Upper Sacramento River Fly Fishing

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The Upper Sacramento is one of the most easily accessible, lightly fished and hands-down beautiful rivers in the entire state of California.

Known as the “Upper Sac” among locals, the Northern California river’s lush landscape and wild terrain alone should be enough to pique your interest – but if that’s not enough, the promise of plentiful large trout should be.

The section of the Upper Sacramento we’ll cover here begins at Lake Siskiyou, near the Interstate 5 corridor southwest of towering Mt. Shasta, and proceeds to make its way south until, after nearly 40 miles, it runs into Lake Shasta.

This stretch of the river is only a tiny piece of the Sacramento as a whole, but it’s the part of this river that ranks among the best fly fishing rivers in California.

Below Lake Shasta, the river carves another near-400 miles through California before eventually ending its journey at Suisun Bay and down into San Francisco Bay.

Though each stretch of the Sacramento has something to offer, the Upper Sac is the most popular with fly fishermen.

Plentiful hatches and big trout abound in the crystal-clear freestone waters of this mountain stream.

Let’s dive into more details about what makes the Upper Sac such a special river.

Upper Sacramento River Trout Fishing

upper sacramento fly fishing big trout
Photo courtesy of Wild Waters Fly Fishing

Unlike the lower stretches of the river that boast runs of salmon and steelhead, the Upper Sacramento is trout-only – and there are plenty of big trout to speak of in the river.

Rainbow trout are the most common catch on the Upper Sac, and they can grow to be more than 20 inches long.

Though not as common as rainbows here, brown trout to good size can be found as you master this river and its habitats. The upper river landed an “honorable mention” spot in our article featuring California’s best brown trout fishing.

The average trout is in the 14- to 16-inch range, bigger than the average on most freestone streams across the rest of the state.

Trout can be caught on a variety of methods, but the fast-moving riffles and pocket water that are characteristic of the Upper Sac make euro nymphing a very popular choice.

If you’re euro nymphing, jig-style tungsten beadhead patterns will be excellent.

Don’t worry too much about the specific pattern you’re using, since presentation is everything with euro nymphing. However, frenchies and perdigons typically do well.

Though there is a lot of fast-moving pocket water on the Upper Sac, there also are plenty of deeper pools that present excellent opportunities for streamer fishing and dry fly fishing.

Caddis, mayflies and golden stoneflies call the river home in the spring and the fall, making for excellent dry fly fishing if your timing is right.

Wooly buggers and various leech patterns do well to hook some of the larger trout in the river, though you will have to be persistent if you’re fishing streamers.

Look to the tailouts and swift runs for opportunities to swing your streamer in front of a hungry trout.

When To Fish the Upper Sacramento River

large rainbow trout caught on the upper sacramento river in northern california
Photo courtesy of Wild Waters Fly Fishing

The Upper Sac is open year-round, and each season offers plenty of opportunities to have an exciting day on the water.

Spring and fall are generally the most productive times to fish the river, though, because they are the times of year when the fish are most active and there are plenty of dry fly hatches to go around.

In the summer, hot temperatures and lower water levels can make fishing the Upper Sac a little more difficult – fish will be more wary and there aren’t as many dry fly hatches to get big trout to the surface.

Summertime also brings more tourists, and this is generally the busiest time of year on the river.

Catching fish on the Upper Sac in summer is still very possible, though – terrestrial patterns (think hoppers and ants) can bring fish to the surface in the faster riffles and pocket water, while nymphing the deep pools is another great option.

If you’re looking for solitude, winter is the time of year to fish.

The Upper Sac’s mountain setting means that winter conditions are often cold and snowy, and you’ll have to work to catch fish.

However, nymphing can be very productive during the colder months out of the year, particularly in the slower-moving water.

Location and Access 

upper sacramento river fly fishing near a railroad bridge in the mountains of northern california
Photo courtesy of Wild Waters Fly Fishing

The nearest town to the Upper Sacramento is Dunsmuir, which is home to multiple fly shops that specialize in fishing this river.

Redding is the closest larger city, located about 60 miles south of the river’s source at Lake Siskiyou.

If you’re a walk-and-wade angler, you’re in luck. The Upper Sac is paralleled by roads for nearly its entire length, and there is plenty of easily accessible water all along the river.

This is a classic “highway” river – many anglers pull up to a spot, fish it for 15 minutes, and drive down to the next; you can expect your day to go similarly.

Some of the most popular and accessible water is near Dunsmuir, and it’s a great spot to go if you’re new to fishing the river.

The Upper Sac is also just a couple of hours from the cities of Klamath Falls and Medford across the Oregon border, and many fly anglers in Southern Oregon take advantage of that proximity and head down to fish the river.

Conclusion

The Upper Sac has something for everyone looking to catch trout on a fly.

Whether you’re a beginner or an expert, there are opportunities all along the river for everyone to have a memorable day out on the water!

It’s one of the most accessible rivers in California, and it’s worth a look if you’re craving some exciting fly fishing.

Carter Reschke is a freelance writer based in Bend, Oregon. Passionate about the outdoors, Carter is a fly fishing aficionado and spends his days on the river when he’s not writing.