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Top Places To Fish In California

Mark Armstrong
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With a diverse landscape, a Mediterranean climate, beautiful rivers and lakes, spectacular scenery and plenty of access to the Pacific Ocean, California has a lot to offer when it comes to fishing.

But with so much variety in the Golden State, it can be difficult to know where to go first. So we’ve put together this short guide to help you decide where to go fishing in California.

Top Places To Fish In California - PinterestPin

Why California?

Variety Of Fish

The waters of California are home to a wide variety of fish species, which can make it all the more alluring to anglers.

Trout and bass can be some of the most common catches in the state, with there being several types of trout to be found, including the state fish of California, the golden trout.

California is also considered to be one of the top bass fishing states in the country, with the draw being the size of bass that can be caught.

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The Pacific Ocean also offers a huge variety of fish, from various types of sharks, bass, rays, as well as halibut, lingcod, barracuda, sturgeon and salmon.


California has a mostly Mediterranean climate, so it can be warm in the summer and cool and wet in the winter.

But the size of the state means there can be quite a variation in the weather from area to area, with Southern California offering great year round saltwater and freshwater fishing opportunities.

However, it’s not all sunshine and warmth. You might even find opportunities in Northern California for ice fishing, including at Caples Lake near Lake Tahoe.

What Are The Rules On Licenses?

Everyone aged 16 and over will need a California sport fishing license in order to attempt to catch fish in California but the license will allow you to fish in both saltwater and freshwater.

However, there are two days each year when you can fish without a license. It is also not necessary to have a fishing license if you plan to fish from a public fishing pier.

However, even on free fishing days and when fishing from a public pier, it may also be necessary to have a report card for the species you plan to catch. These additional cards can be purchased at the same time as you purchase your license and whether you will need one or not will depend on the type of fish you want to catch.

Additionally, if you plan to fish in the ocean waters in Southern California you will also need to have an Ocean Enhancement Validation. This is a requirement for fishing in the waters between Point Arguello, Santa Barbara County and the Mexican border, so includes coastal fishing in both Los Angeles and San Diego.

> Fishing: Carlsbad Lagoon

7 Awesome California Fishing Locations

1: Clear Lake

Clear Lake California - For fishingPin
Courtesy: Jon Evans on Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

Around 100 miles north of San Francisco and northwest of Sacramento, Clear Lake offers more than 43,000 acres of water and boasts having more fish than any other lake in the United States (per square acre).

Known for its quality bass fishing, Clear Lake can also be a good place to fish for crappie, bluegill, carp and catfish. There are several parks around the lake where you can access the water, with many also having public boat launch ramps. 

2: San Joaquin Delta

#2 for fishing in California - San Joaquin DeltaPin
Courtesy: Mitch Lorens on Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

The Sacramento San Joaquin Delta, also known as the California Delta, is a vast expanse of water just northeast of San Francisco, encompassing the Sacramento River and the San Joaquin River.

There are plenty of places to fish from the shore or if you want to take a boat out on the water there are a number of boat ramps.

The Delta can be a fantastic place to fish if you’re looking for variety, as there are many different species to found, including catfish, striped bass, bluegill and sturgeon.

3: San Francisco Bay

# 3 - Fishing California - San Francisco BayPin
Courtesy: Nick Amoscato on Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

San Francisco Bay can be a great place to catch a range of different saltwater species, whether you’re in a boat or fishing from the shore or a pier. Common target species can include sturgeon, sharks, rockfish, salmon, striped bass and halibut.

San Francisco is known for its large number of piers and these can provide some fantastic fishing opportunities if you want to keep your feet on dry land. But it can also be a great place if you’re looking to head out in a boat or on a fishing charter.

Be careful with the weather, though, as the currents near the Golden Gate Bridge can be notoriously strong.

4: Bodega Bay

Courtesy: Jeremy Hawes on Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

Bodega Bay is home to many types of fish and can be a good place to catch salmon during the summer. It is also possible to catch lingcod, rockfish, halibut, tuna, leopard sharks, as well as perch and flounder.

There are plenty of fishing charter companies in the area if you want to get a little closer to the big fish but there are also lots of places where you can fish from the shore, including a public pier at Spud Point Marina where you can fish without a license.

> Do you need a license for catch and release?

5: Santa Monica 

Best California fishing spots - Santa Monica PierPin
Courtesy: alyssa BLACK. on Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

Santa Monica may be known for Muscle Beach and its LA beach lifestyle but its position on the Pacific coast also makes it a great place to fish.

Santa Monica Pier has a dedicated fishing platform and can let you fish in the ocean without needing a fishing license, which can be handy if you’re on vacation or you’re wanting to try it out. There are also plenty of local places where you can buy bait and even rent fishing rods.

You can catch a variety of fish from the pier, including mackerel, stingrays, tiger sharks, leopard sharks, perch, white sea bass and sometimes even barracuda.

6: San Diego

#6 best fishing California - San DiegoPin
Courtesy: Kenny Chung on Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

San Diego is thought to be one of the best cities in the United States for fishing. There is a wide variety of species to be found, with access to both saltwater and freshwater fishing.

If you’re looking for a fishing charter, San Diego is probably the place to be, with plenty of options to take you out into the deeper waters of the Pacific, with Fisherman’s Landing, just west of the airport, being ideal if you’re close to downtown.

The nearby Shoreline Park also has opportunities to fish from the pier, if you’d rather stay on land.

There are seven ocean piers in San Diego where you can fish for saltwater species without a fishing license, including spotted bay bass, leopard sharks, bat rays and barracudas, among others.

The longest pier in San Diego is the T-shaped Ocean Beach Pier, which also has a bait and tackle shop.

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7: McCloud River

#7 California Fishing Destinations -McCloud RiverPin
Courtesy: Don Graham on Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

Northern California is home to the McCloud River, famous for its rainbow trout. This 77 mile river features beautiful scenery and can be a great place for fly fishing.

It is also the only fishery in California where you can find the endangered bull trout. But if you catch one, you have to release it, as it is a protected species and you’re not allowed to keep them.

The Lower Falls area of the river near Fowlers Campground is stocked with rainbow trout, brown trout and brook trout, but it can also be a popular swimming spot during the summer months.

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Finishing Off…

California is known for many things; its busy cities, film industry, laidback lifestyle and wildlife. But it can also be one of the best states in the country for fishing.

Remember to have a valid California fishing license with you, unless you’re fishing from one of the many public fishing piers located across the state.

Let us know if you’ve been to any of our favorite California spots. Maybe you know a better place that we haven’t mentioned? Tell us about it. And remember to share this with your fellow anglers.

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