Northern California’s Trinity River offers an amazing fly fishing experience. All year. Especially between November and early March. Sometimes it seems we spend our summers and spring celebrating fly fishing on the waters of the Lower Sacramento River out of Redding CA. Or on the storied waters of the McCloud. The ruthless Pit River and unforgiving Fall River. All aiming for rainbow trout. It’s the Trinity River that is never far from our hearts. The mighty steelhead is arguably the signature fish of the N. California fly fishing angler.
California’s Trinity River is my favorite river. And a favorite for many of my loyal guests. It’s a scenic beauty, offering exceptional fly fishing for steelhead. Spanning approximately 165 miles, the river originates from the Scott Mountains and winds its way through coastal forests and bouldery riffles, and waterfalls before meeting the Klamath River and the Pacific Ocean.
The Trinity River experiences distinct seasons, with late summer and fall being the most popular for fishing enthusiasts. During the warmer months, the river’s flow is more manageable, revealing its crystal-clear pools and inviting riffles that harbor brown trout, salmon, and steelhead. As the fall approaches and the salmon begin their spawning journey, the Trinity River transforms into a congregating destination for not only anadromous fish but also anglers wielding fly rods. An unforgettable experience amidst the striking autumn colors ensues. With its diverse ecosystem and captivating surroundings, the Trinity River remains a sought-after destination for fly fishermen and nature enthusiasts alike.
Fall is the most popular season, but I’ll take a winter day of steelhead fishing on the Trinity anytime
As I wind down 7 months of guiding the Lower Sac out of Redding, November ushers in what is always a new adventure even though for me, it’s the same old Trinity River. I’ll never tire of wondering if we will find Steelhead in the next run. When we do, it’s amazing as always. Amazing to see your smile, enthusiasm, and returning business. I appreciate that so, so much. The fall months are full of colors and a sort of culmination of another run of salmon. Fall ushers in this calm. Reflection. The prospect of revival.
As much as I guide through the autumn season, I also wait while working the river daily. I wait for the 1st big rain. Typically late December. And the river changes from a boney river of low water to more of a glide through navigable rocks, boulders, and water that is as near perfect for steelhead as it gets.
The colder, wetter weather makes a selection among anglers. Harder conditions are not as palatable as those sunny, warmer autumn days. The days of winter are shorter. Frozen in the mornings, the sun makes a brief entrance only to drop below the treeline before 3:00 PM. It’s common to arrive at the boat ramp in the dark because we ran into a pod of steelhead upstream. More shade on the water makes for better fly fishing conditions. Not to say great conditions are limited in the autumn, it’s just that winter conditions extend the potential with improved water conditions. Low clear water is certainly better for our chances than blown-out, muddy water. But, volatile conditions fueled by rain run-off can produce the most epic memories.
10 items to bring that will make your winter day of fly fishing on the Trinity River comfortable and successful
When fly fishing for steelhead on the Trinity River during the winter, it’s essential to dress appropriately to stay warm and comfortable. Here’s a recommended outfit to ensure you’re well-prepared for the cold weather, rain, and snow:
1. Waders: Invest in high-quality, insulated chest waders to keep your legs and lower body dry. Neoprene bootfoot or breathable Gore-Tex waders are excellent choices for winter fishing.
2. Wading Boots: Pair your waders with sturdy wading boots. I recommend going up a size or two in order to accommodate circulation and the thicker socks you’ll want to wear. Felt-soled or rubber soles with aggressive treads are suitable and appreciated in the drifboat.
3. Layered Clothing: Wear a moisture-wicking base layer to keep perspiration away from your skin, followed by an insulating mid-layer like a fleece or down jacket. Top it off with a waterproof and windproof outer shell jacket to protect yourself from rain and snow.
4. Gloves: Gloves are going to challenge you as a fly angler. Dexterity is necessary for the best line management. That said, opt for waterproof and insulated gloves to keep your hands warm and dry in between fishing opportunities.
5. Hat and Beanie: A wide-brimmed hat will shield your face from rain, snow, and what little sun we get, while a beanie will help keep your head warm.
6. Socks: Wear thick, moisture-wicking socks to prevent cold feet, and consider layering with a thinner moisture-wicking liner sock underneath. Note: Tight-fitting boots can lead to uncomfortably cold feet. Wear a boot that is 1 to 2 sizes up. We won’t be walking much more than a few steps from the boat at the most. Possibly to wade a riffle or run just downstream of where we are anchored. Most of the fishing is done from the boat.
7. Buff or Neck Gaiter: A versatile buff or neck gaiter can be used to protect your neck and face from the elements and can also double as a headband or hat liner.
8. Rain Gear: Bring a packable rain poncho or rain pants as an additional layer of protection against heavy precipitation. Your waders and jacket are the go-to for rainy weather. If you don’t have waders, no problem. Dress warm top to bottom and bring a poncho and rain pants. Rain gear should be proven and of the most reliable. Winter conditions can be extreme and there is no escape once we are down the river.
9. Hand and Foot Warmers: Consider bringing disposable hand and foot warmers to insert into your gloves and wading boots for added warmth during extremely cold days.
10. A mini propane heater is a great asset in between fishing opportunities. But, don’t fish with it on as fly line is likely to get burned in half by the heating element. Very sad when this happens.
Remember that weather conditions can be unpredictable, so it’s crucial to dress in layers to adapt to changing temperatures and precipitation throughout the day. Staying warm and dry will allow you to fully enjoy your fly fishing experience on the Trinity River in winter.
What fly fishing gear and flies are needed?
I have rods and reels and can provide flies if needed. Ask to book your days on the river as a “package deal”. The package deal ensures you have all the flies, rods, and terminal tackle you need. Otherwise, you can bring your own.
I recommend a 6.5′ 6wt rod as a minimum. A 9′ is too light for all but the smaller steelhead. Winter fish are known to close in on 8 and even 10 lbs. A 9.5 7wt is ideal.
A reel with an adjustable drag.
I fish floating lines. I highly recommend “Rio Elite Gold” or “Scientific Anglers Amplitude Textured Anadro Floating Fly Line“
I fish anglers from the boat, moving from run to run, maximizing your chances of finding fish. Although I’m happy to swing for steelhead, my repeat customers prefer to fish from the boat and move down longer sections of river. Fishing indicators are a great way to cover the maximum amount of water over a given time period.
I use 3/4″ and 1″ diameter Thingamabobber Singles
Bring AAA and SSG split shot.
My leader system is made up of 2x, 3x, and 4x level line or tippet. Tapered leaders are not necessary.
Flies: (This list will be updated as winter closes in or during the winter)
For accommodations, I recommend staying in Weaverville for a more central location. There is a selection of hotels and restaurants/bars.
Indian Creek Lodge is a popular accommodation. Also centrally located between Weaverville and the upper river in Lewiston.
The Lewiston Hotel, The Lewiston Inn, and The Lewiston Valley Motel & RV Park are all located on the upper river and are good choices, especially during the winter months when due to river conditions I tend to guide the upper river as the best water is often along the sections in and below Lewiston.
Whether fishing on your own or booking a day or more of professionally guided fly fishing on the Trinity River during the winter season is an opportunity you will enjoy every year. The captivating beauty of the river in winter, the thrill of chasing elusive steelhead, and the serenity of the river’s tranquility create an unforgettable experience for you and yours. All levels of experience are welcome. With expert guides by your side, you’ll receive valuable insight, learn specialized techniques, and gain access to the most productive water. Whether you’re a seasoned angler seeking new challenges or a beginner eager to learn, the Trinity River offers a winter fly fishing experience like no other. Embrace the magic of the winter steelhead fly fishing ceremony. So, don your warmest gear, pack a sense of adventure, a festive attitude, and let the Trinity River be the backdrop for a remarkable and unforgettable day or three of fly fishing.
Book your guided trip now, and unlock the wonders that await you on this extraordinary winter angling endeavor!
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