Hat Creek is the one. The best trout fishing stream in California.
Dick May, that's who.
May is executive director of California Trout, a 2,500-member organization that is largely responsible for California having about 500 miles of streams and half a dozen lakes under wild-trout management.
May, who has fly-fished virtually every blue-ribbon trout stream in the state, was recently asked to rate his 10 favorite California trout waters. He led off with Hat Creek, a quiet little stream about 70 miles east of Redding, on California 299.
Hat Creek, born on the north slopes of Mt. Lassen, 40 miles away, flows north along California 89. After it flows under the highway and through two PG&E power plants, it becomes a designated wild-trout stream, under special management. The 3 1/2 miles from the No. 2 power plant to where the creek runs into the Pit River constitutes the wild-trout portion.
Hat Creek's rainbows are persnickety. In 1982, Hat Creek fly fisherman Frank Monzon said: "This is a tough little stream. The trout are very selective. If you aren't showing them exactly what they want, you won't do very well here."
And while you're at Hat Creek, drop in on No. 2, too. May's Nos. 1 and 2 are only eight miles apart. Fall River is just up the road, near Fall River Mills.
Not surprisingly, no Southern California waters make May's top 10. But two in the Eastern Sierra, a familiar region to many Southland trout fishermen, make it--Crowley Lake and the East Walker River, both in Mono County.
Although May estimates that California Trout's membership is roughly 90% fly fishermen, he says the organization has lure-oriented fishermen, too.
"We're all interested in wild-trout waters, barbless hooks, catch-and-release fishing, that sort of thing," he said. "We're affiliated with about 50 local fishing clubs and rod and gun clubs throughout the state. We see ourselves as a constituency group for federal and state fisheries management professionals (biologists) who want to do a good job of managing wild-trout and steelhead resources in California."
May's No. 1, Hat Creek, was the first working model of a wild-trout fishery in California. In effect, it gave birth to the state's Wild Trout Program, which requires the Department of Fish and Game to recommend to the Fish and Game Commission each year 25 miles of streams and one lake for inclusion in the Wild Trout program.
Here are the top 10, with May's comments:
1. Hat Creek, Shasta County. "This is a classic fly-fishing stream akin to the great chalk streams of Europe, in appearance and richness of its food chain. There actually are chalk banks on part of Hat Creek's streamsides. It provides for an extremely rich food chain for trout. Before the construction of power plants on the Pit River and the completion of Shasta Dam, Hat Creek was a major spawning area for chinook salmon and probably steelhead. Hat Creek became an early, instant success in the early days of the Wild Trout Program. In some months, it's pretty crowded."
Location: Hat Creek flows under Highway 299, about 70 miles east of Redding. Regulations: Limit of two fish a day, barbless flies and lures only, 18-inch minimum size. Trout: Ample numbers of rainbows up to two pounds, some browns up to six pounds. Biologists netted an 18-pound brown 10 years ago.
2. Fall River, Shasta County. "This stream barely makes my list because of one negative--you have to fish it from a canoe or a skiff, which isn't my bag. But I rate it just behind Hat Creek because of the positives--it's one of the most beautiful streams in the state, it's a rich trout resource and it's simply a wonderful place to fish.
"There are a lot of cottonwoods, aspen and poplars along the shores. In the fall, it's beautiful. Cal Trout has provided the only public access to the river--the riparian land on both sides is on private property. We had to go to court in the mid-'70s to have the river declared a public, navigable waterway. Our access gate is at the Island of Road Bridge."
Location: About eight miles from Hat Creek, alongside County A20, at the town of Fall River Mills. Regulations: Two fish, barbless flies and lures, 14-inch maximum size. Trout: Almost exclusively rainbows, up to three pounds. Consistently larger rainbows than Hat Creek. Occasional browns.
3. McCloud River, Siskiyou and Shasta counties. "The appeal of the McCloud is its uniqueness--you feel you're fishing a High Sierra Nevada runoff stream because it's heavily forested, but it's actually at a relatively low elevation. Also, it's a spring-fed stream yet it still seems like a Sierra runoff stream. The McCloud is located in that transition zone between the Cascades and the Sierra Nevada. It's unique in almost every way. The area of the river under wild-trout management is downstream from McCloud Reservoir."