Fishing the Trinity River: What You Need to Know
May 25, 2020 | 12 minute read
Reading Time: 12 minutes
A view of the Trinity River running through the Trinity-Shasta Mountains.

When you think of freshwater fishing, chances are what you’re picturing is pretty close to California’s Trinity River. This fishery begins in Northwest California’s remote Trinity Alps, before winding through miles of stunning wilderness – as well as some quaint mountain towns, of course.

It’s also perhaps the most accurate definition of the word “picturesque” that you can possibly get. The National Wild and Scenic Rivers System even officially titled it as being “wild and scenic.”

And on top of this incredible scenery, the Trinity River’s fishing opportunities are nothing to sniff at, either. It’s one of the most important tributaries of the much-lauded Klamath River, and definitely provides enough angling action to back this statement up.

A young child fishing the Trinity River on foot.

You probably already know that the Klamath River is world-famous for its Steelhead and Salmon runs. The same goes for the Trinity River, with one very noticeable difference: It’s underrated. So if you’re after a slice of tranquility with your angling action, this is the place to find it!

A Trinity River fishing adventure is also the perfect way to get back to the basics of fishing. This is something that we completely support. In our fast-paced modern lives, we’re increasingly finding it harder and harder to just wind down and relax. And anyway, isn’t it true that less really is more?

What could be more simple – and ideal – than casting your line in a body of water that’s both picture-perfect and peaceful? It’s home to some of the world’s most desirable freshwater fish, too.

If you’re wondering what those species are, exactly, then you’re in luck. We’ve outlined the Trinity River’s top catches below, as well as where you can go to catch them, and how you can reel ‘em in.

Firstly, cast your eye over these tips and tricks. Then put the phone away, grab your rods and reels, and prepare to get good and lost in some stunning nature for a while. Trust us – you’ll thank us later!

Top Catches in the Trinity River

An infographic showing top catches in the Trinity River, and the best seasons for hooking them.
Orange = good, red = red hot!

What makes certain bodies of water stand the test of time as fishing hotspots? Well, for some, it’s because of the abundance of species that inhabit them. Others whizz straight to the top of anglers’ bucket lists because they’re home to rare fish that don’t exist anywhere else.

The Trinity River? Well, it’s fair to say that there’s one fish alone that has made its name as the main attraction…

Steelhead

Two men holding Rainbow Trout.

The “Silver Bullet,” “The Fish of 1,000 Casts,” and Washington State’s mascot…yep, it’s that mighty freshwater favorite, the Steelhead!

They’re known for their delicious meat, but chasing Steelhead on the Trinity is about much more than hooking a tasty meal. For many anglers, it’s all about the thrill that comes with following this lightning-quick fella down the river.

As well as their fast-paced and feisty spirits, there’s something else that brings “Steelheaders” flocking to the Trinity River. It’s the sheer size and number of fish here! A quick history lesson: when the Trinity and Lewiston dams were completed back in the ’60s, the river’s Steelhead population was almost completely destroyed.

However, you can’t keep a good dog (or fish?!) down. This mighty species has made a triumphant return to these waters. They now appear here in their thousands, and many reach sizes of over 10 pounds. We know an impressive comeback when we see one!

Man holding a Steelhead on the Trinity River.

Does the idea of a hefty, hard-fighting fish seem contrary to the picturesque image of the Trinity River we conjured up earlier? Well, maybe the way that most local fishermen choose to cast their line for this species will convince you otherwise! 

One of the most popular ways to really test your mettle against this species? By fully buying into the traditional freshwater fishing experience and grabbing yourself some fly fishing gear! Conventional spinning gear is used along the river, too, but you’ll be in good company if you choose to fly fish. 

In fact, there’s even a designated “Fly Fishing Only” section of the river. This spans the few miles immediately under the Lewiston dam. You’ll be able to cast your line in this area from April 1 to September 15.

Never fly fished before? You’ll find many local anglers willing to lend a helping hand. With the area’s fishermen regularly reporting multiple Steelhead catches a day, no one’s going to be fighting over the fish!

Maybe you prefer more conventional techniques, or want to combine fly fishing with using regular rods and reels. You have the rest of the river at your disposal, from the Lewiston dam all the way to Weitchpec. The clear, burbling waters running all the way from Lewiston to the river’s North Fork are especially fish-filled. They’re considered an unmissable Steelhead hotspot.

Even better? With its beautiful evergreen forests and mountainous terrain, this section of the river sums up exactly what we meant when we used the word “picturesque.”

Salmon

Two men holding a big Chinook Salmon.

Steelhead may be the Trinity River’s claim to fame, but they’re not the only species you’ll find in these waters. The Trinity River also attracts a large number of Salmon fanatics!

Why? Well, come summertime, these waters are chock-full with jumbo-sized spring-run Chinook Salmon. It’s no wonder they’re nicknamed the “King”! They remain trophy-sized all the way through to November. Later, the fall run brings even more of this species. Looking for a Salmon bonanza? You’ll find it here.

These fish make for some serious rod-bending action at the end of a line. Choose to battle them on the fly or with light tackle, and you’ll really test your skills. Similarly to Steelhead, Chinook can be found throughout the stretch of the river. The most popular methods are bank fishing and casting off from a drift boat – but more on that later!

As well as the mighty Chinook, the Trinity River is also home to Coho Salmon. It may be one of the smallest species in this river when it comes to stature, but it more than makes up for it with fighting spirit!

Man holding a Chinook Salmon on the Trinity River.

The Coho is known and beloved in fishing communities for its acrobatic leaps out of the water. It’s the perfect species to target on the fly – and luckily, the Trinity River has a stretch of water dedicated to doing just this.

Similarly to Chinook, Coho Salmon can be found throughout the river. A favored strategy for targeting these species is basically to be flexible. Don’t commit yourself to a particular part of the river and be prepared to explore different stretches of it.

The Trinity River is the perfect size to explore, either on foot or in a drift boat. This means that following the fish – whether you’re after huge Chinook or feisty Coho – has never been easier! 

How to Fish the Trinity River

By Boat

A man holding a big fish on a boat on the Trinity River.

We mentioned above that the Trinity River is most often explored on a drift boat or by foot. Newer angler, or never cast a line before in your life? Your head might be spinning slightly!

Not to worry. You don’t have to go out and purchase your own drift boat or attempt to traverse the riverbanks on foot!

The easiest way to discover these waters as a newbie is by hiring a charter service. Known in this area as “guides,” you’ll usually be accompanied by a local fisherman with plenty of experience and top-notch equipment. 

Perhaps the biggest benefit of fishing with a guide is that you don’t have to worry about locating the river’s hotspots by yourself. Let your guide know what you want to catch, and they’ll do their best to help you hook ‘em.

Woman on a boat on the Trinity River holding a Salmon.

Although it’s possible, we generally wouldn’t recommend taking your own vessel out onto the river. As well as fishing, the Trinity River is also well-known for its whitewater rafting opportunities.

Although this means that thrill-seekers will find plenty to whet their appetites, it also means that these waters can unexpectedly become quite dangerous and unpredictable! Stick with a local guide, and you won’t have to worry about getting caught in the rapids.

On Foot

Man walking along the Trinity River.

It’s true that the Trinity River spans a relatively large chunk of northwest California. However, its size is much less imposing than many other freshwater rivers.

To us, this is a positive. It means that there are far more bank fishing opportunities than in other locations! In fact, it’s even been referred to as a “bank angler’s heaven.” Many bank fishermen and women even go the extra mile and wade in these waters.

There’s a good choice of public access bank fishing spots all along the Trinity River. The stretch between Junction City and Del Loma is especially productive.

However, as we mentioned above, the main thing that will lead to productive bank fishing along the Trinity is your mindset. If you’re casting your line in a certain area but the fishing starts to dry up, don’t despair. Just be prepared to move along and try another spot. 

Bank fishing is a great option for anglers who know this area or have been river fishing before and want to embark on a wallet-friendly adventure.

A man wade fishing on the banks of the Trinity River.

Want to treat your kids to a day out where catching lots of fish isn’t the main objective? Head to one of the area’s local nature parks or campsites with bank access. You’ll generally have access to amenities like a toilet and somewhere to get food and drink. You can try casting your line, too.

Where to Go

So by now, you know that the Trinity River travels all the way from the top of the Trinity Alps to the northwestern California town of Weitchpec. But where can you actually cast your line?

Although you can technically fish the entire river, most anglers focus their attention around and below the Lewiston dam. This is because the dam blocks the vast majority of Steelhead and Salmon from reaching waters further upstream. 

The river’s waters remain seriously plentiful and fish-filled as they journey downstream towards Weitchpec itself, which is where the Trinity flows into the Klamath. Here are some of our top location picks…

Lewiston

The Trinity River at Lewiston

Thanks to its proximity to the Trinity River, as well as the nearby Trinity and Lewiston Lakes, Lewiston is often described as Trinity County’s ultimate “fishing resort town.”

It’s located at the part of the river that many anglers consider to be the “true” beginning. It provides access to the fish-filled waters directly below the Lewiston dam. The river also runs right through the center of Lewiston, which means you won’t have to travel far to reach some hotspots!

Even better, the Trinity River narrows considerably here and resembles a freshwater fishing stream right out of a magazine. If you’re looking for an authentic small-town fishing experience, this is the place to visit.

Lewiston’s reputation means that, although it’s small, anglers looking to cast their line alongside an experienced guide here will be spoiled for choice. You’ll find charters targeted at all skill levels dotted around the town, as well as plenty of bank access.

If you’re looking to fly fish, Lewiston has almost-immediate access to the river’s “Fly Fishing Only” stretch, too. And what can you catch here? Well, the beauty of fishing from Lewiston is that you’ll find ample amounts of Chinook, Coho, and Steelhead, depending on when you visit!

Junction City

The Trinity River at Junction City.

Located around 25 miles to the west of Lewiston, Junction City is another small-but-mighty fishing hotspot. It’s located at the confluence of the Trinity River and Canyon Creek, also known as the “lower corridor” of the river. 

The area surrounding this part of the Trinity River is home to some incredible scenery and wildlife. There’s also a seriously impressive Chinook and Steelhead population. If you’re looking to fish without a guide or want to combine your angling action with plenty of relaxation, this is the perfect spot. 

You’ll have access to Junction City Campground, where you’ll be able to camp right on the banks of the river. These cold, clear waters are especially productive for fly fishing. If you’re new to angling and want to test out conventional methods first, there’s ample opportunity for this, too.

Weitchpec

Near where the Trinity and Klamath Rivers meet.

Is there any better way to finish up our list of Trinity River hotspots than by focusing on the town located right at its end?

The small community of Weitchpec is located right at the spot where the Trinity River feeds into the Klamath River. Although it might mark the end of the river, you’ll be pleased to know that the angling action doesn’t stop!

If you’re looking for a real escape from the hustle and bustle of everyday life, Weitchpec offers this in abundance. It’s often said that this small town isn’t found by accident – it needs to be sought out. But it’s well worth the hunt! You’ll be greeted with an abundance of flora and fauna, dense forests, and plenty of wildlife.

As well as the stunning scenery, you’ll also have the chance to sample some incredible fishing here.

Anglers who want to cast off on the fly will relish the opportunity to explore these serene waters, especially as some spots are only accessible by foot. The chance that you’ll have these waters to yourself is pretty high! Less experienced anglers will find a whole host of local guides ready to help them cast a line.

When to Go

A calendar on a desk.

As you may have already guessed, the Trinity River has a strong year-round fishery. Each season brings its own delights. If you’re looking to hook a particular fish, or want to visit during a certain time of the year, here’s what you need to know!

Spring

In spring, the main attraction of fishing here is the opening of the “Fly Fishing Only” section of the river! In addition, winter Steelhead can usually be hooked here until late March, and the river is much quieter. The winter Steelhead season generally opens in mid-February.

Summer

This is an especially popular time of year for waders and bank fishermen, thanks to weather conditions. Anglers head to the stretch of river close to the Lewiston dam, where the first summer Chinook and Steelhead are making an appearance.

Spring-run Chinook are a common catch this time of year. There’s still a handful of Steelhead in the “Fly Fishing Only” section of the river, too. 

Fall

This is when the bulk of the summer-run Steelhead enter the Trinity River. September is an especially popular month!

If you’re looking for some serious peace and quiet, however, be aware that October and November tend to be the river’s busiest months. The weather is stunning, the fish are biting hard, and the water conditions perfectly lend themselves to a lazy day of drifting or wading.

Winter

The winter run of Steelhead show up as early as November. If you’re looking to reel in a huge fish, this is the time to visit: Steelhead can be found in large sizes as the temperature drops around the river.

However, casting a line in the Trinity during winter isn’t for the faint-hearted! The temperature can easily reach below freezing here, so we’d recommend that only anglers with some experience target winter Steelhead in the depths of this month. Hey, if you’re a hardened angler who’s used to extreme weather, this is the best time to visit – you’ll get the waters pretty much to yourself!

Rules and Regulations

The outside of a bait, tackle, and license shop.

So now you’ve decided on when you’ll be visiting the Trinity River, where you’ll be departing from, and what you want to target. So far, so good! However, there’s one last thing to consider: What are the local rules and regulations?

Well, any angler age 16 and above who wants to cast a line in these waters must make sure they first purchase a valid California Fishing License. This goes for visitors who are going to be casting off alongside a local guide, too.

Depending on the species you’ll be targeting, you’ll also need to purchase a Salmon Report Card or a Steelhead Report Card (we recommend purchasing both).

Now, we mentioned above how the Trinity River’s fish population has been through some tough times. This has had an impact on the rules and regulations surrounding the species that live here – namely, how many of them you can keep.

If you’re interested in fishing for food, or want to take home some of your catch, pay a visit to the California Department of Fish and Wildlife’s website and take a look at the sportfishing regulations. The exact dates change on a yearly basis, so this will make sure you’re up to date and in the know.

The Trinity River: Picturesque, Peaceful, and Plentiful!

A view of the Trinity River

We mentioned at the beginning of this post that the Trinity River is the perfect place to get back to nature, as well as experiencing some truly traditional-style fishing: no technology, no hustle-and-bustle, and no stress!

The beauty of this river is that you get to experience your very own idea of what tranquility is. For some, that might be wandering along an isolated section of the riverbank, fly rod in hand, and plenty of nature surrounding you. For others, it might be drifting lazily down the river, casting your line alongside some good friends and a local angler.

No matter how you define it, the Trinity River’s adaptability means that a day of pure escapism is possible for every guest that chooses to venture here. So put down those phones, grab your fishing gear, and head over – these fish-filled waters are waiting for you!

Have you ever been fishing on the Trinity River? What did you catch? Have any local tips and tricks for us? Share your thoughts in the comment below!


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