Visiting all the best fishing spots in California can take years.
The Golden State has so much to offer anglers of all sorts, from saltwater fishing in San Diego to fly fishing in Yosemite’s Tuolumne and Merced rivers and wetting a line from the Venice Fishing Pier.
As a bonus, you’ll catch some breathtaking views regardless of the fishing spot you choose and have the opportunity to explore stunning hiking trails.
We’ve shortlisted some of California’s best freshwater and saltwater fishing spots to make your search for an ideal angling destination a little easier, so let’s take a look at them.
Top Fishing Spots in California at a Glance
Here’s a quick overview of the best fishing spots in California:
- Best for Trout: Yosemite National Park
- Best for Mackinaw: Lake Tahoe
- Best for Surf Fishing: Half Moon Bay State Beach
- Best for Salmon: Smith River
10 Best Fishing Spots in California in Detail
Yosemite National Park
Fly fishing at Yosemite National Park has been a tradition for over a century. Its Merced and Tuolumne rivers are among the top destinations in California for anglers trying to catch a Rainbow Trout or Brown Trout.
The daily bag limit depends on where in Yosemite National Park you decide to fish and the species you’re targeting.
You can book an Entrance Reservation or purchase a Standard Entry Pass that’s valid for a week, but it’s paramount to plan your visit to Yosemite National Park because you may not be able to enter on some dates.
Type of fishing: Fly fishing
Expect to find: Rainbow Trout, Brook Trout, Brown Trout
Rules and safety guidelines: The bag limit for Brown Trout varies from 5 to 10.
Malibu Creek State Park
Nicknamed the Yosemite of Southern California, Malibu Creek State Park is the southernmost home of the Steelhead Trout and less than forty miles west of downtown Los Angeles. Fishing isn’t allowed throughout the 8,000-acre park, and you cannot cast a line in the Malibu Lagoon or Lower Malibu Creek.
Still, this state park can be a great fishing spot to catch a largemouth bass or a panfish, especially if you visit it with an experienced guide.
Type of fishing: Freshwater fishing
Expect to find: Largemouth bass
Rules and safety guidelines: Anglers older than 16 must have a license to fish at Malibu Creek State Park.
Lake Tahoe is the largest alpine lake in North America and one of California’s most sought-after fishing destinations. Mackinaw (Lake) Trout and Rainbow Trout are abundant in the lake’s clear-blue waters, but you can also reel in Kokanee Salmon or Largemouth Bass.
Finding a good spot to fish from the shore can be challenging, so chartering a boat is often the best way to experience the charms of angling at Lake Tahoe. Fishing is permitted throughout the year, but spring or summer is the best time to visit.
Type of fishing: Boat fishing, fly fishing
Expect to find: Mackinaw, Rainbow Trout, Brown Trout, Kokanee Salmon, etc.
Rules and safety guidelines: You can fish from one hour before sunrise until two hours after sunset at Lake Tahoe.
Venice Fishing Pier
An angler’s visit to LA is incomplete without a stop at the Venice Fishing Pier. The 1,300-foot fishing pier is situated on one of the city’s most beautiful beaches, and it attracts hundreds of anglers daily.
The best part is that you don’t need a license to fish from a pier in California, but you must get one if you want to try your luck at surf fishing from the beach.
Pacific Mackerel, Yellowfin Croaker, and Walleye Surfperch are among the most common catches at the Venice Fishing Pier.
Type of fishing: Pier fishing
Expect to find: California Butterfish, Black Perch, Jack Mackerel, and much more.
Rules and safety guidelines: No dogs are allowed. Fishing from the pier is allowed at all hours.
Half Moon Bay State Beach
Located just thirty miles south of San Francisco, the Half Moon Bay State Beach stretches over four miles and offers plenty of great fishing spots. You can cast a line from Francis and Dunes beaches or try angling from the jetties.
Chartering a boat is the best way to discover fishing spots in the Bay Area and reel in some impressive catches. Half Moon Bay State Beach is famous for King Salmon fishing, but California Halibut, Perch, and Rockfish are also quite common.
Type of fishing: Pier fishing, Surf fishing, Boat fishing
Expect to find: King Salmon, California Halibut, Rockfish
Rules and safety guidelines: Staying out of the water is advisable due to its low temperature and strong currents.
Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta
Fishing is far from being the only outdoor activity you can do in the Sacramento – San Joaquin River Delta because the area is a popular destination for boaters, campers, and hikers.
So, chartering a boat or renting a kayak at the California Delta could be a good idea if you want to explore the area’s natural riches while angling for Salmon, Sturgeon, or Bass.
Navigating the California Delta can be tricky for first-time visitors because the Sacramento River and San Joaquin River have dozens of tributaries.
Type of fishing: Kayak fishing, boat fishing, bank fishing
Expect to find: Largemouth Bass, White Sturgeon, Chinook Salmon
Rules and safety guidelines: Check the Guide to Eating Fish From the Delta to check which fish species you shouldn’t eat due to high levels of mercury.
If you’re a freshwater angler who loves catching Steelheads and King Salmon, visiting Smith River in Northwestern California should be at the top of your bucket list.
California’s only undammed river is a part of the National Wild and Scenic River System and stretches over 25 miles from the Klamath Mountains to the Pacific Ocean.
The banks are rocky, so finding a spot with easy water access can be tricky. Even so, angling at the Smith River is a unique experience that avid fly fishermen shouldn’t miss out on.
Type of fishing: Fly fishing
Expect to find: Trout, Salmon
Rules and safety guidelines: You can’t fish for Salmon at the Smith River without a North Coast Salmon Report Card.
Clear Lake State Park
The state’s largest freshwater lake is also one of its best fishing locations. Clear Lake State Park covers a 590-acre area, including the lake’s 68-square-mile surface area.
You must plan your visit to the state park carefully because lodgings must be reserved up to six months in advance. During your stay, you can also visit Rodman Slough, Rattlesnake Island, Kelsey Creek, and other fishing hotspots in the area.
Optionally, you can join one of the 25 fishing tournaments that take place at Clear Lake each year if you enjoy a bit of competition while angling.
Type of fishing: Pier fishing, shore fishing, boat fishing
Expect to find: Channel Catfish, Crappie, Largemouth Bass
Rules and safety guidelines: Clear Lake can be crowded during the peak season.
Russian River is only thirty miles from Clear Lake, but you can also reach it from Santa Rosa in less than an hour. Which section of the river you should visit will depend on the fish you’d like to target.
So, wading the waters of the river’s upper section can be a great choice if you’re after Smallmouth Bass or Catfish, while for Steelheads, Sturgeon, or American Shad, you should head to the Russian River’s lower section.
Renting a kayak is also an option if you want to explore different fishing spots along the 115-mile-long river.
Type of fishing: Fly fishing, kayak fishing
Expect to find: Bass, American Shad, Trout, Catfish
Rules and safety guidelines: Salmon fishing isn’t allowed on the Russian River.
San Diego is famous for the saltwater fishing opportunities it offers. That’s why Cuyamaca Reservoir might slip under your radar if you’re planning a fishing expedition to Southern California.
The lake lies 4,600 feet above sea level, deep in the Cuyamaca Mountains, and it is the only trout fishery in San Diego County that remains open throughout the year. Aside from trout, Lake Cuyamaca is home to Largemouth Bass, Bluegill, Sturgeon, and other freshwater fish species.
Type of fishing: Boat fishing, kayak fishing, shore fishing
Expect to find: Trout, Sturgeon, Bass, etc.
Rules and safety guidelines: Lake Cuyamaca daily fishing permits cost $10 for adults and $5 for children under 15.
Key Aspects to Consider When Choosing a Fishing Spot in California
There aren’t many places in the world that offer such a diverse selection of fishing destinations as California.
The Golden State has plenty to offer saltwater anglers targeting Halibut or Bluefin Tuna, but it’s also one of the best places in the US for freshwater anglers who’d like to reel in a King Salmon or a Steelhead.
Hence, the most important factor you must consider when picking a fishing spot in California is the fish species you want to catch.
The spot’s proximity to the region you’re visiting will also play a part in your decision-making process, as well as the duration of your stay in California.
In addition, a limited number of reservations are available for Yosemite National Park and other scenic fishing locations, so you must book your reservation six months before the visit.
Fishing Rules in California
Aside from statewide fishing regulations, you must also check bag limits for a specific fishing spot in California you’d like to visit.
The daily bag limits usually range from ten to 25 fish, but you won’t be able to keep more than five trout if you go fishing at Lake Tahoe or Cuyamaca Reservoir.
Catch-and-release only policies and strict possession limits are in place at many of California’s best fishing locations, which you can easily violate if you’re not careful. Besides a fishing license, you may have to obtain a Sturgeon Fishing Report Card to target White Sturgeon.
It’s important to remember that fish species like Modoc Sucker or Rough Sculpin are fully protected in California and that releasing salmon you catch is mandatory at some fishing locations.
The fishing season is open throughout the year at nearly all popular fishing destinations in California, but the best time to visit depends on the type of fish you’re targeting.
Fishing Licenses in California
You don’t need a license to cast a line from a fishing pier in California, but fishing without a permit anywhere else is strictly prohibited.
You can purchase or renew a fishing license or a report card online at the California Department of Fish and Wildlife website.
Temporary Sport Fishing License for Residents and Nonresidents
- One-day sport fishing license: $20.26
- Two-day sport fishing license: $31.06
- Ten-day nonresident sport fishing license: $61.82
Annual Sport Fishing Licenses for Residents and Nonresidents
- Resident Sport Fishing License (Age 16 or older): $61.82
- Nonresident Sport Fishing License (Age 16 or older): $166.89
- Reduced Sport Fishing License: $9.53 or $9.98
- North Coast Salmon Report Card (Necessary when angling in the Smith River System): $8.64
- Sturgeon Fishing Report Card (For the entire state): $10.80
- Steelhead Fishing Report Card (For the whole state): $9.72
How Salted Angler Selected the Best Fishing Spots in California
As seasoned anglers, we know that California is one of the best fishing destinations in the world. Despite this, choosing the state’s best fishing spots wasn’t easy because there are so many places where you can catch trophy-sized fish in California.
We wanted to showcase California’s full range of fishing opportunities, which is why we featured both freshwater and saltwater fishing spots in the article.
Here are a few other criteria we used to pick the best fishing spots in California:
- Fishing reports: We studied fishing reports for each location to determine which species you’re most likely to catch.
- Angler’s skill level: This criterion has helped us choose fishing spots suitable for novice anglers who occasionally like to cast a line from a fishing pier and seasoned pros searching for a unique location where they can catch salmon or trout.
Please read our editorial policy to learn more about our team and its mission.
Do I Have to Buy California Freshwater and Saltwater Licenses Separately?
Sport fishing licenses in California apply to inland and Ocean waters, so you don’t have to purchase freshwater and saltwater licenses separately.
Can You Eat Fish You Catch in California?
Eating fish caught in any body of water in California is generally safe, but remember that fish might contain chemical contaminants in some locations.
How Many Rods Can I Use to Fish in California?
You must get a Second Rod Validation to angle with more than one rod in the state’s inland waters.