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Hat Creek | Fall River

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Few streams typify the “spring creek” fly-fishing experience better than Northern California’s Hat Creek and the Fall River. Known for their crystal clear water, exceptional scenery, and challenging angling, these streams exemplify what spring creek fisheries are all about. In 1971, Caltrout worked with the Department of Fish and Game to designate Hat Creek as the state’s first protected “Wild Trout Area” (WTA). Thanks to the new management guidelines set up under the WTA, Hat Creek quickly became one of CA’s most productive fly-fishing waters and notable accomplishments in Caltrout’s 40 year history. Caltrout deserves all the credit in the world for this.

Hat Creek is not for the faint of heart. The trout here are considered to have PHD's. With consistent water clarity and temperature, combined with an unwavering volume of creek flows, a person is able to fly fish here almost all year round under the exact same conditions.  Because of this, you will never have the creek to yourself. Anglers travel from all over the world to fish here. If you are new to the sport and want an education in presentation and technique, Hat Creek is the perfect fit. You could simply park and walk up or down the creek and learn everything from how to cast long distances, to understanding how to use fifteen foot tippets with flies so small they can only be tied using a microscope.

The Wild trout section is only three miles long starting at the Hat Creek Powerhouse #2,  and ending at a fish barrier above the confluence of the Pit River and Lake Britton. The upper area is only two miles, but is near perfect spring creek-esque flat water. Those looking for riffle action can head to the lower section where riffles are abound. The creek is mainly fed by the snowpack from Mt. Lassen. 

Fly fishers have two choices within this popular fishery, fast water and flat water. The fast water gets most of the fly pressure, and that area is about 450 yards below Powerhouse #2. The flat-water section is where the real skill and patience pays off with big dividends. If you can repeatedly hit a two- foot circle at forty feet and detect hits without big old strike indicators, then your gonna catch some big fish. Hat creek has an exceptional pedigree; it was the first western fishery to be designated for wild trout  back in 1967. The ratio of rainbow's hovers around 80 percent and brown trout at 20. Be carerful when walking along the grassy banks, muskrat holes are everywhere, and have made the going a bit schetchy. A wading staff is highly recommended.

As far as fly patterns to have, standard mayflies like Blue Winged Olives and Pale Morning Duns in sizes #16-22, in colors brownish, black or tan. Mayflies hatch almost everyday of season here until late November. In the fast water, a big foam stimulator or a chubby chernobyl with a beadhead dropper will get some looks. Leaders in the 5, 6 and 7x range are standard on a three to five weight fly rod.

Pacific Gas and Electric (PG&E) own the land surrounding the wild trout water. Begin at the junction of Highway#299 and 89, then go east on 299 about two miles to Cassel Road turn off. Follow two miles south to Crystal Lake State Fishery,  and then go east about a mile to get to Baum Lake. To get to Hat Creek Powerhouse #2, head south on a paved road for about 2 miles, ending in Powerhouse Parking area. This area is the start of a trail for a large section of the creek.


Northern California's Fall River is arguably one of the state's best spring creeks. Hatches such as Green Drakes are impressive even by western standards, and stretch throughout the entire summer. Heavy, big shouldered wild rainbows dominate the fish population. However, because it is a spring creek, catching these fish often requires a highly skilled presentation. Due to lots of weeds and private water, floating this river is your best option. 

The Fall mainly winds through ranchland in a vast valley, making it not as scenic as nearby rivers such as the Pit or McCloud. The exception is the upper 1/3 of the river, which is lined with trees and contains some riffles and pocket water in the upper stretches. As far as trout streams go, the Fall is rather uniform throughout its course. Like all spring creeks, the water is very clear and contains some thick vegetation crawling with all the things that big trout love to eat.  In the absence of real structure, trout in spring creeks such as the Fall, congregate around weeds. Because the current is slow, these fish can afford a close and careful inspection of your fly. You will need to be skilled and/or patient to catch these big fish that can be over 22" in length. Most fishermen practice catch and release, although regulations permit keeping two fish measuring 14 inches or more. The Fall River is about 300 miles north of San Francisco and is best accessed by taking I-80 east from San Francisco, then I-5 north for 125 miles to the 299 East (Lake Blvd.) exit. Take 299 east toward Burney and Alturas for about 74 miles until you hit Fall River Mills, where the Fall enters the Pit River. There are two access points that are public to get you down to the water. The first and most popular is the Cal Trout boat ramp on Island Road, where there is limited parking and you must carry your boat down a path to the water. The other is the Pacific Gas & Electric launch site where McArthur Road crosses the lower river near a church. Like the Cal Trout site, this area offers limited parking and requires you to carry your boat to the water.

The Fall River's fishing season stretches from the last Saturday in April through November 15. Fishing here must be done with artificial flies and lures only, and all must have barbless hooks. Two fish under 14 inches may be kept. Make sure to read the regulations on fishing here.  Pale Morning Duns are the predominant hatch throughout the season on the upper and middle Fall, with peaks in late May and early June and then again in late August and September. These insects come off from late morning until mid-afternoon. Blue-winged Olives are also common in the early and late season on the upper and middle stretches. In June, an impressive Sedge hatch occurs. In late summer, Tricos are common along the entire river in the early morning. The Fall's most famous hatch, however, is the Hexagenia Mayfly hatch in late June and July which gets the big fish looking up. This hatch is most common in the middle and lower stretches of the river. The "Hex" is the largest of the mayfly family (size 2 or 4), and hatches in the late evening and early night. Nymph fishing can be extremely productive before the hatch. Imitate the swimming motion of the naturals by twitching your rod tip as the fly swings down and across.