Small still-water lakes like Lewiston and Baum can be outstanding during the winter. Lewiston can offer Trinity River steelheaders an option should conditions be tough on the river. Lewiston hosts some very stout rainbows, many of which were released as pen raised stock. The pen raised trout tend to fight harder and grow larger than those dropped directly into the lake from the hatchery truck. There are also some very large and elusive brown trout that have taken many anglers and their tackle by surprise. Lewiston is perfect for shore and small craft angling including kayaks and personal pontoons. Fly anglers, trollers and bait anglers all can do well.

Baum Lake is a favorite winter destination for trout, most years getting bonus plants of brood stock from the adjacent Crystal Lake Hatchery. There can be days where catching easy limits if keeping your catch or if practicing catch and release over 20 trout if you catch conditions just right. But just as easily Baum can serve you your lunch, where despite seeing trout dimpling the surface of swimming lazily in the light current the hook remains empty. But that is fishing. No gas motors are allowed on Baum but this is a perfect lake for float tubes, prams, kayaks and car top boats. Bank angling access is great and the Powerhouse 1 outflow is a favorite spot for me to toss spinners.

Lake Siskiyou is a mid-size lake that many overlook for winter trout, thinking that because the resort is closed ramp access is closed off as well. Having fished there personally in the middle of February, I found the “county road" is plowed all the way to lake level making the ramp accessible unless closed by blizzard conditions. Trolling can be outstanding for brown brook and rainbow trout. But this lake in the shadow of Mt Shasta can be very cool especially in the morning hours before the sun hits the water. For those very adventurous nearby Castle Lake can offer ice fishing for trout in the latter stages of winter and early spring before the lake thaws.

Shasta and Almanor Lakes are great larger body lakes to target trout during the winter where trollers often land large rainbows and browns. While it is always advisable to utilize electronics to find concentrations of bait that attract the predatory trout, anglers can find success often by top-line trolling spoons and crankbaits. Should Trinity Lake get a large influx of water where ramp accesses improve beyond that of the Minersville Ramp trout fishing can be outstanding there as well?

Some of the best trout winter angling in the North State is of course on the Lower Sacramento River above Red Bluff. Anglers utilizing one of the many guide services on the river can have outstanding fishing for the wild-native rainbow trout that will often readily take flies and egg imitations.

The Lower Sac usually clears quickly after storms as upstream releases are controlled by Keswick and Shasta dams and with the current drought conditions capturing and holding back water resources will be crucial. Heavy runoff should be limited to local watershed and therefore clear quickly especially above Clear and Cow Creek. Winter also allows for the best wading opportunities for anglers. Adjacent to the parking area found at the north end of Bechelli Ave and the riffles just above the Sundial Bridge are great wading access and productive waters right in the middle of Redding.

Winter can be very productive for trout anglers with some of the largest trout of the season taken during the winter months. Check the weather, road conditions when traveling into and through mountain areas, layer your clothing accordingly and enjoy some of the best trout fishing of the year.

Gary Heffley has been a valued contributor to MyOutdoorBuddy for over seven years serving as manager, sales representative and reporter for much of Northern California. He is an avid outdoorsman and loves to fish and write about his adventures. He has long history in the Sporting Goods field and is presently managing the Gift Bar and Camping Department at Sportsman’s Warehouse in Redding.

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