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​Family Style Trout Opener

Gary Heffley author photo,
By Gary Heffley
04/14/16 -- While many avid trout anglers head to the fabled Northern California fly waters of the McCloud, Pit, Lower Hat Creek, Upper Sac and Fall River for the traditional opening of Northern California stream season, many families travel to the Upper/ Middle Hat Creek and Deer Creek.

For many families this is an annual visit, more of a time honored pilgrimage where often three generations converge seeking their favorite fishing runs, holes, rocks or pools. This is where grandparents took their children to fish for their first opener and where these children as parents now take their children.

Both creeks supply challenges as the water flow from the spring runoff can be high and swift. But the challenges are eased as the trout are plentiful, thanks to generous plants by the CDFW. The hatchery trucks make weekly visits to the creeks dropping healthy catchable trout at most every convenient location. Campgrounds and Day Use areas get proportionate numbers of fish to the expected angler pressure with liberal stocks. Most creek side turnouts that provide fishing access are also visited by the hatchery truck. Even with the expected crowds on the opener there will be plenty of trout to go around. There are some wild natural reproducing trout in each creek system but with the heavy dependence on the hatchery truck the creeks are managed as a put and take fishery. The planted trout are expected to be harvested and are frequently replenished throughout the season.

The Upper and Middle sections of Hat Creek vary greatly from the Lower Wild Trout Section of the creek. The lower section which fishes like a spring creek below the Baum Lake Powerhouse 2 is in a re­building stage hoping to return to the prominence it once held as a world class fly fishing destination. Upper Hat Creek provides easy access along Highway 89 in the Old Station area and fishes like a freestone creek. Deep lava cut holes and pools can provide for the perfect location to utilize PowerBait, worms, crickets and salmon eggs. Slow runs and cuts can offer a chance to toss spinners or even run a small deep running lure like a Rebel Deep Teeny Crawdad or Flatfish.

Panther Martin, Blue Fox and Mepp's are among the more popular spinners. Some like to toss small sized spinners while many, myself included, prefer to use a heavier quarter ounce offering to allow for a deeper presentation in the current. The beauty of the Upper Hat Creek is that one can fish as simply or technically as they wish, with each having the same opportunity for success. Rainbow and Brook trout are most frequently caught with a small mix of naturally reproducing browns.

Some large “brood” stock trout are often included in the plants giving anglers a shot at a trout in the range of 5 pounds. This region of Hat Creek receives the largest stocking allotment in Shasta County excepting Shasta Lake.

Middle Hat Creek is centered around the Cassel area. While designated in the trout plant notices as Middle Hat Creek the area is better known as Cassel Forebay in many publications. After Upper Hat Creek enters the agricultural area of the Hat Creek Valley much of the flow lessens, in part from agricultural demands and in part from the volcanic geology of the area and waters seeping into the porous volcanic strata. Rising rRiver flows from the east side of the valley and the spring created Rising River Lake and joins Hat Creek just west of the small town of Cassel. Here the joined waters ( Middle Hat Creek) are dammed and bisected, one side providing channeled flow leading to a basin from which waters are provided to generate power through Powerhouse 1 at the top of Baum Lake. The other side dropping from the dam and allowing a natural flow through private posted land flowing down into Baum Lake. Baum Lake is a great option should the creek not be producing and provides a year round fishing option in the region. Baum hosts some great off-season angling, especially for browns in the winter.

The created channel is lined by a concrete levee and provides a great location for some easy fishing as the hatchery truck make very generous plants all along the channel. Many anglers just pull up a lawn chair soaking baits waiting for cruising trout to take an interest. Others drift small flies under an indicator. The west side of the dam across from the post office offers great sight fishing potential for both fly and spin anglers. Fishing here can be great but can also be frustrating as trout here can come down with a seemingly terminal case of lockjaw. How can an angler at times look down on so many trout and not one of them be hungry for anything? Speaking from experience, what self respecting trout turns down a worm that is lying on its nose? happens.

While many Redding based anglers head to Hat Creek, those traveling from the Chico area are drawn to the upper reaches of Deer Creek. Highways 32 and 36 offer great access to campgrounds and day use along the creek. The section of Deer Creek above Deer Creek Falls is open to all fishing and like Upper Hat Creek fishes like a freestone creek providing for a wide variety of angling styles and techniques. Early in the season look for deep holes and pools and for those fishing with youngsters dropping a worm, night crawler, cricket or PowerBait into one of these trout laden pools rarely fails to produce. There are also plenty of opportunities to use spinners, small spoons, lures and even flies throughout this section of creek. Note, that the creek below Deer Creek Falls is managed as a wild trout section with special regulations.

Many anglers will arrive a day or two before the opener to secure the best creek side campsites along these very popular destinations. The opener is often a celebration as much as it is about the fishing. In Hat Creek there will be a fundraising annual pancake breakfast to help kick off the season.

With the excellent water levels and promised runoff this should prove to be an excellent trout stream season in Northern California. The opener on April 30 cannot come soon enough and for many, the November 16 closure will come much too quickly.

For fishing with youngsters nothing is easier than fishing a nice deep pool and tying on an offering of PowerBait, worms, crawlers or salmon eggs. The trout are usually eager to grab onto these offerings.

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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