Photos courtesy of Nate and Chelsea Day
I distinctly remember the first time I went fishing at just 5 years old. A school friend knocked on my Maui condo door and off we went, plunking little lines along Kihei’s shoreline. He was weirdly experienced at a young age – many of the kids in Hawaii were – and he peered suspiciously at every poor fish I dragged up. “Too small. No. Goes back.”
My expeditions at California fishing spots initially had similar results, but that didn’t stop me from getting out there and trying! I learned quickly that fishing success is largely dependent on location. It makes sense that well-stocked lakes give you better odds of scoring dinner than over-visited destinations. Nate’s always been an innately better catch than I am (always has been, hah!). Together, we’ve sussed out some of the best places to try your hand at everything from catfish to trout to big mouth bass.
California Fishing Spots that’ll Lure You In
Our friends at the Recreational Boating & Fishing Foundation recently released the 2016 Top 100 Family Fishing and Boating Spots in America, including some of our favorite picks here in our home state! We asked some experienced anglers we’ve met along the way to weigh in and help round out our fave California fishing spots. Here is the result: our must-fish places throughout the state.
1. Clear Lake State Park
Here you’ll find some of the best bass in Northern California. Fun fact? 19 of the 25 largest recorded bass have been caught in California lakes, and your odds are pretty dang good here on the biggest natural fresh water lake in the state! Anglers rave about Berger Bay and Kelsey Creek as spots where beginners are likely to turn up large quantities of fish weighing well over ten pounds. After a long day on the water, world-class wineries are waiting nearby.
2. Sacramento River at Brannan Island State Park
Fancy some salmon? This destination often produces state records for Chinook and Pink Aalmon. Striped bass and trout are also abundant in the spring. Families can enjoy easy day hikes, barbecue pits and shoreside swimming, and a highly-coveted cabin spot!
3. Santa Monica Bay at Dockweiler State Beach
When Nate and I lived in LA, we spent hours on these shores enjoying the beach bonfire pits and volleyball courts. Shore fishing and surf fishing are both popular here, with scores including halibut and perch. We’re set for a trip back to give it a go ourselves this summer.
4. Yosemite National Park
What’s not to love about Yosemite? This park boasts some of the most beautiful mountains, waterfalls and wildlife in the nation with unparalleled hiking and river rafting. Native rainbow trout are abundant along with introduced species such as smallmouth bass, brown trout and bullgill.
5. Don Edwards San Francisco Bay National Wildlife Refuge
Float out into the bay or take advantage of the public fishing pier, where no license is required! White sturgeon, striped bass, leopard sharks and rays are common catches. Sports enthusiasts can also entertain themselves with hiking, biking and waterfowl hunting.
6. Bridge Bay at Lake Shasta.
A huge variety of fish call this glistening spot home. It’s famous for spotted bass, but you can also nab trout, king salmon, catfish, sturgeon and more. Fish populations here are teeming year-round, and in the winter there are breathtakingly-gorgeous views of Mt. Shasta.
7. Bodega Bay at Doran Regional Park
Here you’ll find access to two miles of beach ideal for shore fishing and picnicking, complete with a cleaning station. A boat launch provides access for sport fishing the many salmon, halibut and rock cod that reside here, and a jetty at the harbor mouth lends well to rock fishing and exploring sea life with kids.
8. Echo Park Lake
Smack dab in the middle of Los Angeles, Echo Park Lake offers up plentiful catfish, bluegill and crayfish as well as occasionally-introduced rainbow trout. When you’ve had your fill of fish, head on over to Dodgers Stadium to catch a game!
9. Lake Chabot.
For easy fishing in Central California, Lake Chabot is fully-stocked with catfish, trout, bass, crappie and bluegill. Swimming isn’t allowed, but lake tour boat rides can keep families entertained and unlucky fishers can still get their fill at the marina cafe. For easy pickings, rent a motor boat and troll, dragging a lure along as you go. The lake is surrounded by hiking and golf courses on all sides, so there’s no shortage of physical activity available.
10. Lake Don Pedro.
A year-round season and full-service marinas (including rental houseboats) make this a prime spot for whatever fishing excursion you’re after. Florida strain Black Bass and Rainbow trout are stocked annually, and land-locked Kokanee and Chinook salmon are also up for grabs.
If you are interested in fishing in any of the fishing spots mentioned above, you'll need a California fishing license. To find more information about fishing and boating in California, where to fish, fishing reports, get a fishing license, visit our page Fishing and Boating in California.