Fishing on the Sacramento River: A Diverse Bounty

Sacramento River, the heart and soul of California’s angling scene, stretches from Colusa to Sacramento, offering a dynamic fishing experience along its 447-mile journey. As California’s longest river, it boasts a diverse array of fish species, making it a haven for anglers of all skill levels. From the majestic King Salmon to the elusive Steelhead, the Sacramento River promises excitement and adventure for those willing to cast their lines into its cool waters.

When it comes to fishing on the Sacramento River, anglers can expect a wide variety of species to target throughout the year. From the prized King Salmon migrating upstream in the fall and spring to the feisty Striped Bass and hard-fighting Steelhead, there’s never a shortage of fishing opportunities. With each season bringing its own unique challenges and rewards, anglers can always look forward to an exhilarating fishing experience on the Sacramento River.

From the bustling city of Sacramento to the serene beauty of Colusa, the Sacramento River offers a range of fishing spots to explore. Whether you’re anchoring near the Minnow Hole or casting off at the mouth of the American River, each location holds the promise of a memorable fishing excursion. With careful study of migration patterns and a willingness to adapt to seasonal changes, anglers can maximize their chances of success on this iconic river.

For those venturing out onto the Sacramento River for the first time, it’s essential to familiarize yourself with the top tips and tactics for a successful fishing trip. From understanding migration patterns to utilizing recommended spots like the mouth of the Feather River, preparation is key to a rewarding angling experience. By studying the river’s behavior and adjusting your strategies accordingly, you can increase your chances of landing that trophy catch.

As you gear up for your fishing adventure on the Sacramento River, it’s crucial to pack the right equipment for the job. Whether you’re targeting trout and bass with light to medium-weight gear or going after salmon and striped bass with heavier tackle, having the right gear can make all the difference. Be sure to check out our Gearlist account for specific recommendations to ensure you’re fully equipped for a successful day on the water.

With its rich fishing opportunities, stunning landscapes, and vibrant communities, the Sacramento River offers an unforgettable angling experience for all who venture onto its waters. Whether you’re a seasoned angler or a newcomer to the sport, there’s something magical about casting your line into the cool, clear waters of this iconic river. So pack your gear, plan your trip, and get ready to embark on an adventure along the Sacramento River – where every cast brings the promise of excitement and discovery.

Types of Fish to Expect:

  1. King Salmon: The most sought-after species, migrating upstream from the ocean in the fall and spring. Trolling with large spoons and bait near the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta is most effective.
  2. Chinook Salmon: Similar to King Salmon, these prized fish migrate upstream in the fall and spring. Anglers can target them using similar techniques.
  3. Steelhead: Abundant throughout the year, offering an exciting fight on light tackle. Fly fishing with nymphs and streamers is a popular method.
  4. Rainbow Trout: Stocked regularly in the upper stretches of the river and thriving in its cool waters. They readily take a variety of baits and lures.
  5. Brown Trout: Less common than rainbows but larger, preferring deeper pools and riffles. Nymphs and streamers are their downfall.
  6. Striped Bass: Migrating through the river in spring and summer, offering the chance to catch trophy-sized specimens. Trolling large baits and live bait near the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta is effective.
  7. Catfish: Channel catfish are the most common species, with the potential for larger blue catfish. Night fishing with cut bait or stink baits is the key to success.
  8. Sturgeon: An unexpected bonus, occasionally caught in the deeper sections of the river. Bottom fishing with sturgeon-specific baits is the best way to target them.

Remember this place—from Colusa to Sacramento, this stretch of river represents the best and worst of the Central Valley. The upside includes good prospects for big salmon, striped bass, and sturgeon (and many shad, too) during their respective migrations upriver. The downside is what the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has done to much of the area here.

During the months of March, April, and May, the Sacramento River within the city limits of Sacramento and through Freeport offers excellent striped bass fishing. The preferred method here is to anchor in a boat and fish with sardines. Of course, other baits will work, such as shad and anchovies, but sardines rule the roost. Little trolling is done here for striped bass, especially compared to downstream, in the vicinity of Walnut Grove and Isleton.

In the fall, salmon fishing takes hold of the entire Sacramento River. In Sacramento proper, they start catching them as early as late August, but the fishing isn’t strong until mid-September, and October is the peak.

Both spinners and Flatfish and Kwikfish are used in the Sacramento area. As you move up into the Knights Landing area, it’s almost all Flatfish and Kwikfish. However, in the vicinity of Grimes and Colusa, it’s almost all spinners. This may be because most resort owners in this area manufacture their spinners. Regardless, they do catch fish. Then when you get above Colusa, everybody is again using Flatfish and Kwikfish.

The Colusa portion of the river is the most attractive. In the spring, this is where striped bass spawn in large numbers. Some 75 percent of the striper spawning originally took place in the San Joaquin Delta until the giant state and federal water pumps at Clifton Court virtually destroyed the stripers there; now they head up to Colusa on the Sacramento River to do their thing.

If you have a boat, a graph, and a good supply of lures, you can do your thing, too. The river cannot be fished effectively from shore, and the graph helps locate the major holes and bottom drop-offs where the fish hold. These spots are where you troll the large Rebel minnows for striped bass (March into early June). Or anchor and cast leadheads with plastic grubs into the holes; 20-fish days can be common when the bite is on in April. For salmon, use T-55 or M-2 Flatfish (mid-August through mid-October); and anchor and use mud shrimp or ghost shrimp for sturgeon (December through March).

The section of the Sacramento River from Discovery Park to Freeport produces top-notch bank fishing for both stripers and king salmon at times. Bank anglers trying for stripers in the spring from March–May will often do better than boaters, particularly while fishing during high runoff conditions when it’s difficult for boaters to get out on the river. There are usually two or three weeks every May, usually late May, when this can be some of the best fishing in California.

The stretch of river below the Freeport Bridge is a local hot spot for bank anglers to toss out Blue Fox Vibrax and Mepps No. 5 spinners for salmon from July–November. Bank anglers seem to do better than boaters in August and September, while the boaters seem to prevail in October. This may be because the salmon tend to hold close to the bank earlier in the season, so the bank anglers have a better shot than boaters. Many boaters seem to be convinced that the top place to fish is right in the middle of the river, regardless of whether the chinooks are holding there or not.

In the Sacramento area, many natural areas hold fish in the course of their respective migrations. The most famous are the Minnow Hole, just south of Sacramento; the mouth of the American River, at Discovery Park; and the mouth of the Feather River, at Verona. This is no secret, and you can expect plenty of company on the water when the fish are moving through.

Other good spots include the I-880 bridge; Government Dock, north of Discovery Park; Miller Park, Sacramento; Brickyards, south of Minnow Hole; Garcia Bend; the “Line,” just below the Freeport Bridge; and Clarksburg Flat, in Clarksburg.

The Sacramento River in and around the metropolitan Sacramento area can also be good for summer potluck fishing. Use a depth finder to locate 12- to 17-foot-deep holes on the outsides of bends and then anchor close to shore. Catfish and small schoolie-sized stripers, 16–20 inches, tend to hang in these areas, and you can catch them on chunks of anchovy or sardine.

A newcomer to the area may be puzzled about where to begin, but it’s quite simple. The fish are either moving through or they’re not. When they are, get on the river, pick one of the recommended spots, and wait in line with the rest of the boats.

When I canoed the entire Sacramento River, this particular section left the most lasting memories. The Colusa area is beautiful. But downstream of Grimes, many long segments have been converted into a canal by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which turned the riverbanks into riprapped levees, complete with beveled edges and 90° turns. These parts of the river are treeless and virtually birdless, and the fish simply use it as a highway, migrating straight upriver without pausing. They have little reason to.

But around Colusa and Sacramento, it’s a different story. Near Colusa, the river is quite beautiful as it winds its way southward. The banks are lined with trees, and there are some deep holes, gravel bars, and good fishing in season. And while the river is leveed off near Sacramento, there are also some good holes where fish will hold up on their upriver journey. In between, there are precious few spots, the best being in the vicinity of Grimes and Knight’s Landing.

Facilities, fees: Campgrounds, lodging, boat rentals, and supplies are available in the Sacramento area. Fishing access is free.

Directions: Access is off roads that intersect I-5. You’ll find boat ramps at the following locations: Colusa–Sacramento River State Recreation Area, in Colusa; Ward’s Boat Landing, on Butte Slough Road, south of Colusa; Verona Marina, on Garden Highway, in Verona; Elkhorn Boat Launch, northwest of Sacramento, on Bayou Way; Alamar Marina, on Garden Highway, in Sacramento; Discovery Park, in Sacramento, at the confluence of the Sacramento and American Rivers; Miller Park, below the Capitol City Freeway; and Garcia Bend, off I-5, in South Sacramento.

Top 5 Tips for Anglers Fishing Here for the First Time:

  • Study Migration Patterns: Understand the migration patterns of different species to maximize your chances of success.
  • Utilize Recommended Spots: Pick from recommended spots like the Minnow Hole, the mouth of the American River, and Clarksburg Flat.
  • Adjust to Seasonal Changes: Be aware of seasonal changes affecting water levels and clarity, adapting your fishing strategies accordingly.
  • Consider Bank Fishing: In certain seasons, bank fishing can outperform boating, particularly during high runoff conditions.
  • Summer Potluck Fishing: Explore potluck fishing in summer, targeting catfish and schoolie-sized stripers in 12- to 17-foot-deep holes.

Top 5 Strategies and Tactics to Maximize Fishing Experience:

  • Trolling Techniques: Use large spoons and live bait for King Salmon and Striped Bass near the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta.
  • Fly Fishing for Steelhead: Head to the Red Bluff Diversion Dam for exciting steelhead action, using nymphs and streamers.
  • Anchor and Cast for Striped Bass: For Striped Bass in Colusa and downstream, anchor and cast leadheads with plastic grubs into major holes.
  • Effective Salmon Lures: Experiment with T-55 or M-2 Flatfish for salmon fishing from mid-August through mid-October.
  • Summer Potluck Anchoring: Utilize a depth finder to locate 12- to 17-foot-deep holes and anchor close to shore for catfish and schoolie-sized stripers.

Top 5 Recommendations for Fishing Gear:

  • Trout and Bass Gear: Light to medium-weight spinning or baitcasting gear for trout and bass. Fly fishing equipment for steelhead.
  • Salmon, Striped Bass, and Sturgeon Gear: Heavier tackle for salmon, striped bass, and sturgeon, including large spoons, live bait, and specific lures like Flatfish.
  • Catfish Gear: Sturdy gear for catfish, including night fishing with cut bait or stink baits.
  • Check Gearlist: Explore our Gearlist account for specific gear recommendations to maximize your fishing experience.
  • Respect Changing Weather: Pack for changing weather conditions and ensure you have the right gear for various seasons and species.

Check out our Gearlist for the gear we for trips like this

Our Gearlist account lists all of the gear we use. Discover our top picks, where to snag them, and stay informed with our regular updates.

Sacramento River, a symbol of natural beauty and angling abundance, flows through the heart of California, leaving an indelible mark on all who explore its waters. From the vibrant cityscape of Sacramento to the tranquil shores of Colusa, this mighty river offers endless opportunities for anglers to connect with nature and reel in their next big catch.

As anglers reflect on their experiences along the Sacramento River, they can’t help but feel a sense of gratitude for the rich diversity of fish species and the breathtaking landscapes that grace its banks. Whether it’s the thrill of hooking a King Salmon or the peaceful solitude of casting a line into the cool, clear waters, every moment spent on the Sacramento River is a reminder of the beauty and wonder of the natural world.

For many, the Sacramento River is more than just a fishing destination—it’s a sanctuary where they can escape the hustle and bustle of everyday life and reconnect with the rhythms of nature. Whether it’s the excitement of reeling in a trophy catch or the quiet serenity of watching the sun set over the horizon, the Sacramento River has a way of captivating the hearts and minds of all who venture onto its waters.

As anglers bid farewell to the Sacramento River, they carry with them memories of unforgettable fishing adventures and the hope of returning again someday. Whether it’s to chase after elusive Steelhead or to bask in the beauty of the river’s scenic landscapes, the Sacramento River will always hold a special place in the hearts of those who have had the privilege of exploring its waters.

In the end, the Sacramento River is more than just a river—it’s a source of inspiration, a haven for wildlife, and a testament to the enduring power of nature. As anglers continue to cast their lines into its depths, they do so with a sense of reverence and appreciation for the precious resources that sustain life along its shores.

So as we reflect on our time spent on the Sacramento River, let us not simply remember the fish we caught or the miles we traveled, but rather the moments of joy, wonder, and connection that we experienced along the way. For in the end, it’s not just about the fish we catch, but the memories we make and the bonds we forge with nature and with each other.