Trout Fishing in California – Top Spots with Map

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When most people think of California, they think of Hollywood and beaches. For many people vacationing here that may be the case, but for fishermen, it is a trout fishing paradise. Beyond the cities lies many beautiful lakes, streams, and rivers full of fish.

Trout Fishing in California - Top Spots with Map

Fishing in California is pretty simple, and for a nonresident, it only requires purchasing a license and you are ready to start fishing. Licenses are fairly inexpensive and available at multiple vendors throughout the state. 

Sunny California may be home to some giant cities and theme parks, but hidden in this state are some amazing opportunities to catch giant fish. Here are some of the best locations for the best trout fishing in California.

Top Fishing Locations in California (CA)

1. Lake Almanor

Found near the headwaters of the Feather River in Northern California, Lake Almanor is one of the state’s most challenging trout fisheries. This lake is home to monster trout, and anglers can regularly catch browns that weigh from 4 to 9 pounds and rainbows that average 3 to 6. 

Found at 4,500 feet in a mountain valley in the shadows of Lassen Peak, Almanor is a beautiful alpine lake that makes for a great view while fishing. It is a great change from the state’s usual foothill waters, which are surrounded by rolling hills with heavy brush and oak.

Compared to some other locations on this list, Almanor is often thought to catch fish. It is not a place you go in order to catch a limit of trout to eat, but rather a destination to target and catch a few giant trout for the patient angler. This is the place to go if you are after a monster brown or a big rainbow!

2. Pyramid Lake

Further to the south, you will find a favorite among California trout fishermen, even though technically it mostly resides in Nevada. Found on the California and Nevada border, Pyramid Lake covers almost 125,000 acres, giving you plenty of room to avoid the crowd.

The scenery at Pyramid Lake is amazing, and even better is the fishing. This lake is famous for its large cutthroat trout that average around 5 pounds, and some have even been caught upwards of 30 pounds. Giant cutthroat are common here, and to be considered big for this lake a trout needs to weigh over 15 pounds. Anglers from around the world travel here in hopes of catching one of these monster fish for themselves.

Here you can fish from the banks and do alright, but the most luck is found taking a boat into the deeper water where the larger fish like to hide. If a giant cutthroat trout is on your list, this is one lake you will have to travel to.

3. New Melones Reservoir

Many Californian anglers regard New Melones Reservoir as central California’s best trout fishing location, and maybe they are right. This reservoir consistently produces big rainbow trout, and also can grow some decent browns too.

The average rainbow trout here runs about 2 pounds, and fish that weigh from 5 to 8 pounds are very common. Browns in the 8 to 11 pound range are very common, and many times upwards of 13 pounds are found. There are not many places in the world where the average fish weight is this good, making this a very popular choice for anglers. 

Most fishermen here have the best success fishing from the shore, which makes sense as this reservoir is relatively small. While it can be crowded at times, the fishing here is well worth the trouble and you may be able to catch your new personal best trout.

4. Los Vaqueros Reservoir

Just west of New Melones Reservoir lies another popular reservoir, Los Vaqueros Reservoir. This small lake opened to fishing in 2001, and it quickly became known as some of the best trout fishing near the state’s coast.

While some places’ trout populations vary from year to year, at Los Vaqueros there is always a great number of holdover fish thanks to its mild temperatures and plentiful bait fish. The state stocks this reservoir with plenty of rainbows every year as well, always giving the larger fish something to eat. 

Shore fishermen here do very well, and will usually catch their limit in healthy rainbows. For anglers wanting to catch giant browns, the northern part of the lake is best. Whether you love big rainbows or hungry browns, this little reservoir may be just what you are looking for. 

5. Crowley Lake

One of California’s crown jewels when it comes to trout fishing, Crowley Lake is simply a world-class trout fishery. It ranks as the top best trout water time and time again in the state and offers excellent rainbow, brown and cutthroat trout.

Crowley Lake is the best place to go if you are looking for trout in the double digits. It is also one of the prettiest and remote lakes in the whole state, making it a great choice for somebody who also wants to avoid the crowds and have some water to themselves.

When Does Trout Season Start in California

One of the great things about many western states is that trout fishing is very open and many times available year-round. California is no exception, and many of its warmer trout waters are open year-round to fishing with a valid license. 

Some areas, such as Los Vaqueros and Lake Almanor, do have special regulations regarding when you can and cannot fish there. Generally, most trout fishing in the upper elevation areas occurs in the spring to summer, after much of the snow has melted off allowing access. 

How Much Is a Fishing License in California

The state of California offers many different types of fishing permits because of the amount of water and being on the coast, but here we will focus on freshwater trout fishing. 

  • An annual sport fishing license is available to non-residents for $134.74 and $49.94 for residents. 
  • Both residents and nonresidents can purchase 1-day or 2-day short term licenses for $16.20 and $25.10 respectively.
  • Nonresidents can purchase a short term 10-day license for $49.94.

California is a great state to fish in but can be a little pricey. Luckily they offer nonresidents a few more options when it comes to short term licenses. For more information on their license fees and structures, visit the California Department of Fish and Wildlife’s website at  

Where to Buy a Fishing License in California

California is a fishing state, so there is no shortage of places to buy a fishing license. The easiest way is to purchase one online before traveling to the state, but for anglers that prefer to buy one in person, there are plenty of stores to do so. With over 1,000 license dealers throughout the state, you should easily be able to find one in your area. To view a list of all the available license dealers, visit

Final Thoughts

The Sunshine State of California is one of the most beautiful western states and underrated by most trout fishermen. Any serious angler will know not to judge a book by its cover and realize California is not only home to some giant trout, but some of the best trout fishing that the United States has to offer.

Trout Fishing in the US

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