California Fishing Seasons: Your Complete Guide

While you may recognize California for its iconic tourist attractions and natural beauty, did you know it’s also home to some of the country’s best angling opportunities? The California fishing season is as unique as the people who call it home. Regardless of your age or skill level, there are excellent fishing opportunities, both fresh and saltwater, across California.

Both saltwater and freshwater fishing resources in California are managed by the California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW).

The California coastline is over 840 miles long and boasts more than 420 different beaches, giving anglers unique opportunities to fish for their favorite saltwater fish species.

If you enjoy freshwater fishing, California doesn’t disappoint in that respect, with many rivers, lakes, and reservoirs available to the public. In fact, according to the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), 21 of the 25 biggest Large Mouth Bass in the United States were caught in California. It truly is the home of big Bass!

In the following guide to the fishing season in California, we’ll cover:

  1. Major Fishing Seasons in California 
  2. When the California Fishing Season Starts
  3. Best Places to Fish in California
  4. Trout Fishing in California
  5. Best Times to Fish in California
  6. Southern California Features

Anglers have a lot of tools available to increase their chances of catching fish, and one of the latest and best fishing tools is the Fishbox App. This premium Fishing Forecasting App will help you identify the best times to hit the water in California and when you’re better off relaxing at home!

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Major Fishing Seasons in California 

Fortunately, there is an all-year-round fishing opportunity for Californian anglers and visitors wishing to fish in California. However, not all fishing opportunities are at their peak simultaneously, and specific fish seasons set in place by the CDFW will limit some fish species to certain times of the year.

While trout fishing for Rainbow Trout in lakes such as Shasta Lake, Crowley Lake, and Lake Tahoe may reach its peak in fall, Bass and other freshwater species are more active in spring. Saltwater fishing largely depends on water temperatures and currents, which guide migration for large saltwater sports fish species, including Tuna and Mahi Mahi.

Regardless of when you go fishing in California, there will be a fishing opportunity, be it freshwater or saltwater, sports fish, or table fish. However, if you have a target species in mind, you can increase your chances by timing your fishing trip with that fish species’ peak activity period. 

In the table below, we have covered some of the most popular fish species in California, along with the best time of the year to catch them to assist you in planning your upcoming fishing trip in California.

California Freshwater Fishing Calendar

California Saltwater Fishing Calendar

Summer Fishing Season In California – June, July, and August

The summer fishing season in California begins on June 1st and runs through to the end of August. However, because of the warm climate in California, many people define California as having a much larger warm period than other northern states, offering anglers many more fishing opportunities. 

The start of summer highlights some spectacular saltwater sports fishing opportunities for species such as Blue Marlin, Striped Marlin, Bluefin Tuna, Mahi Mahi, and Yellowtail. The deep water around San Clemente, San Diego, San Francisco, and the Coronado Islands are well-known hotspots for big game fish. However, it’s not just sports fish on offer. You also have the opportunity to catch Halibut, Sand Bass, Rock Cod, Calico Bass, Bonito, Barracuda, White Sea Bass, and Bonito.

Freshwater anglers aren’t going to miss out in the warmer summer months, either. Freshwater species such as Largemouth Bass, Catfish, Yellow Perch, Trout, and Salmon are on the bite starting in June. Popular locations for summer freshwater angling include the Russian River, Sac River, Lake Tahoe, Lake Nacimiento, and Lake Henshaw. 

Fall Fishing Season In California – September, October, and November 

As the warm summer weather begins to fade, welcoming in fall, some great fishing opportunities are still available in California. However, you may need to change your tactics and target specific species if you want to achieve high levels of success. 

Some excellent saltwater fish species are still to target, including Tune, Bonita, Mahi Mahi, and Yellowtail, for those anglers heading into the deeper offshore waters along California’s coastline. 

Inshore saltwater fishing opportunities around the shallow bays, beaches, and inlets include sharks such as Blue Sharks, Mako Sharks, and Thresher Sharks. Smaller table fish species include Surf Perch, Rock Cod, Calico Bass, Lingcod, and other rock and bottom fish species.

Freshwater anglers can look forward to increased Salmon fishing activity in locations such as the Don Pedro Reservoir and Steelhead in the Trinity River, which feeds off Lewiston Lake. Brook, Brown, and Rainbow trout action, especially on a fly rod, is still hot during these months. 

Winter Fishing Season In California – December, January, and February

As the cooler weather rolls in, saltwater anglers typically move south, chasing warmer water or sticking to bottom species closer to the coastline. Sports fish such as Bluefin Tuna, Yellowfin Tuna, and Mahi Mahi can still be caught in the warmer southern waters, although they require much more work and patience.

Halibut can still be found closer to shore for those brave enough to risk the occasional rain shower. However, Sturgeon fishing in San Pablo Bay really hits its peak in the cooler winter months, along with more robust Halibut numbers in late February. Don’t forget that you can also target Calico and White Bass in late February.

Lake Perris is a great spot to target Largemouth Bass if you prefer less populated spots in the cooler winter months. The Steelhead run is well underway in December/January. Head to the Klamath River to find the best spots to target these beautiful fish.

Chinook ‘King’ Salmon are biting in the Smith River in late February, and trolling for Trout throughout the lakes will show a return on your investment.

Read also: Fishing in Cold Weather: Tips and Techniques for Winter Anglers

Spring Fishing Season In California – March, April, and May

March is the start of the California spring angling season. While the water is still on the cool side, Halibut, White Seabass, and Calico Bass are still on the bite. 

As the water starts to warm up in April, the first of the Barracuda and Yellowtail arrive around the area of the Catalina Islands and surrounding waters. Also, in April, Rock Fish and Lingcod seasons officially open in California. 

May is often known as the start of California’s sports fishing season, with Tuna, Albacore, Barracuda, and Mackerel all arriving. 

On the freshwater angling front, you can look forward to a robust spring fishing season for Largemouth Bass, Smallmouth Bass, and Rainbow trout and Brown Trout. 

For Chinook Salmon enthusiasts, the San Francisco season opens in May. Trout and Catfish fans won’t be disappointed with the giant fish still on offer in the rivers and lakes across California.

When the California Fishing Season Starts

California enjoys almost year-round fishing for most fish species, both freshwater and saltwater species. However, there are peak seasons when your catch rate and chances of hooking a fish will be much higher. 

Alternatively, there are some closed seasons for certain fish to allow them to spawn and reproduce and ensure that future anglers have the same fantastic fishing opportunities across the state. 

California Saltwater Fishing Regulations and Seasons

Each year, on March 1st, the California Department of Fish and Wildlife publishes its Ocean Sport Fishing Regulation Guidebook. This downloadable PDF covers all saltwater fishing regulations for 12 months. It’s important to check this guidebook before going fishing, as the CDFW constantly updates the regulations depending on fish stocks, weather conditions, and environmental factors.

The Freshwater Fishing Season runs from January 1st, 2023, until December 31st, and the Department of Fish and Wildlife publishes a complete Freshwater Fish Regulations guide and downloadable PDF. It’s important to check this guidebook before going fishing, as the CDFW constantly updates the regulations depending on fish stocks, weather conditions, and environmental factors.

Tips On How to Follow Official Announcements About the Start of the Fishing Season In California

There are several ways to ensure you don’t miss out on any announcements about season opening times and dates or updates to catch limits. 

Best Places to Fish in California 

This section will look at ten of California’s most popular freshwater and saltwater fishing locations and why they’re so popular with Californian anglers. 

  1. The McCloud River – Noted as one of the premiere trout fishing destinations in the country, the McCloud River is well-known for its large trout population, including Rainbow Trout, Brown Trout, and Brook Trout.
  2. Clear Lake – A renowned Bass fishery, second only to The Delta, Clear Lake offers Bass enthusiasts the perfect location to catch some monster Bass thanks to its warm water temperatures, natural cover, and high levels of bait fish.
  3. The Delta – The San Joaquin Delta should be on any anglers ‘must fish’ list if they plan fishing in California. Target species include Sturgeon, Bass, Catfish, and Stripers. 
  4. The Santa Monica Pier – We haven’t forgotten shore-based saltwater anglers. You’ll need to arrive early and plan ahead if you want to secure a fishing spot on this famous structure. Target species include Herring, Mackerel, Surf Perch, Calico Bass, Sculpin, and even the occasional Halibut. If you enjoy night fishing, the pier is also highly productive at night and offers a hot bite after dark.
  5. Lake Shasta – The famous bridge on Lake Shasta is a bit of a well–known local hot spot. Anywhere you fish around, this renowned structure will produce some great Bass.
  6. Russian River – Winding its way through the Nor Cal Hills, the Russian River is an excellent location for anyone interested in catching Smallmouth Bass and Steelheads during their famous Thanksgiving run up the river.
  7. Lake Almanor – Boasting a large population of Smallmouth Bass and well-stocked Trout species, this artificial lake is a prime freshwater fishing location in California. Dawn is a great time to hit the peak fish-biting action.
  8. Coronado Ferry Pier – While locals would like to keep this spot under the radar, there is a load of popular saltwater fish species to be caught here, including Sand Bass, Mackerel, and Bonito. If you fancy trying to tackle a Shark or Ray, you may also find them lurking around this clear water.
  9. Castaic Lake – An hour’s journey from Los Angeles, Castaic Lake is home to the trophy Bass, and it’s one of your best chances of landing a monster Bass and getting your name in the Californian Record Books.
  10. Lake Cuyamaca – Last but not least, Lake Cuyamaca holds almost 45k pounds of stocked Rainbow Trout every year. There’s also a large population of Bass, many above 7lbs, on offer in this beautiful lake. 

These are just ten of the best fishing locations in California. Honestly, we could have written an entire book about the best fishing spots in California. The fishing is that great, and the diverse range of locations is perfect for freshwater and saltwater anglers almost year-round, regardless of weather conditions.

Trout Fishing in California 

This section will focus on three of California’s best trout fishing locations, including target species and the best gear and tackle to catch them on.

Pyramid Lake 

Pyramid Lake is located in Los Padres and Angeles National Forests and is a reservoir formed by the Pyramid Dam on Piru Creek. Each year, this trout fishing destination is stocked with thousands of Rainbow Trout by the CDFW and also boasts robust populations of Largemouth Bass and Smallmouth Bass, Striped Bass, Crappie, Catfish, and Bluegill. 

There are both shore-based angling and boat-angling opportunities on the lake. Cut baits and strip baits targeting suspended Bass is the most effective way to hook a large Bass. If you’re targeting Trout, aim to be on the water between October and May, with trolling and casting lures an effective way to land a big Rainbow Trout.

New Melones Reservoir

Hailed as one of California’s premiere Trout fishing destinations, New Melones Reservoir offers an impressive variety of Rainbow Trout and Brown Trout. Sticking close to structures and trolling with lures, casting, or using bait off the bank is the best way to catch a Brown Trout, but these fish are notoriously hard to hook.

Trolling the New Melones Reservoir or casting from shore with lures and spinners is an effective way to get your hands on one of the beautiful and abundant Rainbow Trout.

Los Vaqueros Reservoir

If you’re in the San Francisco area, a trip to Los Vaqueros Reservoir is an absolute must for any trout fishing enthusiast. Stocked Trout do very well because of the cool water temperatures year-round at the Los Vaqueros Reservoir.

First opening for fishing in 2001, Los Vaqueros Reservoir offers both Rainbow and Brown Trout fishing opportunities. You can fish from the shore or a boat, and trolling lures, casting lures, and bait work well on these large Trout.

The Best Times to Fish in California

Saltwater Fishing in California – The Best Times and Tides

When you’re saltwater fishing anywhere, including in California, the best time of the day to go fishing is always going to be dawn and dusk. However, weather conditions and tides will also affect your decision.

An incoming tide is the best time to target most saltwater fish as the strong tidal movements in the water bring together baitfish and larger prey fish. 

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Try to combine an incoming tide with either dawn or dusk to target the best saltwater fishing opportunities.

Freshwater Fishing in California – The Best Times

Like saltwater fishing, freshwater fish such as Bass and Trout are most active in the early morning and late evening because their food sources are most active. Try to be on the water and ready to fish within an hour of sunrise. Anytime up to an hour after sunset is the peak evening fishing time on most freshwater lakes and rivers. 

Southern California Features

Among all the premier fishing locations in California, Southern California, or SoCal to the locals offers a unique and abundant variety of fishing locations thanks to its deep waters, warmer weather, and calm seas. This rich and diverse part of California is home to some truly monster fish species, including Marlin, Tuna, Mackerel, Sharks, Halibut, Bonefish, Mahi Mahi, Rockfish, Calico Bass, and so much more!

Regardless of how you fish, fly fishing, lure fishing, bait fishing, trolling, or where you fish, including shore-based angling or boating, fish species are available in the beautiful blue waters around Southern California. 

Some of the most popular fishing spots in Southern California include: 

  • Redondo Beach
  • Newport Beach
  • Catalina Island
  • Oceanside
  • San Diego

Using the Fishbox App to Maximize Your Fishing Opportunities in California 

As anglers, we have a lot of tools at our disposal, including fishing tackle, lures, and electronic equipment that tells us water temperature and depth and can even spot a large fish lurking deep below your boat. However, an essential tool we often forget is technology.

The Fishbox App allows you to track weather conditions and works by combining predictive fish behavior with weather, lunar, and tidal conditions. 

Developed in collaboration with accurate weather data and expert fish behavioral analysis, these advanced forecasts will significantly increase your catch rate while reducing the time you need to spend on the water. Take your fishing to the next level with the Fishbox App.

California Fishing Seasons: Your Comprehensive Guide – Conclusion

It’s easy to see why so many anglers make California their home and destination for premium fishing trips. Thanks mainly to its extensive coastlines, rivers, and freshwater watersheds, California boasts some of the United States’ best freshwater and saltwater angling opportunities.

If you’re interested in fishing in California, freshwater or saltwater, a fishing destination awaits you in this beautiful state. 

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